Spotify’s year-end Wrapped lists are always something to behold; a unique and deeply fascinating form of social anthropology. But in 2020, a year defined by unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety, it was all the more intriguing to get a peek into the audio offerings that helped get people through it all. Some takeaways, according to my observations? While you can always rely on the feel-good merits of an Ariana Grande bop or the addictive escapism of true crime podcasts, it seems that rain sounds may have been the sleeper hit of 2020 (pun very much intended).
It was art-pop musician Grimes who first made me aware of this possibility. Earlier this month on her Instagram Stories, she shared that her top song of the year was Lluvia PQ's “Rain All Night,” a three and half minute track of rain-soaked ambient sounds that has racked up nearly 25 million listens. Once several other people I followed revealed that rain sounds dominated their most-played tracks too, I suspected it was more than just a fluke. Who didn't need extra help falling and staying asleep this year?
“Anything pertaining to water sends me to a place of nostalgia and comfort,” says Canadian writer Hannah Johnson, who grew up listening to her grandmother’s whale sounds cassette tape and spending summers at the beach in Nova Scotia. In lockdown, when Johnson began experiencing more bouts of insomnia than usual, she started listening to water-centric nature sounds to help clear her mind and quell her longing for a getaway. Among her top tracks were “Heavy Thunderstorm Sounds” and “Soothing Rain Sounds in Glastonbury” by Stardust Vibes, a mother-son duo that produces nature sound recordings and relaxation music.
“Sometimes I’ll put on a crackling fireplace soundtrack, or a particularly beachy rainstorm track that makes me feel like maybe there isn’t a pandemic raging and I’m on a weekend getaway at a secluded cottage somewhere,” she explains. While V Magazine’s digital director Mathias Rosenzweig finds similar comfort in nature sounds, not just any rain soundscape will do. “I have, quite literally, spent hours trying to find the perfect rain soundtrack,” Rosenzweig tells me. “It needs to be the right pitch, the right “volume” of rain, and consistent, without sudden bursts of lightning and whatnot to ruin the vibe or give me a heart attack while I’m heading to dreamsville.” His pitch-perfect soundtrack? Crain & Taylor’s “Mountain Rain,” off of an album beloved by new parents: Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night.
It’s no secret that rain sounds offer troubled sleepers comfort. “Rain is predictable, calming, stable, and non-threatening,” says Dr. Shelby Harris, a behavioural sleep-medicine specialist. According to Harris, steady rainfall noises help lull the brain into falling asleep, block outside noises, and frequently induce a more meditative state that brings on relaxation. Though similar to the hum of white noise, rain sounds are actually considered pink noise, which is quickly becoming the new It noise colour. “White noise consists of a large spectrum of all frequencies that are audible to the human ear,” explains Harris. “In contrast, pink noise — though similar in sound to white noise with its consistent “whoosh”-ing noise that blocks external noises — has less of the higher frequencies. Essentially, it is deeper than white noise.” While there’s limited research on pink noise, a National Library of Medicine study found that it increased deep sleep and dramatically improved memory in older adults.
While rain soundtracks are a sleep time mainstay for many, it’s no surprise they’re seeing an uptick in interest during the pandemic. “Stress levels are high, and we have active and busy minds that are hard to turn off,” says Harris. “Sometimes just going back to nature in a steady, repetitive, non-threatening sound can help quiet the active brain.” And as we’re spending more and more time awake, rain recordings can also help block out other noises that pose a threat to sleep. In other words, it’s never too late to trade the ping of push notifications for the sweet pitter-patter of raindrops. Your REM cycle will thank you.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.
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