My neighbourhood is fairly noisy even at night. There’s construction going on across the road and persons driving buy. It’s a community of persons in their late 30s and up so naturally there are frequent gatherings (eg. dinner parties) that tend to run until late. Worse we are located on a hill, so much of the sounds from ground-level tend to drift upwards to us. At night, that means we hear things as close as the neighbours entertaining visitors in their garden as well as parties being held at Mas Camp a few miles away (it’s a great spot if you plan to come to Jamaica!). On the rare occasion that the power goes out in the community, it’s been really hard to fall asleep because there’s just so much ambient noise around. I find that I fall asleep a lot faster if I have my fan on at night, and can you guess why? That’s right, my fan (like others everywhere) produces sound in a range of frequencies that very closely resemble white noise!
What is White Noise?
Explaining white noise requires a suitable analogy. Think for a second about what makes up white light. All the colours in our presently known spectrum, right? White noise, is very much like that. If you took all the knowable frequencies/tones that we could perceive, and crammed them all together, you would get white noise. Since it is comprised of all the audible tones we can perceive, it comes out the same (tonally) across all frequencies. It’s the same sort of sound you get from a fan, an air conditioner/purifier or television static. “True” white noise however is often synthetically generated, although its intensity and sharpness make it less favoured by those looking for a good night’s sleep. Some persons tend to prefer “pink” or “brown” noises which tend not to have a grating, hissing quality to them.
Why Does White Noise Work?
White noise works on the principle of sound masking. As said before it comes out the same on all frequencies so having it in your environment means that you’re less likely to perceive ambient noise. For example, some parents use white noise for their babies at night so that they won’t be disturbed by other activities happening in the household (like watching TV etc). It’s a great way to shut out annoying sounds that have the tendency to disrupt your sleep! That said, white noise is also used in a few other environments as well such as offices and public areas. It helps to minimise disturbances from everyday noise pollution, creaks, excessive chatter, traffic–you name it.
Who Uses White Noise?
White noise has been found useful in the following situations:
- It is used in the treatment of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) as primary/adjunctive therapy to help train persons to ignore the sound.
- Getting babies to sleep
- Masking disturbances in noisy neigbourhoods (as is my case)
- Helping shift workers get solid rest
- Meditation and relaxation
Types of White Noise Machines
White noise machines come in three main types:
- “Pure” varieties – These machines generate white noise purely with air. You can normally vary sound with these as well. I’m among those who find this type to be particularly relaxing.
- Soundscape playback – These machines normally offer a recording of white noise created by several different sources (eg. waterfalls, car engines, etc). The soundscapes are normally of a specific length and can be set to continuously loop. Be warned though, cheaper machines tend to have shorter clips which may loop more frequently and irritate listeners.
- Synthetic generators – These types synthesise white noise in real-time and have no looping at all.
There are also smartphone apps (eg. SleepyPillow, Calm.com) that can accommodate a range of tastes where white noise is concerned!
Benefits of White Noise Machines
Now that you’re a lot more savvy around the principle behind white noise machines, let’s enumerate 5 major benefits that can be derived from their use for sleepers:
- Alleviate Insomnia – White noise machines can help insomniacs fall asleep, and in some cases, may even cure the condition
- Improves the Sleep Environment – ?They create or enhance a beneficial sleep environment (especially for babies who may be restless)
- Relaxation – They?promote relaxation and are?a great addition to any nightly bedtime ritual
- Reduces Tension – They?help bring the brain to a more meditative state which can also?ease the transition into deep sleep
- Sound Blocking – They?block out ambient noise which not only helps you fall asleep faster, but allows you to sleep longer and more soundly
In all this, it’s important to remember that your hearing doesn’t quite “turn off” when you’re asleep. Peripherally, you are still aware of your surroundings, such that a loud noise can startle you awake. White noise is constant and and regular, so it blends everything together thus effectively masking those noisy nuisances. Your brain effectively learns to ignore white noise because it has no real notable features that warrant its attention. I’ve also tried using music to do the same, but music is appreciated based on a pitch, volume, and frequency among other traits. The variance in the sound makes it an imperfect tool for masking loud or sudden noises so I gave up on that. There are folks however who find that it works for them so if it gets you to sleep, by all means stay the course!
Just so that we can have some example of this stuff, here’s some white noise generated by a fan. Try using it to sleep!
…And If you’re not fond of that noisy fan,?here’s a soundscape that includes rain and thunder:
Having tried white noise before I can definitely say it works. My first experience was with a synthetic generator application which produced pure white noise. It was extremely sharp though so I had to alter the pitch and volume till I found something that permitted me to comfortably nod off. I’m more a fan of a regular fan-type sound than natural soundscapes, but ultimately they’ll have the same effect.
Have you ever tried out white noise for sleeping? How did it work out for you? Share your experience below!
Sleep well until next time.