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The benefits of sleeping with white noise
Health

White Noise For Sleep: How It Can Help You Sleep

Tara Youngblood · Jul 06, 2022
The benefits of sleeping with white noise

We all know the price we pay when we are short on sleep, even for a couple of nights. Decreased concentration, grogginess, and irritability easily destroy the promise of a productive workday and an enjoyable time with friends and family.

In the quest for a good night’s sleep, many people have turned to the use of white noise.

One of the first white noise sound machines was invented by renowned architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who at the time was researching methods to treat insomnia, in the 17th century. [1]

A multitude of white noise machines and apps are available on the market. Oftentimes, people go DIY and use air conditioners or humidifiers. Even recorded stretches of 8-plus hours of white noise can be accessed online.

So, what is white noise anyway? What’s the best way to use them? Most importantly, is there credible science to back it up? We’re here to answer these questions so that you can make well-informed decisions about your sleep needs.

What is White Noise?

White noise is sound that includes all frequencies across the spectrum that are audible to the human ear. All of the frequencies have the same intensity, which creates a uniform sound. Sometimes called “broadband” sound, white noise spans over multiple frequencies.

To many people, it is similar to the sound of an untuned radio or TV. Some may compare the background noise to a hissing or a “shhh” sound. [2,3]

Here is an example of white noise

How Does White Noise Work?

First, white noise essentially blocks out sounds that would normally cause nighttime awakenings. So, we simply don’t hear the footsteps in the apartment above us or the TV downstairs. [4]

Second, it raises the auditory threshold with consistent and gently monotonous sounds. The differences between the white noise sound and, say, a dog barking outside are smaller and, therefore, less jarring than if the room were completely quiet.

The decreased contrast between white noise and other environmental sounds makes breakthrough auditory stimuli less capable of reviving the cerebral cortex, which causes arousals from sleep. [5]

Did You Know: For people with tinnitus, white noise may be beneficial. Tinnitus is a condition described as an abnormal buzzing or ringing in the ear. White noise can help disguise the sound, which leans to be disruptive and more noticeable at night.

White Noise for Sleep: Scientific Research

Sleep scientists, neurologists, and public health experts have devoted a great deal of research to investigating the value of white noise. Many clinical studies have found that white noise is an effective tool to improve the quality and amount of sleep we get each night.

Studies have also proven white noise benefits can include a positive impact on sleep onset latency, as well as decreased nighttime awakenings.

Sleep Onset Latency

Sleep onset latency refers to the amount of time it takes to proceed from wakefulness to the initial stages of sleep. Basically, it involves how long it takes you to fall asleep. For adults, normal sleep latency ranges between 10 and 20 minutes.

The proper amount of sleep latency affects overall sleep efficiency, meaning that more time in bed is actually spent sleeping versus lying awake. [6,7]

Evidence reveals sleeping with white noise is beneficial for helping people fall asleep faster in a high-noise environment such as New York City. [8] Sleep onset latency also improved for a group of healthy college students with the use of broadband/white noise. [9]

Nighttime Arousals

Interrupted sleep patterns experienced regularly by hospitalized patients concern many healthcare professionals. In a study on how to improve patients’ sleep while in a noisy intensive care unit (ICU), the use of white noise machines significantly reduced nighttime arousals.

Furthermore, even when the study participants were exposed to peak levels (greater than 65 decibels), the number of arousals still decreased substantially. [10] Another study of patients hospitalized on a coronary care unit yielded similar results.[11]

Read More: How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up

Different Types of Sleep Noises

There are different colors!

White Noise vs. Pink Noise vs. Brown Noise

Although the world of audio engineering considers white noise one of the most well-known types of sound, a whole rainbow of colors actually describes the sound. Each has its own unique properties that produce music, aid in relaxation, and even describe natural rhythms such as the human heartbeat. At least two other colors may assist in relaxation and quality of sleep:

Pink Noise

What is pink noise? It's similar to white noise, but pink noise has lower-pitched frequencies. Some describe it as a “shhh” sound mixed with the soft rumble of a rainstorm or waterfall.

Example of Pink Noise

You’ve most likely heard the relaxing sounds of blowing wind, rustling leaves, crashing ocean waves, and falling heavy rain. But did you know that pink noise mirrors those same sounds of steady rain, strong wind, and more?

Listen for yourself to see how similar the sounds are.

Brown Noise

Also called red noise, brown noise has a deeper pitch than both white and pink noises. In a recent study, people suggested that brown noise reminds them of the sounds of a shower or rainfall. [12] Similar to pink noise, brown noise contains sounds from every octave of the sound spectrum.

Example of Brown Noise

Think of low-roaring natural sounds such as thunder or a strong cascading waterfall. That’s the sound similar to brown noise.

