Some people are blessed with the magical ability to sleep through construction noise or in a crowded mall. But many of us struggle to fall asleep to the tunes of a dog howl, occasional traffic, or a dripping faucet. If you’re finding yourself at Camp Wide Awake each night, it might be time to consider using white noise.
White noise is a special type of sound emitted at fairly constant amplitude that is used to mask background sounds. New parents—myself included—use white noise to soothe their infants, while therapists use it to protect private conversations or to treat hearing disorders like ringing in the ears.
Brown University neuroscientist Seth S. Horowitz shares that our brains are built to “startle” us into defensive mode at sudden noises—not exactly the most comforting response when you’re trying to catch 7 hours of straight z’s. When used to support healthy sleep, white noise helps drown out sounds that may be preventing you from drifting off into dreamland or waking up to startling noises once you’ve already fallen asleep.
Real white noise sounds similar to TV or radio static and isn’t actually pleasing to listen to. But ‘white noise’ is also used as a general term for any type of unchanging background noise like rainfall or a bubbling stream. Some popular sound machines that emit a range of white noise are the Marpac Dohm—boasting over 50 years of design and production—and the Conair SU1W, which you can get for under $20.
Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a dime if you’d like to sample white noise as a sleep solution. Here are some free options to serenade you to a well-rested sleep:
1. Turn to a radio station that produces a static sound at a low volume. Needless to say, only an old school radio will work for this option.
2. An electric fan or air conditioner produces gentle whirring sounds ideal for masking distracting noises.
3. Free 10 or 12-hour white noise MP3s are easily playable from sites like YouTube and naturesoundsfor.me.
4. If you have a smartphone, Relax Melodies by Ipnos Soft is a popular white noise app available for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows.
While there isn’t much long-term research out there on the effects white noise has on humans, most studies have actually produced positive results. I started using a white noise app shortly after I got married when I awoke (pun intended) to the realization that my husband is a gargantuan snorer—and I’ve been sleeping like a baby ever since. Experiment at home and you might get to enjoy an extended stay in Slumberland.
(Photo by Tina Sosna)