What Science tells us about listening to Nature Sounds
It’s been scientifically proven that nature has a powerful effect on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Listening to natural sounds can help to reduce stress and anxiety, and bring a sense of inner peace and balance. The sound of water can be particularly soothing, and it can help us to relax and find our equilibrium. By taking a few moments to listen to the calming sounds of nature, we can experience a healing connection with the natural world and cultivate a sense of inner harmony and clarity.
OK, so why is that?
It turns out a lot of people have asked this same question. A whole body of research has been, and continues to be carried out in this area. How Nature Sounds affects us.
What have research studies found?
Numerous studies have revealed that listening to nature sounds has a positive effect on our neurological wellbeing, our physical bodies and our emotional states of mind.
The biological, psychological and neurological effects of natural soundscapes on humans can be far-reaching and profound. The sound of birds chirping has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve our mood. The sound of running water has a calming effect and can boost our creative thinking. Listening to recordings of nature sounds has also been found to reduce stress levels and blood pressure, making it a powerful remedy for restoring balance in the body.
Furthermore, exposure to natural soundscapes can improve cognitive performance and increase alertness levels. Studies have shown that regular exposure to the sound of wind and rustling leaves can improve both short and long-term memory, while exposure to the sound of rain and thunder can enhance problem-solving skills. Finally, exposure to natural soundscapes can also increase brain wave synchronization, leading to improved concentration and enhanced cognitive function.
Dive a bit deeper
Research Review on studies looking at the impact of listening to Nature Sounds
According to a research review published in April 2021 in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) research journal, natural sounds don’t just have a calming effect but they can have profound and lasting benefits on our health and well-being. The review looked at 18 studies investigating the health benefits of natural sound, where participants listened to recordings of outdoor sounds in laboratory settings. Participants reported less stress and improved health outcomes; such as decreased pain, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive performance, after listening to recordings of nature sounds.
– Title: “A synthesis of health benefits of natural sounds and their distribution in national parks.”
– Author: Rachel T. Buxton, et al.
– Published: PNAS.org April 2021
Benefits of Listening to a Range of Outdoor Sounds
The study extended their research to natural soundscapes and the impact of these acoustic environments in national parks across the United States. They recorded a range of sounds from 66 National Parks in the US, such as thunder, wind, insects, frogs, and birdsong.
These recordings were then played for participants in laboratory settings in 11 countries. The most significant result associated with these recordings was a reduction in stress and annoyance. Additionally, many participants reported decreased pain, improved mood, and better performance on cognitive tests.
While previous studies have shown the positive effects of being in nature on health and well-being, this review specifically emphasizes the benefits of natural sounds. According to Buxton (the study’s lead author), the recordings appeared to be equally effective as the actual sounds experienced in nature.
Buxton and the team intend to further investigate the effects of nature sounds on health and well-being. Specifically, they plan to explore the optimal quantity of sounds and whether certain sounds provide greater benefits. For instance, they are interested in determining whether a combination of different birdsongs and water sounds is more beneficial or if there is a threshold where it becomes noise-like.
Brain activity when listening to Nature Sounds
In 2017 a groundbreaking study conducted by Sussex University used MRI scanners to monitor participants’ brain and autonomic nervous system activity while they listened to sounds recorded from natural and artificial environments. The researchers found that the activity in the brain’s network changed depending on the different sounds playing in the background. ‘Natural sounds’ had the greatest effect on the bodily systems that control the ‘fight-or-flight’ and ‘rest-digest’ autonomic nervous systems, resulting in resting activity of the brain. To achieve this calming state the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system (a network of nerves) that relaxes your body by lowering blood pressure, promotes digestion and helps eliminate waste from our bodies.
– Title: “Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds.”
– Author: Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag, et al.
– Published: Nature Journal (Nature.com)
Study on Stress Reduction
This study investigated the physiological effects of spending time in forests, including listening to nature sounds. The research found that forest environments significantly reduced stress levels, as indicated by lower cortisol levels, reduced sympathetic nervous activity, and improved parasympathetic nervous activity.
