Does White Noise Help You Sleep?
18th Feb 2020
If you’re lucky enough to be able to sleep through a tornado, you probably don’t need any help getting a restful night. But if you’re someone who wakes up at the slightest sound, you may be desperate for a cure to this problem.
A white noise machine could be the key to getting the rest you need. But do they really work? Are they better than other sleep products? Does white noise help you sleep better, sounder, and deeper?
If you’re looking for an organic way to fall asleep (and stay asleep) through the wind howling, the house creaking, the neighbor’s dog yapping, and your partner’s snoring… It may be worth giving a white noise product a try.
What Is White Noise?
Search any music platform for “white noise”, and you’ll find a lot of nature-related soundtracks that have lovely, soothing names like “Soft Rainfall” or “Ocean Breeze”.
Most of these are not actually the real deal, though.
True white noise is a specific kind of sound that is created by layering every single audible frequency together at the same time. This creates a flat, continuous tone that acts as a filter for other noise.
What Does White Noise Sound Like?
You may think that a multi-layered noise would be… Well, noisy. That’s not the case, though.
Although it’s made up of thousands of notes, white noise is an inconspicuous tone that is often described as a humming, buzzing, or hissing - otherwise known as “ static”.
Who Would Benefit From Using White Noise?
Most of us have trouble sleeping at some point or another. When it becomes a regular thing, though, it might be time to start looking for a healthy way to get more rest.
If you’ve already discounted the most common reasons for not sleeping, such as drinking too much coffee, high stress levels, or any pain and discomfort (such as muscle soreness or menstrual cramps for girls), there could be a subtle noise waking you, or keeping you awake.
A background static machine would help those who:
- Suffer from insomnia
- Live in a noisy area
- Are light sleepers
- Suffer from anxiety
- Spend many nights in unfamiliar environments
Who Wouldn’t Benefit From This Kind Of Audio Machine?
White noise isn’t for everyone. For some it may be annoying or intrusive, and for others it just might not have any effect at all.
Those who may not get much benefit from using it include:
- People with medical conditions such as sleep apnea
- Those who are looking for relief from a noisy or snoring partner
- Anyone expecting a quick fix to all their sleep problems
How Does Static Noise Help Us Sleep?
Imagine being in a room that’s totally silent - except for a dripping tap. That’s pretty much every light sleeper’s nightmare!
Now think of hearing the ocean crashing right outside your window. You wouldn’t notice the drip in the midst of all that racket, would you?
That’s essentially how white noise works - it fills our ears with so many different frequencies that we can no longer really pick out that one little thing that bugs us.
The dripping tap or barking dog becomes just another frequency that gets lost in the crowd, so it doesn’t spike your attention and cause you to wake up.
There are two important parts of rest that white noise helps with:
The constant drone of this multi-layered tone can help our active brain to relax and fall asleep easier, like a subtle form of hypnosis.
It should take you between 5 and 15 minutes to fall asleep, but if you’re worrying about something, rehashing the events of the day, or keep getting interrupted by sound, you may find yourself still staring at the ceiling half an hour later.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to help you fall asleep faster, with or without a machine, but using one can definitely help lull your mind into a state that’s more conducive to drifting off.
Once you’re asleep, the random sounds that pop up during the night are filtered out by the static, so things that would normally catch your attention go unnoticed.
That car passing by, next door’s dog barking, or the tree branch tapping on your window get lost in the mish-mash of frequencies that your machine is putting out, giving you an uninterrupted sleep.
Different “Color” Tones
There are other, similar tones that perform the same kind of function.
White, pink, and brown noise are the most common kinds used for rest. Their frequencies are found often in nature, which is why waves crashing, rainfall, or wind in the trees can be so calming, even though they aren’t quite the same thing.
Pink noise is subtly different to white. They both contain all the frequencies the human ear can hear, but the mix of power of the various tones is what makes the difference.
The lower frequencies within the pink tone are more powerful than the higher ones, giving you a more bass-like drone.
There’s a bit of scientific evidence that suggests pink noise promotes deeper, restful sleep just as its white cousin does.
This tone is even deeper than pink, like the roll of thunder. It’s a heavy kind of tone, but in a helpful way when it comes to rest.
There’s not an awful lot of research out there on brown noise yet, but if you’re a deep bass kind of person this tone could be the one that gets you in the zone.
