I was living on the corner of Rogers and Clarkson, a busy Brooklyn intersection, and was ready to pack my bags. The constant 3am traffic, the sirens, the people yelling in the street at ungodly hours… That’s fairly typical NYC life, and if you know, you know. 

But I was done with it. I had gotten about 2 hours of sleep before having to get up for work thanks to the steady stream of emergency vehicle sirens passing by my bedroom window quite literally every 20 minutes. My body shook from fatigue.

Why is it that we as humans are so affected by these chaotic sounds? These sounds subconsciously send a signal to our nervous system that all is not well, that there is danger, that we must be alert and ready to fight or flee at a moment’s notice. That explains my developing insomnia at the time…

I’ve since moved to a much quieter neighbourhood where I can actually sleep fairly peacefully through the night, but moving house isn’t always an option. So if you find yourself surrounded by piercing and stressful sounds (construction sites and jackhammers, anyone?), consider incorporating the following sounds into your life to let your nervous system relax and signal to your brain that you’re perfectly safe as you are.

  1. Nature Sounds

This one probably seems obvious to you, but don’t underestimate its effectiveness! The sound of a natural environment brings you back into balance by speaking to your primal instincts (especially since many of us live in cities). Try listening to recorded bird song, rain storms, or ocean waves. You can also find many field recordings of atmospheric soundscapes like the rainforest or a crackling camp fire. A quick search on the internet or apps like Spotify, Headspace, or Calm will give you lots of options.

2. Singing Bowls

Whether Himalayan or crystal, singing bowls offer a beautiful sound that lets our brain waves slow to match their sound wave frequency (called “entrainment”). When our brain waves slow down, our body and mind relax and once again, our nervous system can allow for rest. Your brain waves slow down each night as you fall asleep, so listening to singing bowls can have a similar winding-down effect.

3. Your Own Voice

This is one sound that may seem odd to you, but using your own voice to tone (not sing!) can be extremely soothing. First, try deepening and slowing your breathing for a couple of minutes. When you feel ready, let your exhale become a “hum” sound with your lips sealed. Choose any pitch (around speaking-level is best) and simply hum it for the full duration of your exhale. Continue this pattern for a few minutes as you begin to perhaps feel a shift into a more peaceful state. When we hum, we stimulate a nerve called the vagus nerve which brings us back into our parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest & heal).

This list is by no means exhaustive. Certain sounds may resonate with you more than others and that’s okay. The goal is to experiment with what brings your body and mind into peace and calm.

I wish I had known about these sounds and techniques back when sirens were my source of stress. If I knew then what I knew now, I could’ve probably saved myself the sleepless nights… and counted the passing cars like sheep.