Using White Noise to Fall Asleep
Over one-third of children and adults in the US don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is essential to health and well-being and regular sleep deprivation can lead to depression, obesity, heart conditions, lowered immune function, and the inability to concentrate.
Because of this, people are looking for ways to help them fall asleep, stay asleep, and get more sleep. White noise machines are one such tool that is used to improve sleep health.
White noise provides a calming, steady sound that also blocks out background noises such as people talking, a partner’s snoring, barking dogs, sirens, and cars going past your bedroom window.
Growing research has shown that white noise and other color noises can help you get a better night’s sleep. Read on to find out what white noise is, how it affects sleep, how to incorporate it into your bedtime routine, and where to find the best white noise machines and apps.
Why Is Getting Enough Sleep Important?
Getting enough sleep impacts our overall health and is critical to our social, mental, and physical well-being.
Sleep is a time when many biological processes happen such as toxic waste being flushed out, new information being stored and nerve cells reorganizing. Plus, the body repairs itself and recovers its energy stores.
The benefits of getting enough sleep include:
- Cognitive development
- Improved productivity and focus
- Reduce mental health symptoms and risks
- Reduced risk of developing cardiac diseases such as hypertension, heart failure, and heart attacks
- Improved decision-making and judgment
- Increased physical performance
- Better engagement in daily work
What Is White Noise?
White noise is a combination of sounds that creates one sound that can be heard across all frequencies. It’s often referred to as broadband noise as it spans multiple bands of sound.
White noise is often likened to the static that comes from a TV or radio. Other examples of what it sounds like include a vacuum, a fan, or the hum from an air conditioner.
Over the years, there have been many studies on the effects of white noise. Evidence has shown that it can:
- Improve work performance
- Reduce crying in babies
- Improve sleep health
- Minimize ADHD symptoms
How Does White Noise Help Sleep?
How can white noise help you sleep at night? White noise helps you sleep better because:
You Build a Nightly Ritual
If you suffer from insomnia or regularly struggle to get enough sleep, it’s critical to build a regular nightly routine. This will signal your brain to wind down and your body to start to relax.
A nightly ritual will look different for everyone, but a few ideas include meditating, having a warm bubble bath, drinking chamomile tea, reading, journaling, and listening to soothing sounds.
Kids and babies will particularly benefit from a nighttime routine, and this is also a time to bond and spend time as a family. Using white noise can become part of a healthy bedtime ritual.
It Signals the Time to Sleep
Turning on white noise when you go to bed signals to the brain that it’s time to rest. The more you use white noise at night, the more your body will associate it with sleep.
For kids, you could turn the white noise on while you read a story. For you, turn the white noise on while drinking a cup of chamomile or while filling out your journal.
Blocks Out Environmental Noises
If you’ve ever laid awake at night listening to noisy neighbors’ chatter, or your roommate having the TV up too loud, you’ll know how frustrating background noise can be. According to research, it’s not the actual noise that wakes you up, but the change in sound.
While it’s hard to prevent noise altogether, white noise provides a masking effect. The ambient noise from sleep sound machines blocks the sudden changes in sound that often wakes you up or prevents you from sleeping at all.
Trains Your Brain to Relax
One main contributor to poor sleep health is anxious, racing thoughts that will not stop at nighttime. This can leave you staring into the darkness wondering if you’ll ever get to sleep.
These anxious thoughts may arise during stressful periods in life such as a work deadline, relationship troubles, or making a big life change. Listening to white noise is one way to calm the brain because it gives you something else to focus on.
Helps You Stay Asleep
White noise machines not only help you fall asleep but they help you sleep soundly through the night by blocking environmental sounds. Intrusive sounds such as a noisy neighbor or a car horn can often wake you up from a deep slumber.
In one study, white noise helped hospital patients to stay asleep even with the bustle going on around them. If you live in an area with distracting sounds, a white noise sound machine could be the answer.
Are White Noise Sleep Sounds Good for Everyone?
While white noise has been proven to be effective at drowning out environmental sounds to help you fall asleep, it may not be right for everyone.
If you’re sensitive to noise and need complete silence to fall into a restful sleep, using a white noise machine may not work.
Also, some people may feel mildly irritated by the constant hum or whoosh of water running, especially if they struggle with bladder problems.
Can White Noise Machines Help Babies Sleep?
White noise machines help to create a calming environment that helps babies fall asleep and go back to sleep if they wake. It may also help babies stay asleep longer.
Babies cycle between light and deep sleep roughly every 20 minutes. During the lighter phase, babies can easily be woken by doorbells, people chattering and other household noises that can lead to reduced naptime.
White noise is effective at drowning out these distracting sounds, helping little ones to stay relaxed and sink back into a deep sleep.
