Shedding Light on Darkness: Could Dimming the Lights Improve Your Hearing?

Life today is noisy and stressful, and the constant clamor can impact your hearing significantly. However, there’s a simple, do-it-yourself trick to help improve your auditory senses—spending time in the dark.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, College Park, have found that limiting the amount of light you encounter leads to heightened listening abilities. Your brain, ears, and connecting nerves are all influenced by this change in environment.

Darkness Enhances Our Sense of Sound

“The coolest aspect of our work is that the loss of one sense—vision—can augment the processing of the remaining sense, in this case, hearing, by altering the brain circuit, which is not easily done in adults,” explains researcher Hey-Kyoung Lee.

By temporarily preventing vision, you might be able to rewire your brain circuit to process sound better. This could be especially useful for those recovering from hearing loss or adjusting to cochlear implants.

Lab experiments with animals placed in dark environments revealed changes in brain circuitry, which consequently improved neural processing of sound.

Lee says, “Our result would say that not having vision allows you to hear softer sounds and better discriminate pitch… If you ever had to hear a familiar piece of music with a loud background noise, you would have noticed that sometimes it seems the beat or the melody is different because some notes are lost with the background. Our work would suggest that if you don’t have vision, you can now rescue these ‘lost’ notes to appreciate the music as is.”

Utilizing Multi-Sensory Training in Humans

While the practicality of this finding is still up for discussion, researchers are optimistic about potential applications in humans.

Fellow researcher Patrick Kanold notes, “We don’t know how many days a human would have to be in the dark to get this effect, and whether they would be willing to do that. However, there might be a way to use multi-sensory training to correct some sensory processing problems in humans.”

It is important not to underestimate the power of multi-sensory training. Many people who have sensory processing problems could benefit significantly, and learning how to adjust our senses based on environmental factors could be a game-changer.

Steps to Include Darkness in Your Day

To harness the benefits of spending time in the dark for better hearing, try incorporating these simple steps into your daily routine:

  1. Dim the lights: As evening approaches, opt for ambient or accent lighting instead of bright overhead lights. This can create a more calming atmosphere and help you adjust to a darker environment.

  2. Switch off screens: Devices like TVs, smartphones, and laptops emit blue light, which can suppress melatonin production and make it difficult for your body to recognize when it’s time to sleep. Set electronics aside in the evenings to help your body gradually adjust to dark surroundings.

  3. Utilize sleep masks: Using a sleep mask at night can help block out any light seeping into your bedroom, allowing your brain to fully focus on the auditory sense.

  4. Practice mindful meditation in the dark: Begin or end your day with a brief, mindful meditation session in a dimly lit room. This can help foster a stronger connection with your auditory senses by eliminating visual distractions.

  5. Enjoy calming activities in a dim environment: Take part in relaxing activities like reading, knitting, or journaling in a softly lit space to help stimulate your auditory processing abilities.

By taking these small steps to incorporate more darkness into your life, you might find that your ability to process sound and distinguish various auditory stimuli can significantly improve. So, the next time you’re struggling to focus on a conversation in a noisy room or appreciate your favorite song amidst a cacophony of sounds, some quality time in the dark might be just the remedy you need.