Why Does White Noise Help People Sleep?

Well, it’s not surprising that for some people the idea of sleeping and listening to white noise at the same time seems kind of illogical. Have some sleep problems? Easy-peasy – fix it with noise! However, no matter how senseless it might seem to some people, the idea of using an optimized white-noise machine is getting more and more popular. So is it some trick that sellers and marketers use or is it actually helping? What happened to the good old idea about sleeping in a quiet room? So, let’s look into this topic. What may be wrong with our ears and brains if they seem to rest better in a room full of noise?

How does white noise work

To make a long answer short, let me figure everything out. White noise is proven by scientists to help with sleeping issues. Not for everyone, certainly, but for most people. The technical definition is that white noise is created by equally distributed frequencies. To make it simpler, white noise is formed by an equal amount at every frequency that can be heard by a human – from low to high.  So you have to take some amount of each frequency, put it all together – and voila, you have white noise. Musically, it can be compared to a giant band where each instrument plays a different note at the same volume. So if you are woken up by a noise, it’s not actually a noise that has woken you up but the sudden change of it. White noise, on the other hand, helps to hide these sudden changes and masks them. It’s important to remember that during sleep we still can hear things but it does not necessarily wake us up. We can easily sleep listening to constant unchanging white noise without reacting to it. Even better, it helps us to ignore those noises that we’d much rather avoid hearing during our sleep – like your spouse’s crescendo-decrescendo snoring sounds. That’s why many respectable scientists, such as  A. Kushida, director of the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research, recommends using a Sleep machine in order to have a better sleep. So now it’s clearer, right? But wait – there are other things that have to be taken into account.

Different types of white noise

It turns out that there are few types of white noise. Firstly, there is pink noise. To avoid all the complicated mathematical explanations, we can say that pink noise is pretty much the same as white noise but a little bit lower. So for some people pink noise fits better – especially in case if they suffer from tinnitus or find the higher sounds of white noise quite annoying. For other people, none of these options help. But don’t worry. There is a great variety of white noise. For example brown noise, violet noise, and many others.

Pink noise helped participants achieve deeper sleep. By the way, this noise pattern has been found in most genres of music and even the shot lengths in Hollywood films. Another popular noise is brown. The sound is a deeper, bassy rumble, kind of like ocean waves or heavy winds.  Blue noise has more energy concentrated at the high end of the sound spectrum. It sounds like the hiss of a water spray with no bass tones at all. It’s essentially the inverse of pink noise. White, pink, and blue noise are the only colors to have official definitions in the federal telecommunications standard.

So if you experiment a little, you will definitely find your favorite one. Anyway, many people seem to be happiest with classical white noise so you should try this option first.

White noise for baby sleep

Pediatricians often recommend relaxing activities to help your baby sleep better at night. The most popular and effective is a warm baths. But when nothing seems to work, parents might turn to alternative measures like white noise.  But does it really work? White noise might be a temporary solution for sleep time. But it isn’t a cure-all method for babies. A lack of practicability and consistency in white noise, plus potential risk, can make it more problematic than it’s worth for your newborn. Babies who wake up at night have a discomfort that you need to solve.  It can be  a diaper change, or some cuddling. Therefore,  white noise is not always reasonable.

Sleeping with white noise harmful: true or not?

Some white noise machines can be very loud, so you need to use it with care. Remember: anything over 85 decibels is dangerous for your hearing. If it’s too loud, such noise can overwhelm your eardrums. If you use one of these with a baby, be careful with the noise level. Another problem is the possible addiction caused by white noise. Your brain gets used to and dependent on the relaxed state it’s in. You end up conditioning it to the blissful, constant hum and it doesn’t want to go back to having to react to all manners of things. This is the big risk for newborns and toddlers. However, limiting both yourself and your child’s exposure to the machine will counteract these negative side effects. Just remember that prevention is key.