Does White Noise Help You to Sleep Better?
It sounds odd: The rather annoying monotonous sound of the static between radio stations or a TV that is not tuned to a station’s frequency is supposed to be perfect to lull you off to sleep. Alternatively, you can listen to your air conditioner, a running fan or some rushing water. Common to all these forms of noises is that they comprise a steady and monotonous tone referred to as white noise. Many sleep-deprived people are claiming that this is what finally puts them asleep.
It is said that white noise can help in various situations: It promotes concentration and improves memory, supports tinnitus treatment, helps you to relax or to fall asleep and enhance your sleep quality. Read on if you want to find out if it’s time for you to listen to white noise.
What is white noise and how does it work?
White noise is a high-pitched noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. For example, if you would take all of the imaginable tones that a person can hear and mix them together, you would have white noise.
The fact that white noise consists of every audible frequency in the same intensity makes white noise effective at masking disruptive environmental noises and sounds, regardless of their individual frequencies. The dominating role of white noise helps the brain, which is continuously on the lookout for sensory stimuli, to ignore unpleasant frequencies, or in other words, disturbing background noises such as your partner’s snoring or dog’s barking. White noise has the capacity to preoccupy your brain but without overstraining it. Due to this powerful property, white noise is also used in hypnosis or meditation.memory, tinnitus, and concentration
What is the difference between white noise and pink noise?
When we talk about white noise and its calming effect, in most cases we actually mean pink noise. White noise is a rather harsh sound due to its either high or low-frequency range. Pink noise is a gentler version of white noise because the higher frequency ranges have less spectral power, making the overall sound less aggressive and more balanced. If you, for example, turn down the treble when listening to a radio static, that has the effect of turning the white noise into a pink noise.
The third sound which is often used to produce a relaxing environment is brown noise. Brown noise lowers the higher frequencies even more and makes a deep sound that can be compared to the sound of a storm. Although it’s a bit rougher than pink noise, benefits associated with brown noise are improved focus, relaxation, and sleep improvement.
Does white or pink noise really improve sleep quality?
If white noise is able to block outside noises, it is evident that it can help someone who is sensitive to sounds that occur during sleep to stay asleep. The smooth monotone sound will prevent the brain of the sleeping person to take notice of any sensory stimuli other than the white noise.
But does white noise also help to improve the overall sleep quality when sleeping in a quiet environment?
There is now a lot of noise in the sleep research community about the assumption that white may not only help you to fall asleep but also to improve your overall sleep quality. More recent research has shown that pink noise has the ability to reduce brain wave complexity with a positive effect especially on deep sleep, the most relaxing and important sleep phase in our sleep cycle. In clinical tests, people who were exposed to pink noise stayed longer in deep sleep than those without noise. The exposure to pink noise also improved their daytime napping.
Although that sounds very promising, it is important to notice that everyone responds to noises differently. What works for one person may not work for you. So, like with many other sleep aids, it is necessary to stay open to some experimentation.
Which noise color helps to sleep better?
All of these noise colors may help, but there is no definite proof which one is most effective. If you need to sleep in louder environments white noise might be your first choice; if you prefer to listen to sounds often found in nature, pink or brown noise is probably more suitable.
Every person responds differently so if you want to find out if and which one of these noises might help you sleep better (and does not annoy you), you need to start your own trial period. exceptionally loud neighborhoods
Before buying expensive gadgets such as white noise machines go to Youtube an search for “white noise” or alternatively download one of the smartphone apps that play white noise (e.g., Simply Noise or Noisli).
In case you decide to purchase a white noise machine, make sure that it offers a mix of sound patterns and recordings that run the spectrum of noise colors.
Does white noise help your baby to fall asleep?
I have heard it from many friends: white noise is an effective sleep aid for children. That explains why white noise devices are now particularly popular with parents of small children who use them to calm their baby and help it to fall asleep successfully. Apparently, the monotonous sound reminds babies of their time in the protective womb of their mother and thus has a calming effect.
From around the 6th month of pregnancy, babies can hear almost all muffled sounds that are happening inside and outside of the mother’s body. Monotonous sounds of a hair dryer, a running fan or a vacuum cleaner resemble the sounds that the child had perceived before birth. Focusing on these familiar sounds blocks out other noises and the baby can fall asleep with ease.
If you want to use white noise to calm your child, make sure that you set the correct volume. The sound of a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner can reach up to 80 decibels (dB) which is definitely too loud. 50 dB should not be exceeded. So either turn down the sound of the noise making machine or make sure that there is enough space between your child and the source.
Can white noise harm you?
Other than the fact that you might find the sound a bit annoying, white or pink noise is harmless, also for babies (low volume provided).
However, some sleep researchers point out that you cannot treat the root cause of a sleep disorder with something like white noise. Insomnia can be a symptom of deeper problems. The inability to fall asleep is often attributed to anxiety or unresolved mental conflicts that need to be treated. Maybe white noise helps you fall asleep, but it does not solve any underlying problems that cause your sleep problems.
Further reading: Journal of Theoretical Biology and Neuron