Listen to brown noise to see how closely those sounds are alike.

White noise sleep appChoosing What Works for You

The million-dollar question: does white noise help you sleep? Physicians, sleep scientists, and public health experts see white noise as one of the many strategies available to ensure high-quality sleep and the development of a healthy lifestyle.

If you do decide to try white noise, choose a comfortable volume level such as the level of a soft shower. Remember that white noise is only one tool in the entire selection of sleep hygiene strategies.

Here are just a few of the many options available:

  • Create a comfortable sleep environment by maintaining a dark, cool, and decluttered bedroom.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule including a wake schedule, even on non-work days.
  • Explore foods and drinks that can help you sleep.
  • Keep a sleep diary or sleep tracker.
  • Practice a bedtime yoga routine.
  • Sleep cooler with comprehensive bed cooling sleep systems.

The Bottom Line

Colored noises such as white and pink may be an effective non-pharmacological sleep aid, as they help you sleep as they mask out the outside noises that are disrupting your sleep. [13] It may take a bit of trial-and-error, to adjust the volume controls, but you’ll eventually figure out if white noise (or even pink or brown noise) is helpful to improve your sleep quality.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you consider these points when choosing a white noise machine:

  • Decide whether you want a stand-alone machine or a white noise app.
  • Check out online reviews. Good sound quality is essential.
  • Make sure you can control the volume on your machine.
  • Review different types of background noise for sleep. 
  • Research free online programs about white noise. [14]

Watch how a sleep recipe changed her life. Tara and her team of sleep specialists will be happy to help you along in your sleep journey.

References/Citations

[1] Riva, M.A., Cimino, V., Sanchirico, S. (2017, October 1). Gian Lorenzo Bernini's 17th century white noise machine. [abstract]. The Lancet, Neurology, 16(10), 776 https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(17)30297-1

[2] Summer, J. (2022, March 11) White Noise. Sleep Foundation. Read Resource

[3] Vinall, M. (2021, August 27). Why white noise may help you get the best sleep ever. Healthline. Read Resource

[4] Ibid.

[5] Farokhnezhad Afshar P, Bahramnezhad F, Asgari P, Shiri M. Effect of white noise on sleep in patients admitted to a coronary care. J Caring Sci 2016; 5 (2): 103-9. Read Study

[6] Stanchina, M. L., Abu-Hijleh, M., Chaudhry, B. K., Carlisle, C. C., & Millman, R. P. (2005). The influence of white noise on sleep in subjects exposed to ICU noise. Sleep Medicine, 6(5), 423–428. Read Study

[7] Messineo L, Taranto-Montemurro L, Sands SA, Oliveira Marques MD, Azabarzin A and Wellman DA (2017) Broadband Sound Administration Improves Sleep Onset Latency in Healthy Subjects in a Model of Transient Insomnia. Front. Neurol. 8:718. Read Study

[8] Ebben, M.R., Yan, P., Kriedger, A.C.(2021) The effects of white noise on sleep and duration in individuals living in a high noise environment in New York City. Sleep Medicine V. 83, 256-259 Abstract. Read Resource

[9] Messineo L, Taranto-Montemurro L, Sands SA, Oliveira Marques MD, Azabarzin A and Wellman DA (2017) Broadband Sound Administration Improves Sleep Onset Latency in Healthy Subjects in a Model of Transient Insomnia. Front. Neurol. 8:718. Read Study

[1=] Stanchina, M. L., Abu-Hijleh, M., Chaudhry, B. K., Carlisle, C. C., & Millman, R. P. (2005). The influence of white noise on sleep in subjects exposed to ICU noise. Sleep Medicine, 6(5), 423–428. Read Study

[11] Farokhnezhad Afshar P, Bahramnezhad F, Asgari P, Shiri M. Effect of white noise on sleep in patients admitted to a coronary care. J Caring Sci 2016; 5 (2): 103-9. Read Study

[12] Barozzi, S., Ambrosetti, U., Callaway, S. L., Behrens, T., Passoni, S., & Bo, L. D. (2017). Effects of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy with Different Colours of Sound. The international tinnitus journal, 21(2), 139–143. Read Study

[13[ Yoon, H. & Baek, H.J. (2022). External auditory stimulation as a non-pharmacological sleep aid. Sensors, 22, 1264. Read Study

[14] Summer, J. (2022, March 11) White Noise. Sleep Foundation. Read Resource

About the Author

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood is ChiliSleep’s co-founder and CEO. An accomplished scientist, author, and speaker, Tara’s unique ideas are revolutionizing the future of sleep health by making sleep easy, approachable, and drug-free.
Learn more about Tara.

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