If you tend to lay awake at night longer than you’d like because the neighbor’s beagle offers a nightly serenade or car horns and traffic noises from the street below thwart any chance of getting some shut-eye, white noise might be your answer. Because of its ability to mask ambient noise, white noise is often recommended as a way to help people improve their quality of sleep.
“The relationship between sound and sleep is complex and fascinating,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “While some sounds can disrupt sleep, others can facilitate sleep. The trick is to know which sounds help sleep and which ones disrupt sleep.”
“The frequency of a sound can provide some insight because certain tonal frequencies synchronize with certain frequencies in sleep EEG and thereby enhance sleep. In contrast, other tonal frequencies can disrupt sleep by interfering with sleep EEG frequencies.”
The truth is, though, that the benefits of white noise go far beyond masking the nuisance sounds around you. Ahead, we take a closer look at white noise and how you can use white noise for better sleep.
What Is White Noise?
White noise is the auditory equivalent of white light. Just as white light contains all colors of light, white noise is a combination of all the sound frequencies we can hear (from 20hertz to 20,000 hertz) played in random order at the same intensity or amplitude. This typically results in a sound that most people would equate with TV or radio static, the whirring of a fan, or the hum of an air conditioner.
Other Colors of Noise
White noise is the sound color most of us are familiar with, and more often than not, it’s the one recommended for sleep issues. And while white noise can be pretty helpful, there are other sound colors, some of which can also improve your sleep.
Like white noise, pink noise contains all of the sound frequencies that humans can hear (from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz). However, unlike white noise, the higher frequencies in pink noise are less intense, and the lower frequencies are louder, resulting in a deeper sound.
Typically, most people tend to find pink noise less harsh and abrasive. Whereas white noise sounds like radio static, pink noise sounds more like rain, wind, rustling leaves, or waves crashing on a beach.
Like white noise, pink is also a popular color noise for sleep, and it looks like research substantiates the choice. In aconducted by Northwestern University, researchers found that pink noise synced to the rhythm of one’s brain waves resulted in enhanced deep sleep and incidentally improved word recall in older adults.
Also referred to as red noise, Brown noise is again all audible frequencies, with plenty of bass. Devoid of higher frequencies, Brown noise is deeper than either white or pink noise.
Thunder, a pounding surf, and waterfalls are all examples of Brown noise. If you’re wondering why Brown noise is capitalized, that’s because this noise color is named after the botanist who discovered it—Robert Brown not the color brown.
Whereas white noise consists of every audible frequency, black noise is the absence of sound. Simon and Garfunkel might be pleased to know that black noise is the sound of silence.
How Does White Noise Help You Sleep?
While most people turn to white noise to help them mask ambient noises around them, there are other ways that white noise can help you catch some zzz’s. However, we must also note that it is still being studied, andon how white noise can reduce sleep onset latency.
White Noise Blocks Ambient Noise and Promotes Deeper Sleep
Most people think that loud noises such as door slamming or a car honking is what wakes them from their slumber, but it’s not the noise itself that wakes them. It’s the change in consistency of sound.
Essentially white noise works by creating a buffer between ambient noise and your eardrums. In addition to helping you fall asleep, white noise also does the heavy lifting to help you stay asleep by blocking out or masking those jarring noises that disrupt your sleep.
To further illustrate this point, abased out of New York City found that white noise significantly improved the sleep quality as well as the duration of sleep in that participants who reported sleep disruptions due to high levels of environmental noise.
White Noise Helps You Fall Asleep Faster
Those who find themselves counting sheep to catch some shut-eye may be happy to know that white noise alsoor the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.
One study even found that white noise helped participants move right into stage 2 of their sleep cycle.
Stage 2 of your body’s sleep cycle is the stage where your body disengages from the environment, and your breathing and heart rate begins to slow down as your body prepares itself or stages 3 and 4, or the deeper sleep stages.
It Helps You Tune Out The Thoughts That Are Keeping You Awake at Night
For so many people, it’s worries and intrusive thoughts that keep sleep at bay. When your brain has a hard time powering down enough to let you catch some zzz’s, white noise can divert your focus and help you tune out the “noise” or intrusive thoughts keeping you awake at night.
How to Use White Noise for Better Sleep
Sound machines are one of the easiest ways to use white noise for better sleep. These machines are readily available, and you’ll find that there are plenty to choose from, including white noise machines, pink noise machines, and even machines that produce nature sounds like falling rain and crashing waves.
And in true 21st-century form, there are plenty of apps that do the same. By using your smartphone, you not only eliminate extra clutter to your nightstand, but smartphones, of course, have the intrinsic benefit of always being on your person. So, if you’re always on the go, you travel a lot and find yourself moving from hotel to hotel, your white noise is always with you.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few highly-rated apps for sleep to consider:
How to Choose a Sound Machine
You shouldn’t just have a TV in the bedroom and turn it on for some static at night if you want to take advantage of background noise. If you’re in the market for a white noise machine, there are a few things to consider when purchasing.
Sound machines are usually jam-packed with features, and many can produce multiple colors of noise. Some machines are also designed to produce ambient and natural sounds, so when you’re in the market for a sound machine, be sure to find the one that produces the sounds or sound color you want.
Like everything else on the planet, white noise machines come in a wide array of price points. When you begin your search, you’ll likely find machines that cost $20 as well as machines that cost upwards of $100.
Your choice ultimately depends on what your budget allows. Just remember that higher-end machines typically come with more features than budget models.
If you’re like most people, your nightstand is probably a flurry of activity. From charging your tech to storing your books, glasses, and whatever else you need during the night, there may not be a lot of space to work with. There may be ways to de-clutter your bedroom, but even so, you likely only have so much space to work with.
