Posted by Nicole on November 20, 2019

If you have a hard time sleeping at night, a common suggestion is to listen to white noise.

This is part of sleep hygiene, which refers to steps you can take to make your environment more conducive to getting the zzzzz’s you need.

You may wonder if white noise really can help you sleep, and if so, how it works.

In this article, we will explore the benefits of white noise in depth.

What Is White Noise?

Merriam Webster gives two definitions for white noise.

The first is the technical definition: “a heterogeneous mixture of sound waves extending over a wide frequency range.”

The second is a casual definition, “a constant background noise.”

Both definitions are relevant to a discussion of white noise for sleep.

First, let us discuss the technical definition. To phrase it another way, white noise includes a variety of frequencies, but all of them are present at the same intensity.

There are other types of noise where the frequencies are present at differing intensities, such as brown noise or pink noise.

You can purchase an appliance that generates white noise to help you sleep.

But as the sound is quite similar to that generated by a number of household appliances that you may already have, the more casual definition of "a constant background noise" is applicable as well.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends, “In your bedroom, white noise can be created by a sound conditioner, a fan or an air purifier, anything that is a consistent and soothing backdrop throughout the night.”

The sound of white noise is also much like that of a radio or television channel that is not transmitting, so that is another option.

How Does White Noise Promote Sleep?

There are a few ways in which white noise can help you sleep:

  • White noise can block out annoying sounds in your environment. With fewer distractions, it is easier to fall asleep.
  • If it is overly silent in your environment, the ringing in your ears (tinnitus) can become irksome. White noise can help screen out tinnitus.
  • White noise can continue to mask sounds in your environment after you have fallen asleep. As a result, they will be less likely to wake you up.
  • Some people simply like the sound of white noise and find it soothing.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Noises are more likely to wake you from a light sleep (stages 1 and 2), than from a deep sleep (stages 3 and 4), and tend to be more disruptive in the second half of the night.”

So, it is a good idea to leave your white noise on through the entire night, not just the early part when you are trying to fall asleep.

What Does Science Say About White Noise and Sleep?

Research shows that white noise does indeed help to promote faster sleep and higher sleep quality through the night.

This study looked at whether white noise could help infants fall asleep faster, with the results that, “Sixteen (80%) fell asleep within five minutes in response to white noise compared with only five (25%) who fell asleep spontaneously in the control group. White noise may help mothers settle difficult babies.”

Another study analyzed how white noise can help block out environmental noise in an intensive care unit (ICU) and how this impacts arousal levels.

The researchers concluded, “Mixed frequency white noise increases arousal thresholds in normal individuals exposed to recorded ICU noise by reducing the difference between background noise and peak noise.”

So, the evidence is there to show that white noise can make other noises in the sleep environment less disruptive, may speed up the process of falling asleep, and might make it less likely that you will wake up from a noise in your surroundings.

Alternatives to White Noise

While white noise is an excellent choice for many people who have a difficult time sleeping, it is not your only option. Here are some other sound options for helping you fall asleep and stay asleep:

  • You can go with a different type of noise with different frequency distribution such as brown noise, pink noise, green noise, blue noise, violet noise, and so forth. Different physiological and psychological factors could impact which type of noise you find most pleasant and effective. For instance, if you have intense tinnitus, high-pitched violet noise may provide superior masking.
  • Many people enjoy falling asleep to natural sounds, whether from their actual environments or from a noise generator on repeat. These could include the sounds of ocean waves, a babbling brook, crickets, bird calls, wind, or so forth.
  • Music is an option for some people who have trouble sleeping, but others may find it too distracting.
  • ASMR videos have become popular of late online. The abbreviation is short for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” Describing ASMR is difficult. Basically, hearing certain sounds triggers some people to experience a “tingling” sensation on the head which they enjoy. Many people use ASMR videos to reduce anxiety and help them sleep.
  • Silence is an option to consider as well. Even if you cannot make your room silent, you can always put in earplugs. While many people do not enjoy complete silence while falling asleep, there are some who do prefer it.

Experiment with white noise and some of these other options to find out what works best for you.

Conclusion: White Noise May Help You Sleep Soundly Through the Night

You now have a greater understanding of what white noise is and some of the ways in which it can help you sleep. You have had a chance to investigate some of the research, and we have talked about alternatives to white noise as well.

You will give yourself the best chance at deep, restful sleep each night if you pair white noise with other modifications to your sleep environment and routines to promote good sleep hygiene.

Also consider taking a natural supplement with ingredients to support healthy, restorative sleep. Vitamin B-6, magnesium, melatonin, Ashwagandha, L-Theanine and 5-HTP can all do their part to help you sleep soundly through the night and wake up feeling refreshed each morning.