How to Use White Noise to Help a Baby Sleep
Simply start playing white noise as part of your baby’s bedtime routine. Over time, the sounds from a white noise machine will start to signal to the baby that it’s time to go to sleep.
A ‘‘white noise means sleep’’ imprint will be made, so every time white noise is played, your baby will settle for sleepy time.
Make sure the sound machine does not exceed 50 decibels, cords are safely tucked out of reach, and the machine is at least 7 feet away from the sleeping area.
Are There Negative Effects of Using White Noise Machines?
While white noise is generally safe to use as a sleep aid, as long as you keep the sound at a safe level, there are few negative effects to be aware of.
May Lead to Hearing Problems
If overdone, white noise could lead to hearing problems in children and older adults. For this reason, it’s important to keep your white noise machine at a safe sound level.
Aim to keep your sound machine at around 50 - 65 decibels. This should roughly be the same level as a soft shower.
Could Cause Developmental Issues
In a research study in 2014, the AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) studied 14 white noise machines for infants.
They found that exceeding the recommended levels could lead to speech and language development issues and hearing problems.
The conclusion for safe use was that a white noise machine should be placed no less than 7 feet away from a sleeping area and the volume should be below the maximum setting.
Can Cause Reliance on White Noise for Sleep
White noise machines are proven to help babies and adults fall asleep and stay asleep longer. However, one problem is that an overreliance can form, making it hard to fall asleep if the white noise machine is not working or is unavailable.
White Noise Machine Options
White noise machines are relatively inexpensive and widely available. If you have little space and prefer not to buy a sleep machine, another option is to use a white noise app.
Here are your options regarding sound machines:
White Noise Machine
White noise machines are otherwise known as sound machines. They produce relaxing sounds and usually have a variety of sound options to choose from.
Depending on the device you purchase, it might play a digital white noise recording or generate its own white noise. Some white noise machines are geared specifically to help babies sleep.
Pink Noise Machine
Pink noise machines are another option to help encourage a night of better sleep. It has the ability to slow down brain waves, which can help you fall asleep faster.
Some people prefer pink noise to white noise because it’s a little deeper and more soothing. It’s even thought to help increase concentration and productivity at work during the day.
Nature Sound Machine
Nature sounds such as wind blowing, waves crashing, and rain falling are repetitive and calming for the brain, helping to encourage sleep.
However, some light sleepers may not get on with nature sounds at bedtime because the heavier bass sounds can cause some people to jar awake.
Portable Sound Machine
A portable sound machine is designed to be used on the go in a baby’s stroller or while you’re traveling. They are usually battery-powered and produce similar ambient sounds to the usual white noise machines.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a White Noise Machine
If you’re wondering how to choose the right white noise machine for you, take a look at these factors to consider:
White Noise App or Sound Machine
Decide whether you want a stand-alone white noise machine or a white noise app. A sound machine will be more expensive and take up more room, but it might be a good option if you like to sleep with your phone in another room.
If you’re new to white noise and not sure if you like it yet, it’s a good idea to get a machine or app with multiple functionalities. Many sound machines and apps include pink noise, white noise, brown noise, nature sounds, and relaxing music.
Do your research before investing so you get something with a wide sound selection if you like to change things up.
Read customer reviews for any white noise product you’re thinking of buying. Sound quality is likely to vary, depending on the quality of the machine.
Consider your budget when investing in a sound machine. White noise apps often have a free trial period allowing you to test the sounds out before you subscribe.
Sleep sound machines will vary in price from around $20 at the lower end and over $100 at the higher end. Be aware that price may affect sound quality and functionality.
Soothing Sounds Timer
The majority of white noise machines will have a timer, but these will vary in functionality. Always read up about any sound machine you’re considering buying to see if it’ll work for you.
Easy volume control for your sound machine is essential so you can listen at a comfortable level. Research each sound machine you look at to see the available volumes and whether it has a safety control added.
Examples of White Noise Sounds
White noise is a continuous, monotonous, low-pitch sound. Here are some white noise examples that’ll help lull you to sleep:
- Fan sounds
- TV or radio static
- Air conditioner humming
- Hair dryer blowing
- Heavy rain
- Babbling brook
- Running water
How to Make White Noise Part of a Healthy Bedtime Routine
If you want to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, consider adding a white noise sound machine to your bedtime routine.
A healthy bedtime routine will have extremely positive effects on your mental and physical health.
Firstly, aim to get ready for bed at the same time each night. Take care of your personal hygiene such as brushing your teething, washing your face, and having a warm bath.
Next, go into the bedroom and follow these relaxing rituals to prepare for deep sleep:
Avoid Using Electronics
Scrolling on Facebook and watching Netflix late into the night does not help you sleep.
In fact, looking at electronic screens that emit blue light can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, thus suppressing melatonin production and making it hard to go to sleep.
Avoid this by putting your electronics away at least one hour before bedtime. And turn on your phone screen nighttime setting, so if you do accidentally look at it, you won’t feel such an effect.
Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Incorporating relaxation techniques into your nightly routine helps you let go of tension that may keep you awake. Mindfulness meditation is one way to manage your emotions and deal with racing thoughts.
Breathing exercises will help to calm your body and mind and get you ready to fall into a restful slumber. Some of the best breathing exercises for sleep include:
- 4-7-8 breathing technique
- Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
- Alternate nasal breathing
- Box breathing
- Bhramari pranayama breathing
Put Your Thoughts Into a Journal
Writing in a journal daily has been found to have positive effects on physical and psychological health. Racing thoughts are often a reason people find it hard to sleep and getting these thoughts down on paper can be a release.
If journaling seems too overwhelming, start with a simple to-do list for the next day. Getting organized is another way to reduce feelings of stress when you have a lot to do.
Read a Good Book
Even in childhood, having a good book read to us helped to induce a good night’s sleep. As an adult, try incorporating reading into your nighttime routine.
Just make sure the book isn’t too exciting or action-packed, which might prevent the mind from winding down.
Listen to Calming Music
One study showed that music improves sleep in older adults. Choose a relaxing genre, close your eyes and let the soothing tones calm your mind.
Nature sounds and ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) are also great for helping you relax before bed. ASMR incorporates a tingling sensation down the back of the neck and scalp in response to particular types of sounds.
Play White Noise on Your Sound Machine
When you’re ready to sleep, get into bed and turn on your white noise machine. Use the volume control to see it at a safe level. Leave it to play all night long or set it on a timer to last just long enough for you to fall asleep.
Using Apps to Listen to White Noise
White noise apps are designed to help improve your sleep hygiene in multiple ways. They’re convenient to use at home and while traveling.
Alongside white noise, sleep apps often have a range of sound options, relaxing music, brainwave sounds, bedtime stories, and guided meditations. Here are a few of the best free and paid white noise apps you can download today:
The BetterSleep app offers a range of soothing sounds, music, stories, and guided meditations to help you sleep faster and longer. Enjoy over 200 calming sounds in a variety of categories such as:
- White Noise
In the white noise section, you can enjoy pink noise, green noise, brown noise, air conditioner, spaceship, and airplane sounds. Set your chosen tunes to play on a timer, so they fade out while you drift off to sleep and make mixes filled with your favorite sounds.
What Other Color Noises Help You Sleep?
White noise is commonly used as a sleep aid but there are lesser-known color noises that can also improve sleep quality and instill feelings of calm. Here are a few different color noises and what they can do:
Pink noise is a steady sound that’s a little deeper than white noise. It’s often referred to as ambient noise and is effective at filtering out distracting background noises such as cars or people talking.
Just like white noise, it’s known to help people get a better night’s sleep. Some people prefer pink noise to white noise because it uses lower sound waves and deeper sounds that can sound a little more soothing.
Examples of pink noise include:
- Ocean waves
- Rustling leaves
- Steady rain
- Wind blowing
Brown noise is sometimes known as red noise and it produces a deep, rumbling sound that is a little rougher than pink or white noise. While it is a deeper sound, it’ll sound very similar to white noise.
Examples of brown noise include:
- Low roaring
- Strong waterfalls
Color Noises Not Related to Sleep
There are multiple other color noises that aren’t related to sleep. These include:
- Blue noise. This color noise sounds slightly sharper than white or pink noise. An example of blue noise includes the hissing from a water spray.
- Gray noise. This is more balanced than white noise but very similar. It’s often used to treat tinnitus, which is a heightened sensitivity to everyday sounds.
- Violet noise. This is the opposite of brown noise and is often referred to as purple noise. It’s higher pitched than the other color noises.
Tips to Use a Sound Machine Safely for Sleep
Spend some time listening to different sounds and mixes to see what feels good. Experiment with volumes to find a sweet spot that lets you relax and that is safe.
Different people will like different sounds and you have to find the right one for you. If white noise doesn’t help you sleep, try pink noise, which is a little deeper and more soothing.
Try out white noise apps until you find one that helps you sleep the easiest. If you prefer not to use your smartphone at night, consider investing in a white noise machine that can have a permanent spot in your bedroom.
Decide whether you’ll sleep with white noise on or have it fade out. You might want to invest in special headphones for sleeping if you want sounds to play all night.
Final Thoughts on White Noise Machines
Be aware that using a white noise machine can help improve sleep health, but it won’t work if you have a terrible sleep routine. Aim to go to bed at the same time each night, take time to relax, and minimize your exposure to the blue light on electronic devices.
If you get this right, white noise may allow you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Plus, your brain will start to be triggered to sleep when it hears white noise.
If you still struggle with insomnia, check in with your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying condition. Find white noise sounds, music, stories and guided meditations on the BetterSleep app.
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