Blue is the opposite to the two above, where the higher frequencies are amplified. This makes it a sharper, hissing tone, which can be great for reducing other clatter but may be harsher on the ears.
Why Is White Noise The Standard?
White noise technology has been around since the 1800s, so it has a lot of solid evidence behind it. The pink, brown, and blue variations are newer technologies, and audio engineers and scientists are still learning about them.
White noise is the most straightforward of the three, and works for so many people that it continues to be the first choice.
What Other Advantages Are There To Using White Noise?
The health benefits of getting a good night’s rest are undeniable.
Using an audio sleep-enhancer to help, though, can benefit you in some unexpected ways.
This may be surprising, but a study by the University of Basel has indicated that listening to white noise can actually make your hearing better!
Even though these tones dampen other sounds, the research shows that people who often use this multi-layered tone have a better ability to distinguish between subtle pitch changes.
Another scientific study shows that “acoustic stimulation methods” help increase sleep-dependent memory retention.
The study comprised of folks aged 60 and above, which also shows that this kind of technology is great for all ages.
Reduced Use Of Chemical Sleep Aids
Using sleeping tablets to avoid waking during the night has become an unfortunately common practice. Millions use them every night just to be able to get enough rest to function.
While there’s nothing wrong with popping one every now and then when necessary, excessive use can lead to some really undesirable health problems.
Using one of these tones as an alternative could make a huge difference to your health if you’re looking for an organic, safe way to fall asleep and stay sleeping.
The science behind these benefits can get pretty complicated, but it basically means that white noise machines help for m ore than just sleep!
Are There Disadvantages To Using White Noise?
There hasn’t been much in-depth research into the topic, but there seem to be a few possible negatives, such as:
Being Unable To Fall Asleep Without It
The human mind is a complicated thing, and it likes routine. If you’ve discovered the joys of using this magic hum to fall asleep, it’s possible you may find yourself struggling to get a good solid rest without it.
Despite the wonders of technology, there may be occasions when you need to spend the night without your noise machine.
If it’s become an integral part of your sleeping, you may not have much luck trying to doze off without the comforting sound in the background.
This is called sleep association, and it’s a real thing—it’s not just you being silly about the environment being too quiet. Your brain has rewired itself to believe it needs the background noise to fall asleep, which can be difficult to unlearn.
Ringing In The Ears
It’s common for everyone to experience this once in a while, but if it’s becoming a more regular thing for you, it could be due to your sound machine.
Chronic buzzing or ringing in the ears is known as tinnitus, and your dampening background tone could be contributing to it. This generally happens when you’ve been hearing it too loudly for too long, so simply turning it down a bit could help.
There is also evidence, though, that listening to this type of tone can help reduce tinnitus. It’s all about balance and what works for you.
Both of these side effects are only possibilities, and may never happen to you.
Alternatives To Using White/Pink/Brown Noise
You don’t need to go ahead and get yourself a noise generator right now - there are things you can try first to see if the concept would work for you.
If you need something to help you get a better night’s rest, there are two types of devices to choose from:
- Devices that create sound
- Devices that block out sound
Sound Conditioning Devices
These devices give off a constant tone, just like the background noise machine we’ve been talking about.
If you think a background audio filter could help you but you’d prefer not to buy a white noise machine, try one of these:
Most of us have one of these lying around the house. The fan is a great alternative, as it performs a very similar function to the static noise generator.
The only difference is that, despite its constant humming, the fan doesn’t cancel out or cover up all audio.
If you simply need a distraction instead of a noise-cancelling sound frequency, a fan could work well for you.
If you aren’t too keen to go out and buy a whole new appliance yet, there are plenty of phone apps that will generate the noise for you.
Just make sure you use a decent pair of headphones - there’s no point trying to fall asleep while lying on something that’s causing you discomfort.
Bedphones are ideal for this purpose, as they were designed with comfy sleep in mind!
Sound Reducing Devices
If you don’t like the idea of a constant whirring while you sleep, you can choose something designed to block the sound out instead.
Earplugs have been used by happy snoring couples for decades. They’re helpful for blocking out all that other random din, too.
You can find them at most stores, so this is a super easy one if you need a solution now. Most earplugs are also fairly comfy (they’ve improved over the years), so you won’t wake up with aching ears.
