How White Noise Can Help You Get Better Sleep

If you’ve ever trouble sleeping at night, you’ve probably had someone suggest that you try out white noise.

Some people swear by this stuff, claiming that it gets them better sleep than pretty much anything out there.

Sound too good to be true?

Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the science and benefits of white noise.

Let’s get started!

What Is White Noise?

Old-timey TV with a screen full of staticLet’s start with the basics—just what is white noise, anyway?

There are basically two definitions you’re likely to come across.

The first is the technical definition.

This considers white noise to be a combination of all the sounds you’re capable of hearing, just like white light is a combination of all the colors of the rainbow.

When people talk about white noise most of the time, though, they’re not actually using the term in the scientific sense.

Instead, they’re just talking about any monotonous background noises.

There are a lot of different kinds of these.

Rain falling on a roof, the ocean noises, rainforest noises, and the sounds of a crowded restaurant are just a couple examples.

You might’ve come across YouTube videos of these at some point.

Although they don’t meet the technical definition of white noise, they can serve the same function while you’re trying to get to sleep.

How Does White Noise Work?

Regardless of what kind of “white noise” we’re talking about, it all works the same way.

Basically, it reduces the difference in volume between background noises and whatever loud sounds might punctuate your night.

Think of it this way.

If you’re at a loud concert, you’re going to have shout in your friend’s ear if you want to make yourself heard.

If you’re in a quiet library, on the other hand, just talking to your friend at a normal volume might seem startlingly loud.

This is because our brains are designed to pick out differences in sensory inputs.

We compare baseline levels to peak levels, so if you have some really strong white noise playing in the background, it’s going to be a lot harder for other noises to startle you out of or away from sleep.

Creating a Nighttime Routine with White Noise

Crescent moon against a cloudy skyIn addition to simple blotting out unwanted nighttime sounds, white noise can also help get your body ready for sleep on a

nightly basis.

If you have friends who use white noise at night, you might have heard them say that it can be tough for them to get to sleep without it.

This is because our bodies thrive on routine.

They like being able to anticipate what’s going to happen next, which is why getting to bed at a regular time and creating soothing bedtime rituals are often a great way to start getting better sleep.

Modern life is crazy, and a lot of us have issues creating that kind of regularity in our sleep-wake cycle.

Maybe you’ve got to stay up late to take care of something.

Maybe you’re in an unfamiliar hotel room, and you can’t go through the motions you normally do to get yourself ready for sleep.

While these sorts of irregularities are more or less unavoidable, white noise can help bring back some degree of predictability to your bedtime.

Your body hears whatever sound you’ve trained it to, and it automatically knows it’s time to settle down for sleep!

How to Generate White Noise

I mentioned before that there were a lot of different kinds of white noise out there.

One of the easiest, most common ways to generate white noise is by just keeping a fan or air conditioning unit running throughout the night.

Obviously this won’t drown out the very loudest noises, but it’s a quick and simple way to create the kind of background sound your ears like.

Another option is to look up videos of white noise online.

A lot of people enjoy soothing nature sounds, and you can find videos of actual white noise static if you want, as well.

Some people also enjoy listening to calming music to get to sleep.

While this can definitely be helpful, music is a lot less monotonous than other options out there, so it’s not going to do as well when it comes to overpowering unwanted background noises.

Other options for generating white noise audio include turning a radio in between stations, downloading one of the many white noise apps out there, or actually going out and purchasing a real white noise machine.

Which option it’s best to settle on mostly comes down to personal preference.

Just be sure not to play your noise too loud, or you might end up causing permanent damage to your ears.

Different “Colors” of Noise

White light strikes a prism and a rainbow spills out the other sideIf you’re considering trying out traditional static as your noise source, it’s important to realize that white noise might not actually be the most soothing option for you.

Remember, white noise is a mixture of all frequencies your ear is capable of hearing, and a lot of the higher pitches in that mix can be pretty grating your ears.

Even though all the frequencies are playing at the same volume, your ear will amplify the higher frequencies so they stand out more to you.

This is why listening to actual white noise might not actually be the best option.

Instead, you might want to go out and give pink noise a try.

To our ears, pink noise is what white noise “should” sound like.

It accounts for our ears amplifying higher frequencies by softening the higher pitches in its mix, allowing for a deeper, softer sound.

Another option you might want to consider is Brown noise, also known as red noise.

(Confusingly enough, Brown noise is named after the researcher Robert Brown, and not the color.)

Brown noise has a softer, deeper sound than even pink noise, similar to a waterfall or heavy rain.

There are also a bunch of other noise colors out there, but Brown and pink are generally considered the best for sleep.

White Noise May Not Be Safe for Babies

If you have a little one at home right now, odds are you’re pretty desperate to find something to get them asleep and keep them that way.

There are a ton of white noise machines out there designed specifically for babies, but you need to be careful with these.

When the American Academy of Pediatrics took a look at 14 different infant white noise generators, they found that every single one of them exceeded the recommended volume of 50 decibels when played at max volume.

Three of them, in fact, were producing sounds over 85 decibels, which is louder than factory regulations allow adults to withstand for more than eight hours.

In babies, that’s really, really bad.

Because of this, the Academy recommends that all infant sleep machines be kept over seven feet away from wherever your child is asleep, no matter what volume you’re playing them at.

This is the bare minimum, too; 13 of the 14 tested machines were still playing louder than 50 decibels even at that distance!

This kind of volume may be harmful to babies in a lot of ways.

A study in young rats found that prolonged exposure to white noise led to issues processing sound intensity and led to changes in the way rats’ brains processed sound.

It also led to changes in behavioral development.

If you’re going to try using a white noise machine with your baby, the Academy recommends keeping it as far from them as possible at as low a volume as possible, and also to limit its use as much as possible.

All in all, you might want to think twice before using a white noise machine with your infant.

Wrap-Up: How to Get Better Sleep with White Noise

Although white noise machines may not be ideal for babies, white noise in general can have an overall positive impact on your sleep.

It can drown out disruptive nighttime noises and contribute to a relaxing nighttime routine that’ll have you counting fewer sheep and catching more Z’s in no time.

That said, your sleep is a complicated thing, and simply starting to sleep with white noise probably isn’t going to completely turn your life around.

If you’ve been consistently having trouble getting to sleep or waking up multiple times throughout the night, there’s a good chance your mattress might be at fault.

Is it time to time to turn in that old mattress for a newer model?

If you think it might be, you might want to consider having a look at some our mattress reviews, which take a look at all the top products on the market and sort out which ones are actually worth it.

Our top-rated items are the Saatva mattress and Amerisleep AS3, but I’d encourage you to have a look at some others and check out our updated guide to the best mattress of 2018.

So if you’ve been trying out white noise machines and you find they just aren’t working, consider investing in a higher-quality mattress.

It might be just what the doctor ordered!

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