White noise machines, I’m sure everyone reading this article has had one in their home to either help you fall asleep or drown out background noise. A white noise machine can be a specific product that their only purpose is to create white noise. Most of us, however, use a fan or a humidifier to create white noise. But why do white noise machine help you sleep? That’s what I’ll be talking about so keep reading.
Why does white noise machine help you sleep? The short answer to how a white noise machine helps you sleep is simple. The machine creates a constant white noise; if loud enough can drown out other external noise that would otherwise wake you from your slumber.
How Sound and Hearing Works
Sound is a wave that travels through the air with vibrating molecules as it goes along. The vibrations hit the eardrums then passes through to the inner ear. There are cells inside the inner ear called hair cells. Hair cells convert the vibrations into electrical signals.
These electrical signals proceed to the brain and determine what sound you’re hearing.
The frequency of that sound wave is measured in Hertz. Hertz is the measurement of how often the particles vibration repeat in one second.
The human species is capable of hearing sounds somewhere between 20 Hertz all the way up to 20,000 Hertz. The higher the frequency gets, the higher the tone you’ll be able to hear. As the frequency rises the harder it will be to ignore; Even if you’re not awake, the brain can still register the sounds around you.
So when you hear noises at night, and it wakes you, it’s the sudden shift in the frequency of background noise that disrupts your sleeping brain.
So how can you stop those sudden frequency sounds from pulling you out of slumber? Here we are, back to white noise.
What is White Noise?
White noise, accurately speaking, is a constant noise that covers all hearable frequencies at once at a continuous power rate per Hertz.
Its frequency spectrum is entirely flat so that no new sounds can be heard above the white noise, that is of course If the white noise is playing at a high enough volume. White noise essentially masks all other sounds with its constant noise. And that’s where it gets its name.
White noise is similar to white light: white light is all wavelengths of light, and white noise is all frequencies of sound.
So because it’s defined as consistent noise with equal power across all frequencies, that means some sounds that people call white noise are simply not white noise.
The sound of raindrops and wind, for instance, or the crashing waves on a beach are indeed soothing sounds that can drown out other noises, but they are technically not white noise.
Colors of Noise
As some of you have probably already heard, white isn’t the only color of sound. There are other colors of noise that focus on specific frequencies, comparable to the color of light that follows a precise wavelength.
I’ve recently learned that some studies show that pink noise is actually a better sleep sound than white noise.
Just like white noise, pink noise comprises all frequencies that are audible to humans ears.
One difference, however, the energy per Hertz diminishes as the frequency rises, but It’s a very subtle difference. If you were to play them back to back, you could then notice the subtle differences, but otherwise, it would be quite tricky.
There was a study of 11 subjects was conducted in regards to pink noise. When the researchers compared the results between playing pink noise versus no noise at all, the subjects that were fed pink noise had a prolong deep sleep and improve memory recollection come morning.
There are additional colors of noise, also, corresponding to various frequencies like how colored light concentrates on varying wavelengths.
The different colors of noise range from red, brown, blue, violet, black, green, and orange noise. Even my spellcheck didn’t know there was orange noise since it kept changing the word “noise” over to “nose.” I guess there are more orange noses around than orange noise! Go figure!
After searching the internet, however, I could not find any research on how well all these different noises helps a person sleep better through the night.
So the question remains, why do we humans find white noise calming?
Why Does White Noise Help Us Sleep?
Well, What I quickly discovered while looking through research and also reading the opinions of regular people on Reddit forums, is that it’s a personal preference whether someone likes the sound of white noise.
Some people love white noise, and some despise it. One thing is for sure though; most people did admit that they find it helpful for falling asleep and preventing them from waking up prematurely due to its ability to mask other external sounds.
And really, don’t we all require a nice, peaceful night’s sleep? Sound can end up doing some strange things to us and even objects around us. The reason for this is because it’s an actual physical wave.
Do you guys love or hate sleeping with white noise?
What Does White Noise do to Your Brain?
As I was in the process of doing my research for this article, I came across something interesting and also something I never even thought of before now.
The question was Is White Noise Harmful? I for one certainly never even considered the fact that listening to white noise could have some negative impact on the brain but apparently, there is some new research that could shed some light on this topic.
