Sleeping Through the Sounds of Silence

Posted on

I’ve always preferred a strong connection with my environment during my waking hours, so why would I want to cut that cord while I sleep? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of maintaining at least an auditory connection with the real world while you drift off to dreamland. 

I view myself as a well prepared realist. I have a decent working knowledge of risk and how to mitigate it in most areas of life. This has led me to decisions like:

  • Driving absurdly large vehicles that would afford me a higher likelihood of survival during a crash
  • Spending my childhood wearing a fanny pack stocked with dog biscuits incase I encountered an off-leash, aggressive dog
  • I’ve always carried a knife “just in case.” What if I have to cut my seatbelt off as my oversized vehicle sinks to the bottom of a lake? What if that aggressive dog didn’t like the brand of dog treats I was carrying?
  • Every entry into my home is locked at all times unless I’m outside in direct view of the unlocked door
  • I keep the cameras covered on all of my devices with neat little sliders like these
  • I sleep in complete silence so I’m less likely to be caught unaware

Sometimes, my take on the world has been mistaken for paranoia by those around me. But on the flip side: I’ve been around for nearly 4 decades without ever being: 

  • Mauled by a dog
  • Hospitalized from a car crash
  • Burglarized
  • Exposed on the internet
  • Snuck up on by a serial killer in my sleep

Call it paranoia if you must, but I call it a 100% success rate thanks to proper preparation. 

Most of the strategies listed above really only affect me, but the sleeping in silence entry is a bit different. Afterall, I’ve been sharing a room with my wife for 14 years now. Before marrying me, she preferred to sleep with music playing. I eventually wore her down, but there are still challenges that come with sleeping in silence. First let’s touch on some definitions and benefits.

Defining “Silence”

Before we dig into the complications, let’s quickly run through what I mean by “sleeping in silence.” I’m not talking about true, 0-decibel silence as much as I’m talking about not introducing noise.  

I’m not one of these guys who can’t go to sleep if he hears a bird chirping off in the distance. I can fall asleep basically anytime, anywhere. But I don’t like to introduce new sounds to mask the sounds of my environment. I want to hear what’s going on in my surroundings just in case I need to spring into action. 

Even when in a busy environment like a hotel in the downtown of a major metropolitan center, I find that I’m able to quickly establish a natural baseline of environmental sound that I can essentially ignore. It’s only when something completely outside of the norm of that baseline (like someone knocking on my window, rattling a door handle, etc.) occurs that I’ll instinctually wake up and take notice. 

However, when I introduce a masking agent like music or white noise, I tend to lose that connection to my environment, putting me into a heightened state of stress that keeps me from getting a good night’s sleep. 

The Benefits of Sleeping in Silence

Besides getting the jump on the ax murderer before he reaches the foot of your bed, I think the primary benefit is flexibility. 

Growing up, I never had music or white noise or anything like that to help soothe me to sleep. I had the sounds of my nextdoor neighbors fighting and calling the cops on each other, the shrieking sounds of the wind blowing between our closely positioned homes from the 1800s, and the sound of an ancient, knocking furnace kicking off and on periodically. 

Fast forward to my kids, however, and we were using music, white noise, music and white noise together, adding weird foam door sweeps to help block noise from entering the kids’ rooms, etc. to try to get them to sleep. This worked out fine until there was literally any change in their sleep environment. 

  • Hotels? Forget it. 
  • iPad battery depleted? Bed time has to wait until it’s charged enough to turn on.
  • Spotify decides to expand your sleep soundtrack without you noticing? Kids wake up screaming.
  • Trying to wean them off the sounds? Welcome to Hell.

These are problems I’ve literally never experienced for myself. And since finally weaning them off the sound control efforts, they’re all much less prone to disrupted sleep due to change in circumstance. 

Challenge #1: “Silence” Can Be Naturally Scary

It’s not always smooth sailing when you just accept the sounds of your environment. In fact, one of the most shocking sleep experiences I’ve ever had came from the most idyllic setting I’ve ever lived in. 

Back in 2016, I moved to rural New Hampshire. I bought a house built in 1788 nestled on 12 acres butting up against a 1,000 acre preserve. My bedroom was probably 20’ from the tree line of the woods, angled away from the road – the perfect place for some serious sleeping. 

But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. 

The first night in the new house, I went to bed and dozed off in record time. About an hour later, I was jolted awake by the piercing shrieks of a woman in danger. The sound was coming from the woods. 

Was someone camping in the preserve and being attacked by a bear? 

Had a kidnapped woman forced her way out of the vehicle and fled on foot into the woods? 

Had the ax murderer I’ve listened for my whole life snuck up on a woman who was using a white noise machine, and he brought her to the deep dark woods behind my house to finish her off? 

I called the police, and they seemed thoroughly unworried. They gave me some of the most shocking advice I had ever heard: “Google fox screams and see if that’s what you’re hearing.” Sure enough, it was

But now what am I supposed to do? It sounds just like a human woman. Is it always a fox, or could that savvy ax murderer know that I’ll ignore his bloodlust because I think it’s just a fox? 

Eventually I caved to apathy and just worked “lady being killed” into my baseline soundscape. 

Challenge #2: An Uncooperative Bedmate

Fortunately, by the time my wife and I were married, we had known each other long enough that my preparedness stances were no big surprise. She traded her sleep music for the knowledge that I was going to sweep the house with a loaded shotgun at the faintest indicative sound that something was amiss. 

But what if you’re married to someone who’s less willing to give your sleepstyle a try? I think then it comes down to education – and by any means necessary. 

Start by sharing the benefits: increased flexibility, not being caught by surprise, possibly unlocking a new level of even deeper sleep now that you’re not so worried about being caught by surprise, etc. If they’re reasonable, they’ll probably come around. 

But what if they’re stubborn about their sleep sound crutches? Well, my friend, it may be time to escalate. 

Let them go to sleep, with all their sound gear blasting away. Wait until they’re in a nice, deep sleep, then sneak out of bed and head to the room where you’ve been hiding a ski mask and a fake ax. Put on your gear, sneak back into the room, and assume the position you would expect an ax-wielding maniac to use. Now scream at the top of your lungs. 
When your spouse wakes up, they will likely recognize the errors of their ways and start recognizing the virtue of sleeping in silence: they’ll now hear you approaching from the bedroom you earned through your sleep divorce the next time you decide to “teach them a lesson.”