A New Relationship
How I craved you in my youth. The bigger your roar, the less I could resist you. The harder you shook everything that was supposed to be stationary, the closer I moved in. I needed to experience you up close and personal. You brought the style to a musical gathering. If my cheeks did not tremble in your pressure wave, I was not close enough to the speakers or the stage.
You brought the power to the vehicles I rode or drove. I was too fast for anyone to see me come but loud enough for everyone to hear me go. I swapped mufflers for tuned pipes. You added the pop to make me popular.
You were the strength behind all my tools. Grass quivered and branches trembled as you rose out of silence to foretell the imminent arrival of the blade. The stronger and harder the piece of wood or metal the higher was the crescendo of your battle cry. Nothing stood a chance in the end—you made sure. And then you dropped your pitch a hair right after you had cut, hammered, or drilled through the last bit of resistance, just to tell the world of yet another victory.
Yes! Noise, we had more than our share of fun. But I paid all of the price. You started by getting my hair cells addicted to the elixir of glutamate. The hair cells were punch drunk, bloated, their stereocilia droopy, drenched in the excitement of action. Slowly but surely though the potion of life turned into the poison of death. The stereocilia would not stand up straight anymore. The nice order of a group soon resembled the lawless aftermath of a tornado in the forest. A few at a time, just so I would not notice, the hair cells themselves began to disappear. Without their companions, the neurons of my hearing nerve started to wither away next. Like a drying river bed or a melting glacier, your death grip kept reaching further and further upstream. I resented you every time I missed the punch line of a joke. I swore at you every time I stared at a beautiful but eerily silent scene replete with all of nature's song makers—the birds, a stream, and a gentle breeze through the forest full of leaves. So, you will forgive my narrowed eyes and wrinkled brow when you knocked on the door and asked to be friends again. As if yesterday, and the day before, and the weeks and years before, could be forgotten.
You were back to help you said. Just to help me sleep better at night, you assured. So reluctantly, I let you stream out of a little box on my night stand. You had mellowed with time. You felt more like a gentle breeze and less like the gale wind that you used to be. Sure enough, you drowned out the tinny whine inside my ears, another gift of our past relationship, and I could sleep. For the first time in years, I could sleep.
You are back again. You are in pink. Head to toe in pink and you promise that you will help me remember better. Yet another trick up your sleeve? Or a genuine friendly gesture to turn back the clock. Sure, I would like to be quick on the draw—as I used to be. It would save me the embarrassment of not remembering birthdays, life events, and sometimes even names. You know me so well and you pull out all stops. You promise a return to my glory days with the crossword puzzle. I am tired of being the last one to finish at my coffee club. So, I agree to take the plunge of faith—again.
This time you came in short pulses, synced to a specific portion of my brainwaves, as I slept with no expectations. Maybe just because of having an old friend in the room, I woke up more refreshed than usual. You say that is no coincidence. You claim that your rhythmic bursts at just the right time increase deep sleep. But that was not even the big news. I took the memory test again. The same one I had taken right before I went to sleep. And I discovered a new me with memory almost snappy as it ever used to be. Thank you, Noise! Or should I call you “Pink Noise.” Now let me remember and reminisce about all the good times we have spent together.
The original work describing the effect of EEG-synchronized pink noise stimulation during sleep on memory is described in:
Papalambros NA, Santostasi G, Malkani RG, Braun R, Weintraub S, Paller KA, Zee PC. (2017) Acoustic Enhancement of Sleep Slow Oscillations and Concomitant Memory Improvement in Older Adults. Front Hum Neurosci. Mar 8;11:109
Leminen MM, Virkkala J, Saure E, Paajanen T, Zee PC, Santostasi G, Hublin C, Müller K, Porkka-Heiskanen T, Huotilainen M, Paunio T. (2017) Enhanced Memory Consolidation Via Automatic Sound Stimulation During Non-REM Sleep. Mar 1:40(3).