A possible downside to this is that they may fall out during the night, leaving you open to auditory invasions.
Musicians and sound engineers will know all about soundproofing. This is definitely the one on the list that requires the most work, but it is effective to an extent.
Soundproofing can get a little technical. The basic principle is simple, though. It uses sound barriers to block certain frequencies from entering the space.
Typically, it’s used to prevent noise from getting out of a room, but it works the other way around too.
The easiest way to do this is simply to put a sound-absorbing material between you and the noise.
You can go all-out and have insulation foam placed in your walls, but for most of us this isn’t affordable or practical. There are easier things you can do to DIY your sound dampening, such as:
- Applying foam to your walls
- Covering the walls and windows in heavy fabric
- Adding a layer of drywall
- Using sound-reducing spray paint
- Layering your walls with vinyl
It works, to an extent. The downside is that it isn’t as good at reducing sounds of all frequencies as white noise is.
It’s a good measure to take if you:
- live near a freeway
- in a particularly noisy area, or
- if the neighbor’s teenage son is in a garage band.
If none of the above choices appeal to you, the last option is to cover the aggravating noise with… More noise.
Filling the background with racket may mask the specific sounds that keep you up at night.
The danger here is that it may create a sleep association that makes it hard for you to rest in silence.
If you have a TV in your bedroom, this could be an option. Some people find the action in the background quite soothing and sleep far sounder, so it’s worth a try.
We don’t recommend this unless you’ve tried all other measures, though. The light from the TV can mess around with your sleeping cycle. This can leave you feeling unrested—even if you weren’t aware of waking up during the night.
Listening To Music
There’s a reason moms sing lullabies to babies to get them to doze off. Music can be very soothing and has an amazing effect on a person’s emotional state.
Of course, the genre of music that works best for you will depend on your own taste. Classical music is always a good choice, but if hard rock does it for you, then go for it!
The best music to have in your ears as you drift away is something that clocks in at 60 to 80 beats per minute. This is the range of most people’s resting heart rate, so it’s soothing in a very natural, biological way.
If you’re listening to something you find relaxing, this could work well for you. Don’t forget to wear comfortable headphones!
If the sound of chatter soothes you, then you may want to go for a podcast as you’re nodding off.
Whether you choose music or a talk show, be sure to choose something that makes you feel calm and allows your mind to start easing up to prepare for rest.
Is White Noise or Sound Dampening Better?
The kind of audio sleep aid that would work best for you really depends on… you.
White noise products and sound dampening are the most widely-used methods.
Which would be best for you?
Both options have their merits, but you’ll need to consider things like:
Let’s do a quick comparison of the two:
- Variety of methods (machine, app, streaming websites, etc)
- Hardly noticeable
- Different kinds available (white, pink, brown, etc)
- Portable and great for traveling
- You can use it when you choose to
- May develop a sleep association
- Chance of developing tinnitus
- Not likely to create a sleep association
- Great for noisy neighborhoods
- Various types available
- Able to blend into the home decor
- Can be pricey
- Takes time to set up
- Not possible to take with you when you move or go on vacation
As you can see, each has its pros and cons.
We recommend choosing an audio option over sound dampening because it’s cheaper and more versatile. You can also take your white noise machine wherever you go!
Why Should We Be Taking Measures To Get Better Sleep?
Sleep is one of the big trio of things we really need to stay alive, along with food and water!
Not getting enough sleep can have a range of effects, from less severe symptoms like:
- Imparied memory, and
To more serious symptoms such as:
- Hormone imbalances
- Increased likelihood of vehicle accidents, and
- Immune system shutdown
Making sure we get quality rest will set us up for the next day, and ensure that we:
- Are in a good mood
- Feel healthy and strong
- Can focus on tasks
- Are more productive
- Are drinking coffee for enjoyment, not necessity!
The amount of sleep we need also varies by person, but 6 hours of solid, uninterrupted rest is a good number to aim for.
Does white noise help you sleep? That depends on you, but the general consensus is yes, it does.
Is it a miracle worker? Not likely. There’s still a chance of a loud snore or a cat fight outside waking you.
But if you’re looking for something to soothe, relax, and guide you into a deeper sleep, it’s definitely worth trying a white noise generator.
We can’t guarantee you’ll look as happy as this lady while sleeping…
But why not have a go and let us know?