Friday, February 01, 2013

Things: Evaluating Life's White Noise

Today's Things post takes a very heady turn. Shocking, I know, considering most of my brain cells remain on hiatus post-pregnancy. But hang with me as I attempt to pen my thoughts on a topic that is very germane to our household and has been a topic of discussion a number of times in recent months.

Our pediatrician posted two interesting articles (here and here) on her website this week addressing the effects of white noise on a child's brain development. In one article she referred specifically to true white noise while in the other she spoke of more day-to-day white noise, like the constancy of media in various forms, i.e. computer, iPad, phone, radio, tv, etc. She discussed several medical journal articles dealing with these very topics of study.

Pardon me a moment while I give you a few snippets to ponder.
A study from the University of CA at San Francisco (UCSF) actually looked at baby rats who listened to “white noise” for prolonged periods of time. The researchers found that the part of the auditory cortex (in rats) that is responsible for hearing, did not develop properly after listening to the “white noise”.   
Interestingly, when the “white noise” was taken away, the brain resumed normal development. Again, this study was in baby rats, and to my knowledge has not been duplicated.  
-Excerpt from "White Noise" and Babies
The study from The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication defines background TV as “TV that is on in the vicinity of the child that the child is not attending to”.  The research looked at TV exposure in 1,454 households with children aged 8 months-8 years. The study found that younger children and African-American kids were exposed to more background TV than other children.  Having background TV noise of any kind can disrupt mental tasks for all and may also interfere with language development in younger children.
 -Excerpt from Kids & Too Much TV
Aside from confirming my theory that any prolonged exposure to tv at an early age can affect child development, it has also led me to consider the effects that the constant barrage of media has on adults.

As I went about my chores this morning while the little one was napping, I did so in utter quiet. I am not one who has to have background noise going all the time. In fact, I much prefer peace and quiet in most cases. My brain has a constant soundtrack playing anyway - be it music or a stream of thoughts or simply the grey staticky *shhhhhhhhhh* you might hear if your television suddenly loses its connection to streaming media. This morning, I was thinking about this blog post and pre-composing it while I worked on unloading the dishwasher.

When considering the effects of white noise of all kinds on infant and toddler brain development, I cannot help but think that, as adults, we are causing damage to ourselves, as well. While our brains are not developing in the same way as an infant or toddler, they still require moments of silence. Instead, we are inundating ourselves with a constant stream of noise through our need to be connected and entertained and are therefore denying our brains their much-needed periods of rest. I believe that this explains why, as a nation, we are overstressed and under-rested. We are not allowing ourselves (and our brains) a true period of decompression each day. As a result, our sleep as a whole is not restful, restorative, and healing as it's intended but is instead a more constant active period of sleep - used by our brains as a time of processing the day's events - something that should happen in smaller periods of time rather than our whole sleep period. I believe this is the brain's means of compensating for our overstimulation, for depriving it of its necessitated unwinding - something that should be done in quality time and conversation with our friends and loved ones rather than in front of the various forms of media that we cannot seem to live without.

So, for me, this is confirmation that we should unplug more. Spend more time with the tv off, the computer screen in sleep mode, the phone on silent, the iPad/iPod in its case. Let's be better about spending time engaging one another - in conversation, in play, in fun, in something other than entertainment behind a piece of technology! Let's step back a few decades to a time when we had conversations in person rather than through iMessage or chat or e-mail. I think we will all be amazed by the difference in makes in our day-to-day lives - in the quality of our sleep, our mood, our general well-being.

Ironically, I close this post as the the tv comes back on in my own house ... the hubby has returned home from work. As I said, this topic of conversation is germane to my own life!

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