There’s a mega relaxing sound out there for everyone, you just need to find yours. Here, two experts reveal the nation’s ten most comforting noises – from a cat’s purr to waves lapping on the shore – and exactly how they affect our brain.
More and more of us are zeroing in on that perfect sound to ease our mind when stressed or to help us get to sleep.
With a neverending stream of upsetting world events and the cost-of-living crisis showing little sign of calming down, it’s no wonder so many are seeking alternative, healthy ways to relax.
And allowing a specific noise – or noises – wash over you is an increasingly popular way to coax the mind into drifting off on a sea of tranquility. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of certain sounds, such as gentle ocean waves or soft rainfall, can evoke a sense of calmness and stability, helping to alleviate stress and promote relaxation. Additionally, the pitch and frequency of sounds also play a crucial role; low-frequency tones, like those found in deep breathing or soothing music, can slow heart rate and induce a state of joyful calm.
Furthermore, just the absence of jarring or discordant noises allows the mind to unwind and focus, leading to a deep sense of relaxation.
To help you find your sound – or sounds – to elicit that elusive relaxation response, audiologist at Boots Hearingacre, Hannah Samuels, and hypnotherapist at Lifestyle Therapy, Susan Leigh, have whittled down a list of the nation’s ten most relaxing noises – and reveal how they affect our brain.
According to the survey, the top 10 sounds Brits find the most relaxing are:
Waves (42 per cent)
Rain on a window (34 per cent)
Birds singing (33 per cent)
Fire crackling (23 per cent)
Cats purring (20 per cent)
Running water (20 per cent)
Wind (17 per cent)
Thunderstorm (16 per cent)
TV (13 per cent)
White noise (11 per cent)
The results show that the sound Brits find the most relaxing is the sound of waves followed by rain on a window.
If you can’t see the poll, click here
Susan comments: “Waves often have a rhythmic ebbing and flowing, making a regular soothing pattern. The strength of the waves reminds us of the daily cycle of the moon, day and night, the reassuring continuous flow and power of nature.
“Rain on a window gives that lovely secure feeling that comes from being safely ensconced indoors, maybe with our nose pressed against the pane, all warm and cosy. The regularity of rainfall is that soft familiar backdrop to our indoor cosiness, when we may think about going outside, see the weather and change our minds.”
Bird sounds took the third most relaxing spot, followed by fire cracking.
Susan shares: “We enjoy birds singing as it makes us feel like all is well with the world. It may be springtime and they’re busy building nests, it may be 4am in summer and they’re busy finding food for their young. Maybe happy memories from hiking as a child with family, stopping for a picnic, maybe soggy sandwiches, but the birds don’t mind and still continue to sing.
“Fire crackling is indicative of memories of cosy evenings, maybe with family, playing games, watching TV, maybe eating and chatting together. It may link in with visits to grandparents, toasting crumpets and marshmallows, all happy memories that can be triggered by a fire crackling, whether it be indoors or a bonfire or campfire.”
Sounds of nature seem to be the most relaxing, with the top 8 results all being sounds of the outdoors, elements or animals.
Explaining why these sorts of sounds are the most soothing to us, Susan says: ‘The sounds of nature are often reassuring and repetitive, and are rarely harsh or forced. We often retreat to nature to unwind, go for a walk, take a camping break, and de-stress. Sounds of nature often link with a feeling of getting away from it all.’
Answers also differed depending on age, with results finding that Gen Z (aged 16-24) are the demographic most likely to engage with white noise for relaxation (22 per cent). Results also showed that neurodivergent individuals are more likely to find white noise relaxing than those who consider themselves neurotypical (15 per cent vs 10 per cent).
Susan states: “White noise is often seen as a remedy and sought-out solution for stress or insomnia. White noise can be likened to sounds and frequencies such as radio static, a whirring fan, a humming air conditioner, or a vacuum cleaner. It’s super accessible as it’s possible to download white noise to use whenever it’s needed.”
Hannah shares: “For issues like tinnitus, you can help your brain distract and retrain by using white noise. Listening to white noise allows you to take your mind to an external sound, tuning out from the tinnitus and shifting your focus elsewhere.”
“Most people with tinnitus find that it can be temporarily reduced using the distraction method with things like a ticking clock, sound generator or hearing aids, which often come with dedicated tinnitus maskers built in.”