How can something as natural as white noise be in some way harmful to your health? Well, this is how I’m interpreting it; While white noise machines make it easier for light sleepers fall asleep by drowning out any outside noise, or background noise I should say, that would otherwise wake them up throughout the night.
I’ve never been a light sleeper, so I never required it, but I do have a small white noise machine for when I sleep in hotels. I usually get woken up by slamming doors when people are leaving to catch their early morning flight.
I actually wrote an article all about how to sleep better in a hotel room. You might find it helpful! Even I learned a few things while writing the article.
I found out about the possible harmful effect of white noise while reading an article published in the medical journal JAMA Otolaryngology – head & neck surgery.
White Noise Sleep Research
Researchers from the University of California were studying whether or not white noise can cause tinnitus. Tinnitus is when someone has a constant ringing in their ear that just won’t go away.
According to ScienceAlert, the researchers looked at a bunch of past animal studies that implied listening to white noise for an extended period on a regular basis could affect the brain cells causing someone to experience tinnitus.
The animals were exposed to sound between 60 and 70 decibels which are around the same level as your typical white noise machine. The author of the study also stated the decibel level in which we’re talking about is regarded as “safe” by the U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration.
Sleeping With White Noise Harmful?
What I took away from this ONE research is that there needs to be a lot more research required to determine whether white noise can cause tinnitus in some people.
I for one think that if there was a chance that white noise machines can cause tinnitus in some people that it would only be a tiny percentage of users. Otherwise, I’m convinced that we would know if even a small portion of the millions upon millions of people using white noise machines on a nightly basis would suffer some adverse side effects.
Even a small percentage of white noise machine users would still be in the millions and with that many people suffering from the negative effect of white noise machines there would already have been some talk in the media; to the point where sales of white noise machine would have plummeted, and for good reasons.
I would certainly not use a machine that creates white noise If I believed that it was causing harm to my children while they sleep. But the studies were conducted on animals, not humans and we have a different biology than the test subjects used in this research.
Doctor Robert Glatter, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital says that there could be some truth to the theory concerning if white noise is harmful. The majority of people suffering from tinnitus were exposed to long-term and intense exposure to very loud noise.
It is all how you use your white noise machine, if you crank it to full volume then yes, you will most likely cause some hearing damage over time. The intent of a white noise machine is for peaceful and relaxing sound to emit from them.
Common sense would dictate the volume being set at a reasonable volume by the majority of people using a white noise machine on a constant basis.
Why Does White Noise Help Babies Sleep
White noise can help babies sleep whether they are easy sleepers or if you’re the unlucky parent of a light sleeper. That’s ok because white noise will really benefit you as the light sleeper begins to fall asleep faster and most importantly, sleep through the night.
Babies are already used to hearing white noise all the time. As they were in the mother’s womb, they would begin to hear around 15 weeks of gestation. So in reality, while they are in the womb and listening to a heartbeat just a few inches away from them; and all the fluids swooshing around then its no wonder that when they are in a car, they always fall asleep so easily from the constant humming sound of the engine.
Dr. Karp wrote in an article in Huffington Post that the noise babies hear in the womb from the mother’s insides is louder to them than a vacuum cleaner is to us in the outside world.
The reason why it’s good for babies to have a white noise machine is that after they are born most of them become stressed; because of all the new sounds they heat all around them, and that can lead to nonstop crying and also colic.
White noise machines switch on the babies calming reflexes and quickly helps them relax and then fall asleep. I read a study a while back that was claiming that approximately 80% of babies fall asleep within five minutes after turning on a white noise machine. This works with newborns all the way up to toddles and heck, even right through adulthood.
My twin boys are used to the noise of a white noise machine. The first thing they do when they go in their room during bedtime is going directly to their white noise machine and turn it on before jumping into bed.
A white noise machine is perfect for nurseries with thin walls. There are also many other things you can do to better soundproof a nursery but using white noise is at least a good start.
Here is the white noise machine I personally recommend. This is the one I have and I was sold by just reading the many positive Amazon reviews.
So there you have it, the short and also the long answer about why do white noise machine help you sleep. Let us know if you have anything to add that I might have missed white researching and writing this article.
Also, If you have a white noise machine that you like then let us know so we can try it out. I would also appreciate the input of people that have had a bad experience with a white noise machine to inform us about the ones better to avoid.
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