So, when you’re shopping for a white noise machine, you may want to consider the size as well. The good news is most white noise machines are lightweight and compact. In fact, many are designed to be travel-friendly, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one that doesn’t eat up too much real estate on your nightstand.
One important thing to consider when it comes to white noise machines is whether or not it turns off when it’s done or loops sounds. Some machines will simply stop when the recording is finished, while others loop sounds to create a continuous listening experience.
If you typically take a long time to fall asleep, an abrupt end to your white noise can be bothersome. In that case, a white noise machine with looping sounds (or continuous play) might be a better alternative.
Some white noise machines are equipped with programmable timers that automatically shut the device off after a certain amount of time. Auto shut-off features are always nice because you don’t have to disrupt your sleep to turn it off. Plus, they can be pretty helpful if your partner has a different sleep routine and doesn’t particularly care for white noise throughout the night.
Many white noise machines also come equipped with a built-in alarm clock, so they’re essentially a one-and-done device eliminating the need for multiple devices on your nightstand.
Who Should Not Use White Noise for Sleep?
White noise can be beneficial for many individuals in improving their sleep quality. It is particularly helpful for those who struggle with falling asleep fast or staying asleep due to environmental noises or intrusive thoughts. It can create a soothing and consistent background sound that masks disruptive sounds and promotes a more relaxed state for sleep.
However, there are some cases where white noise may not be suitable. One such group is people with sensory sensitivities or individuals who find certain sounds overstimulating may not benefit from white noise and may find it more disruptive to their sleep. Conditions that are linked to sound sensitivity orinclude:
- (ASD): People with ASD often experience sensory sensitivities, including sounds.
- (ADHD): Individuals with ADHD may have sensory processing challenges, such as being easily overwhelmed by certain sounds, sights, or textures.
- (PTSD): Individuals with PTSD may have heightened sensitivity to certain sensory cues, such as loud noises or crowded environments, due to their association with traumatic experiences.
- Anxiety can contribute to sensory sensitivities and overstimulation, making individuals more susceptible to sensory overload.
- Migraines can cause hypersensitivity to light, sound, and other sensory stimuli during a migraine episode.
- (CFS): People with CFS may experience heightened sensitivity to sensory input, such as noise, light, or touch.
While individuals with(OCD) and can experience sensory sensitivities, there is no direct correlation between these conditions and sensitivity to white noise. Sensory sensitivities can vary from person to person, and some individuals may find certain sounds or stimuli bothersome, while others may not. In some cases, certain sounds or repetitive patterns, including white noise, may inadvertently become associated with obsessive thoughts or tic triggers, potentially leading to increased distress or discomfort.
Individuals with certain medical conditions or hearing impairments may need to consult with a healthcare professional before using white noise. These include individuals with(extreme sensitivity to sound), (ringing in the ears), or certain types of hearing loss.
It’s important to understand your own preferences and sensitivities when it comes to sound and to experiment with different types of noise or sound colors to find what works best for you. Some individuals may find other sound options, such as pink noise or nature sounds, more soothing and effective for their sleep. Others may benefit from silence.
When to See a Doctor
Everyone experiences sleep issues from time to time, which is totally normal. And while it’s ok, to seek your own solutions, such as melatonin for sleep, ongoing issues may require the help of your doctor.
Not only can your doctor identify any underlying health issues that may be causing insomnia or other disordered sleeping, but he or she will most likely be able to offer solutions that work.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should white noise stay on all night?
Whether or not to keep white noise on all night is a personal preference. Some people prefer to keep it on all night, while others prefer to have it automatically switched off after they fall asleep.
It is important to keep the volume at a safe level and to avoid placing the sound machine too close to your ears. You may also wish to speak with your doctor about the potential risks of leaving a sound machine unattended.
Can anxiety make you sensitive to white noise?
Yes, people with anxiety disorders can be sound sensitive, as can people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette Syndrome. For people with anxiety, it’s possible for white noise to soothe them. However, some people may find that white noise can increase their feelings of anxiety or make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Instead of white noise, it may be helpful to try other methods for blocking out noise, such as earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, thicker curtains in the bedroom, etc.
Can you use white noise to help children sleep?
Yes, white noise can be used to help children sleep. It can help drown out other noises in the environment and create a calming atmosphere. White noise has even been suggested as a way to help infants sleep at night.
It is important to use white noise at a safe volume and to avoid placing the sound machine too close to the child’s ears. Parents should also be aware of any potential risks associated with white noise and consult with a pediatrician if they have any concerns.
Can white noise help me fall asleep faster?
Yes, white noise can help you fall asleep faster. White noise can create a constant and consistent background noise that can help block out other sounds that may be keeping you awake. This can help create a more relaxing environment and help you fall asleep faster.
How do you drown out sounds in your sleep?
To block out noise in the bedroom, you can go beyond just wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. A thicker door or a towel stuffed into the crack between the door and the floor can muffle noise outside the bedroom, and acoustic wall panels can reduce sound within the bedroom. Heavier curtains or even new windows can keep noise outside from disturbing your rest.
In conclusion, white noise can be a helpful tool in improving sleep quality by blocking out ambient noises, promoting deeper sleep, reducing sleep latency, and helping to divert attention from intrusive thoughts. It can be used through sound machines or smartphone apps, providing a convenient solution for better sleep.
However, it’s important to consider individual preferences and needs when using white noise, and consulting a doctor may be necessary for ongoing sleep issues. Remember, finding the right approach to sleep is a personal journey, and seeking professional guidance can lead to effective solutions tailored to your specific situation.