Sleep Better with White Noise
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One thing that can disturb your sleep at night is noise pollution. The sound of a car driving by, dogs barking, and noisy neighbors are just some of the many things that can wake you up at night or prevent you from falling asleep. Sound by itself isn’t what interrupts our sleep. Changes in sound are what matter. That is why even a faint noise in an otherwise silent room can keep you awake. So-called “white noise” can help prevent this sleep disturbance.
What is white noise?
White noise is sound that is spread out across multiple frequencies. That means high pitch and low pitch and everything in between is present. It’s the sound an old TV or radio would make in between stations (though I recognize that many people these days are too young to know what I’m talking about). It’s called “white” noise because it’s analogous to white light, which is a blend of every frequency of visible light. Less rigorously, “white noise” can be any constant, even sound (like the whir of a fan), even if it isn’t an even blend across our hearing spectrum.
How does white noise help you sleep?
White noise works through sound masking, which is a way of covering up one sound with another. To help illustrate this, consider another analogy to light. Imagine you’re in a perfectly dark room, and somebody turns on a flashlight briefly and turns it off again. This would be very jarring because it’s such a stark contrast to the darkness. On the other hand, imagine you’re in a well-lit room, and somebody turns on a flashlight. You’re unlikely to even notice the flashlight because of the ambient light of the room “masks” the light from the flashlight.
White noise works the same way for sound. The ambient background sound will mask any intrusive noises. This makes it less likely for you to be disturbed by the noise.
Sources of white noise
There are many ways to generate white noise, ranging in price from free to around $50.
Free white noise
- Fan or air conditioner: A running fan or compressor will provide a source of white noise and will help keep the room cool, which is beneficial for sleep, particularly during the summer months.
- Old radio: If you have a radio with an antenna and an adjustable dial, you can put it in between stations to get white noise.
- Free websites and apps: I do not recommend having a computer in your bedroom, and if you have trouble breaking away from your cell phone, you shouldn’t have that in your bedroom either. But, if you’re going to have it in your bedroom anyway (in some cases, you might not have a choice), www.simplynoise.com is the site I’ve used in the past. There are others as well.
One thing to avoid: don’t use television for white noise. Blue light has been shown to disturb your sleep, and televisions produce that sharp blue light. Additionally, if you leave the TV on a regular channel for background noise, it isn’t really white noise, and won’t be as effective at masking noises. And if that wasn’t enough, the TV is a power hog, so it’s more expensive to run as a source of noise.
White noise machines
Also called “sound conditioners” or “sound machines,” white noise machines are specialized devices that produce white noise. There are several popular white noise machines on the market.
The Marpac DOHM-DS is likely the most popular one out there. It has nearly 5,000 reviews on Amazon at the time of writing this, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. It’s a little on the expensive side at around $50 dollars, but compared to getting a bad night’s sleep, that’s a drop in the bucket.
If you’re looking for a more budget-conscious option, Conair makes a Sound Therapy Machine with a white noise setting. It’s an Amazon.com best-seller and it’s only around $20.
If you find yourself being disturbed by random sounds as you’re trying to fall asleep or waking up to noises in the middle of the night, white noise might be the best solution. If you know any friends or family who are light sleepers, pass this information along to them, too.
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