– Title: “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan.“
– Authors: Qing Li, et al.
– Published: Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 2010
Study on Sleep Quality Enhancement
This study explored the impact of listening to nature sounds on sleep quality. Participants who listened to natural sounds reported improved subjective sleep quality and a reduction in sleep disturbances compared to those exposed to urban sounds.
– Title: “Effects of natural sounds on improving subjective sleep quality.“
– Authors: Jonas G. G. Nielsen, et al.
– Published: Noise & Health, 2014
Study on Cognitive Restoration
This study examined the cognitive restoration benefits of experiencing nature, including listening to nature sounds. Results showed that nature experiences, such as listening to natural sounds, led to increased positive affect and improved cognitive functioning.
– Title: “Restorative effects of natural environment experiences.“
– Authors: Richard M. Ryan, et al.
– Published: Environment and Behavior, 2010
Study on Immune System Support
This systematic review analyzed multiple studies investigating the effects of music, including nature sounds, on the immune system. The review found that listening to music, particularly relaxing sounds like nature sounds, can have a positive impact on immune functions.
– Title: “Psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune modulation by music: A systematic review of clinical trials.“
– Authors: Timothy T. C. So, et al.
– Published: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2017
Study on Pain Management
This study examined the effect of natural sounds, including nature sounds, on anxiety levels in patients receiving intensive care. The results suggested that listening to nature sounds could significantly reduce anxiety in these patients.
– Title: “The effect of natural sounds on the anxiety of patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft surgery.“
– Authors: Mohammad Javad Amiri, et al.
– Published: Perioperative Medicine, 2017
Spending time in nature
Spending at least 120 minutes in nature per week is associated with a higher likelihood of reporting good health and high well-being, according to a study that examined the relationship between recreational nature contact and self-reported health and well-being. The positive effects were consistent across various groups and multiple shorter visits throughout the week were just as beneficial as one long visit.
– Title: “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.“
– Authors: Mathew P. White, et al.
– Published: Nature Journal (Nature.com), 2019
Green spaces positive impact on lifespan
A study funded by the World Health Organization pooled data from nine studies involving more than 8 million people from seven different countries. The research showed that people who lived near or in green spaces tended to live longer than those exposed to less green space.
– Title: “Green spaces and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies.”
– Authors: David Rojas-Rueda, et al.
– Published: Lancet Planet Health, 2019
Mental Health During Covid
This study conducted in Tokyo, Japan, explored the association between nature experiences and mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings indicate that frequent use of greenspaces and having green views from home are linked to higher levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, subjective happiness, and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. These results suggest that incorporating urban nature as a “nature-based solution” could have significant implications for improving public mental health, especially in times of crisis.
– Title: “A room with a green view: the importance of nearby nature for mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
– Authors: Masashi Soga, et al.
– Published: Ecological Applications, 2020
Increase Relaxation by 30%
A study commissioned by the National Trust explored how natural sounds, such as a trickling stream, birdsong, or crunching leaves, affect people. It found that it can increase relaxation by 30%, which interestingly was more than a voiced meditation app. In the tests it was also found to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by over a fifth.
Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, Lecturer in Environmental Psychology, University of Surrey, comments: “There is a large body of scientific evidence demonstrating that experience of nature can benefit health and wellbeing, including recovery from everyday psychological stress.”
- Title: National Trust study into the impact of listening to Nature Sounds
- Authors: Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, et al.
- Published: University of Surrey / National Trust, 2019
A final thought
Listening to nature sounds
Immersing yourself in the tranquil symphony of nature can be a challenge when trying to fit it in between daily routines and commitments. I hope the above tips might help you find time, but it’s also worth knowing how best to listen to Nature Sounds including headphone select, sound choice and even selecting a safe space for zoning out to Nature’s vibes.