Sound for sleep: white noise machines.
April 15, 2021
Author: Lauren Baer
Our sleep environments have many components—the bed being the most important—that involve all senses. One that affects the quality of sleep for many people worldwide is sound. Sure, some people could sleep through a rave, but for most people, a consistent soundscape is something that is key to getting a great night’s sleep. The sound element of sleep has been developing in leaps and bounds. There are a plethora of options, from bedtime stories for grown-ups to noise-canceling earbuds to the most popular—white noise. There are hundreds of white noise machine options on the market available on amazon alone ranging from pocket change to $500+, so why are they so great?
How Sound Affects Sleep
Sound affects sleep in two main ways: by lulling you to sleep and keeping you there. White noise is especially great for smoothing over interruptions in a soundscape. This prevents them from being jarring enough to wake you from slumber.
Without Sleep Sounds
With Sleep Sounds
For a small 2005 study in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers exposed sleepers to recorded hospital sounds either with or without a white noise machine. Their analysis of the sleepers’ brain waves found that those who slept with the white noise machine were hardly disturbed by the hospital sounds, while sleep arousals were frequent among those who slept without white noise.”
What Constitutes White Noise?
According to the Sleep Foundation, white noise ‘consists of low-, medium-, and high-frequency sounds played together at the same intensity level’ resulting in a “shh” sound many associate with television or radio static’.²
More recently, researchers have given credence to a range of other sleep-aiding sounds:
There’s also so-called “pink noise” and “brown noise,” which can sound similar to white noise, but have different underlying acoustical properties. While white noise is composed of a more or less equal mix of low-, medium-, and high-frequency sounds, pink noise and brown noise emphasize low-frequency tones to a greater degree. Grandner describes pink noise as a hiss while brown noise is more of a shush. White noise falls somewhere in between, he says.” ³
Will White Noise Help Me?
The short answer is: it might! It’s not for everyone, but it does work for a lot of people. Many people think it counter-intuitive to play noise to get to sleep, but it’s the consistency that’s key. Whether you live in a noisy neighborhood or building or struggle with the eerie silence of your surroundings, white noise may help.
Two instances in which people have found it especially helpful are with pets and babies:
“There are even machines specifically designed for use with infants. Some are equipped with instrumental lullabies or even a heartbeat noise that is used to mimic that of the mother.
A groundbreaking 1990 study published in the Archives of Disease in ChildhoodTrusted Source found that white noise could be helpful. Forty newborns were studied, and it was found that 80 percent were able to fall asleep after five minutes of hearing white noise.” ⁴
Dogs can hear frequencies between 40,000-60,000 Hz—a much bigger range than we can. This means the chance of interruptions to their sleep is even greater. White noise can soothe anxious or high-alert dogs simply by blanketing sounds that would otherwise draw their attention.
Have you tried a white noise machine?
If white noise doesn’t work for you, why not try a podcast for sleep or find an app that can help wind you down?
If you are struggling with your sleep environment check out some of our tips from a Sleep Hacker.