If you’re reading Peaceful Dumpling, chances are you know what life is like for a Highly Sensitive Person. HSPs experience life at a more heightened level than other people do: sensorial stimuli affect them more intensely, and both negative and positive events feel more extreme. HSPs may be sensitive to noises, bright lights, smells (both good and bad), books, movies, and of course, the plight of other people and living beings. Typically, HSPs are more empathetic than non-HSPs, and it’s no coincidence that many vegans identify as Highly Sensitive.
Which is all to say… I am an HSP, through and through. When I first read the definition of a Highly Sensitive Person, I gained so much understanding of why I got so edgy under bright lights or cigarette smoke that didn’t bother others. While that validation was comforting, it didn’t help me to actually feel less edgy in my surroundings, until I took steps to protect my senses.
The biggest challenge as an HSP came when I bought my condo in summer 2019. I joyously started furnishing my own first home, only to discover quickly that this was a very noisy neighborhood: leaf blowers, cars, and street-sweeping trucks were just a few of the things that disturbed me day and night. Life improved significantly when I added eco-friendly pulp-based insulation to my walls and changed my bedroom window to sound-proof glass—which together cost over $2,000. But recently, I discovered a super simple, a $40 investment that lowered my blood pressure so much: a sound machine.
As a tech minimalist, I was at first skeptical of buying another machine that exists solely to create sound—isn’t that what my laptop is for? Streaming music? Also, if my issue is noise, don’t I want silence, rather than more noise on top?! But while staying at a hotel where each room came with a sound machine, I was awed by how much it helped create peace and tuned out external stimuli. A few weeks later, my lovely best friend, who was there with me, surprised me with a sound machine of my own. During the day, the sound machine helps me focus and stay calm and present. At night, it helps tune out disturbing sounds that keep me awake (it has a timer so I can fall asleep to it). And I have never slept better in this house!
Sound machines are not just Spotify streaming devices, either. White noises are created by combining all the frequencies of sound, similar to how all the colors of the rainbow combined create a white light. It’s designed to “cancel out” other sounds, but how it works goes deeper than that. According to Dr. Ralph Pascualy, M.D., your brain craves sensory signals; this explains why in a sensory deprivation state like a float tank, many people hallucinate. A HSP brain in sleep may overly watch out for sensory signals, which primes it to wake up at the slightest disturbance. White noise dampens that readiness to get alert to every signal.
Actually, it gets better, because some of these “white noise machines” (including my own YogaSleep machine) actually offer pink noise. It’s similar to white noise, but it becomes less intense in higher frequencies. In studies, pink noise has been shown to improve slow wave activity (SWA), which plays a key role in memory consolidation. (Sleep deprivation on the other hand disturbs normal memory consolidation and storage of new memories.) Pink noise helps memory recall in young and older adults. Admittedly, I always choose nature sounds and “chimes” or “relax” (typical yoga studio sounds), but it is comforting to know I got some pink options for when my brain is feeling extra needy.
I love you, sound machine. Whish Multi Sound Machine, $39.95
It’s important to note that white noise machines are not a panacea—excessive, loud white noise isn’t going to help you feel better if you’re struggling with noise pollution. But for mild or unavoidable sensory overload cases, this may be the next best thing to living in an actual cottage by the ocean.
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Photo: Henri Meilhac via Unsplash; YogaSleep