Is It Too Quiet to Sleep? A Little Noise Might Help

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Are you having trouble sleeping? Maybe it’s not noisy enough for you! No, really. While it may seem a little hard to believe, perfect silence can keep some people from dropping off and enjoying a good night’s sleep. Sometimes a little background noise might be just what the doctor ordered.  

But not all noises are created equal; the clanging of pots and pans, loud traffic, or the neighbor’s blaring stereo are not likely to do the trick. What can work, what has been scientifically shown to induce the hoped-for drooping lids and restful slumber, is a particular kind of noise. This noise can be described as ambient, consistent, or soothing, and if you’ve ever fallen asleep at the beach while the waves broke steadily against the shore or snoozed happily through the soft pitter-pat drumming of an all-night rain shower on your roof, you know the sleep-encouraging effect these kinds of sounds can have. 

Natural phenomena such as rain storms and rolling surf are not, of course, available on demand, but many sleepers have relied on devices in the home, including everyday items such as air conditioners or fans, to provide a noise with a similar effect. Sounds of this sort work by creating a level of steady, consistent background noise that can help to mask different sounds that might otherwise wake you up during the night. For instance: You’re less likely to hear and be disturbed by a door closing somewhere in the house if you’re sleeping in a room where an air conditioner or a fan is humming away. And some sounds, in addition to their masking benefits, are actually said to put the brain into a more relaxed and sleep-ready state.

Some devices are built especially for the purpose of creating soothing sounds helpful to struggling would-be sleepers. There are machines (or apps and websites) that let you dial in an artificial rain storm, the sound of waves on the beach, and other such acoustic environments that have been especially created to lull you to sleep and keep you there. Some of these machines also produce various kinds of artificial noises, two of which are called white noise and pink noise.

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What Are White Noise And Pink Noise? 

White noise and pink noise are sounds that, more or less, resemble a smoother version of the fuzzy static sound you might hear between stations on the radio dial or on TV channels that are not broadcasting a program. White noise, technically speaking, is noise that contains “equal energy per frequency.” That is, with white noise, every point on the frequency spectrum — the range of audible sound pitched from lowest low to highest high — is delivered with equal volume. Pink noise, on the other hand, contains “equal energy per octave,” which has the effect of emphasizing lower-pitched frequencies and more closely matching the makeup of natural sounds, such as rain and wind, and the way humans perceive them. In simplest terms, pink noise is typically going to sound bassier, more pleasing, smoother, and less harsh than white noise.

Can White Noise Or Pink Noise Help Me Sleep?

While not everyone responds the same way to white and pink noise or other auditory sleep aids, studies have shown that both can be helpful to troubled sleepers. In addition to helping mask other noises that might keep you awake, pink noise has also been shown to slow and regulate your brain waves, which can help you wake up in the morning feeling even more rested. Preliminary studies have also shown that using pink noise while you sleep may have a positive effect on memory, though more studies are needed to thoroughly establish that connection.

The National Sleep Foundation warns that listening to white noise at too loud a volume could lead to hearing loss. If you want to use white noise, they suggest considering a bedside white noise machine or other device that doesn’t require headphones.  

Small Steps: Set Specific Wake and Sleep Hours
Stick with your sleep schedule, even on weekends, to normalize your sleep rhythm.