White Noise – Sleep Benefits
There has been much written about white noise and its potential benefits in terms of sleep. Many people, though, don’t really know what it is. Let’s go through the basics for it could be something which might be of benefit to you.
What is white noise and why do we like it?
In a nutshell, white noise is any sound that comprises every frequency the ear can hear and is useful for masking or concealing other noises that might keep you awake. It’s the reason why a baby seems to sleep better in a car rather than in a quiet bedroom, or why an adult might drift off on a train or bus but become irritably awake in a static hotel room.
It is possible to purchase a white noise machine to facilitate sleep if your home is simply too quiet but subject to bursts of noise from outside; a barking dog or buzzing nightclub, perhaps. The benefit of a white noise machine is that it incorporates the whole range of frequencies in one continuous emission, thus the human brain is not focusing on any specific frequency, is less disrupted and so gets a smoother night’s sleep. It is this reassuringly constant emission that, like a baby in the womb, helps the sleeper relax under a continuum of low-level noise.
If you work in a busy, bustling office environment you would do well to have a white noise machine nearby, or perhaps have white noise streaming through your earphones, to help you concentrate better on the task at hand. It is actually very stressful to be constantly interrupted and you will want to become as productive and focused as possible.
Talking of babies, apparently, the womb is quite a loud place; a white noise machine may, therefore, replicate something of that ongoing muffled sound a baby has been hearing in the womb for nine months. This will (hopefully!) elongate the baby’s 20-45 minute sleep cycles to enable him/her and you to get a better night’s sleep. Slamming doors, vehicles’ loud acceleration, screeching cats, etc. will become less likely to make baby wake up.
Is it good to sleep with white noise?
Having white noise around you when it comes to approaching bedtime can be a useful part of your nightly routine. Just like brushing your teeth, putting on your pajamas or preparing some bedside water, if done repeatedly it will start to send subliminal signals to the brain that prepares it for going to bed and, hopefully, yield a good night’s sleep. White noise can help cocoon you from the outside world, helping you to switch off from it. Actually, there are any number of interruptions that wake you up regularly, even if you can’t quite recall them the next day. White noise can help get you back to sleep after being momentarily awoken or disturbed by something sudden or jarring.
These days white noise machines are incredibly compact, so are ideal for taking with you on vacation, when staying over at a friend’s, or perhaps taking a business trip. They tend to have multiple settings so that various sounds from nature can be selected. You could be surrounded by the Amazonian rainforest through this device, or near a flowing waterfall in Switzerland or Japan!
Why is white noise so relaxing?
The answer may surprise you. Did you know that noise goes by many colors, not just so-called ‘white noise’? These are actually sonic hues and are related to the particular wavelengths and intensity of the energy being emitted. White noise is so well known because it comprises energy from all the available frequencies which are distributed in equal measure, creating a consistent and pleasing humming noise.
This can be experienced via a hissing radiator, whirring fan, or humming air conditioner, and it effectively masks louder, isolated sounds that are operating at just one particular frequency. But it’s not the only form of noise. There are also the following varieties:
- Pink noise – this is lower than white noise and has more of a rumbling bass quality.
- Brown noise – this sometimes goes under the name of ‘red noise’. It contains higher energy levels but at even deeper frequencies than pink noise. Examples might be thunder or rumbling waterfalls. To the human ear, it may sound like white noise but scientists will tell us it is operating at a different frequency.
- Black noise – this is in fact a total absence of noise or complete silence punctuated by odd bits of arbitrary sound. For some people, this is preferable to the other forms of noise. All of us are different, some of us have grown up in more isolated places with far less noise pollution.
Whichever noise best suits you, this is the noise you should be surrounding yourself with before and during sleep. If you’ve been having trouble getting to sleep on your best mattress and staying asleep, this is an area most definitely worthy of investigation.