Should You Use White Noise for Better Sleep?

by SleePare - March 26, 2019

By Sofia Axelrod | 5 Minute Read

Many people are lucky enough to fall asleep the moment they hit the sack.

On the other hand, a whole lot of unfortunate souls spend half their night staring at the walls, wondering when scientists will find an easy trick to help them catch some z’s.

But here’s some good news for you.

If you’re tired of your sleeplessness problem, you might want to try white noise as an aid to help you fall asleep within a few minutes.

Yeah, seems a bit counterintuitive — using noise to eliminate noise!

Our detailed blog will help you understand all about white noise, including its effect and benefits for adults and babies, and the science behind this technology.

What is white noise?

Experts define white noise as a blend of every frequency that’s audible to human ear at the same amplitude. Frequency refers to the number of sound signals whereas amplitude is like height of the sound wave.

Amplitude and Frequency

In layman’s terms, white noise is a unique form of a sound signal used to drown out background noise.

White noise can also be defined as what humans hear with the combination of sounds with variations in frequencies. That’s similar to listening over 20,000 tunes at the same time!

Many people find white noise to be consistent and soothing – a sound that won’t disturb during the night. With white noise as a backdrop, you can sleep through all kinds of peak noises; such as someone sneezing, door slam, or any ruckus that lasts for a short time.

Thus, white noise efficiently screens racket that might either wakes you up during snooze or prevents you from falling asleep.

Why do you need white noise?

The sensory preferences vary among people when it comes to sleeping. You may either crave for a quiet surrounding or some background noise to enjoy a peaceful night’s slumber.

It’s just like an introvert-extrovert thing. Introverts prefer a calm and silent environment to thrive. But extroverts love an equally loud and noisy atmosphere to do their thing.

Similarly, while most sleepers need a noiseless environment to sleep like a log, others simply dislike the quiet.

Now imagine this scenario:

You lie down on your bed ready to sleep when a neighbor decides to get their hammer out and bang every wall of their home. Or a roommate decides to throw a party when you specifically told them you’ve got an exam the next day. Or you’ve been traveling around the world almost every day and dreams of getting a few hours rest during the flight seem impossible thanks to the chatty Cathy beside you.

Can you relate to any (or all) of these situations?

Well, that’s when white noise enters to help you fall asleep.

According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, over 70% of the Americans prefer snoozing in a quiet room. On the contrary, more than 30% of the respondents use some an aid to sleep better.

Majority of the sleepers want their bedroom to be a livable place. Thus, they invest in products that would help them relax, be comfy, and improve the overall quality of slumber — such as plants, fragrances, music, and even white noise.

How does white noise sound like?

HowStuffWorks explains white noise in an interesting way.

For instance, imagine 1000 people are talking all at once. It’s impossible for your brain to pick out one voice from another and they are all indistinguishable.

Now let’s say, a person starts screaming at the top of his/her lungs among them. Your brain won’t be able to detect that sound because its frequency is nothing compared to 1000 human voices combined.

Just like white light is a blend of different colors, when sounds of the all possible frequencies (between 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz) mix together, they create white noise.

This is how white noise signals look like.

White noise – different frequency, same amplitude.

How does white noise differ from color noises?

Here a question arises. If you’re already familiar with white noise, you must have come across other forms of color noises, such as brown, pink, blue, and grey.

So, how is white noise different from them?

First, let’s take a look at the numerous kinds of noises and their benefits.

Noise ColorFeaturesBenefitsExample
White noise
  • Includes low, medium, high frequency waves
  • Is consistent
  • Sounds like a gushing waterfall
  • Releases stress
  • Improves memory and cognitive abilities
  • Ideal for falling asleep
Ocean
Wind
Brown noise
  • Has a lot of energy
  • Sounds like a gentle rumble that comes with thunderstorms
  • Low frequency
  • Relaxes and improves sleep
  • Enhances focus
Waterfall
Fire
Pink noise
  • Low frequency
  • Every signal has equal energy
  • Intensity decreases with time
  • Useful for testing loudspeakers
  • Helps with deep sleep
Stream water
Air conditioner fan
Grey noise
  • Considered loud by listeners
  • Contains both low and high frequencies audible to human ear
  • Similar to TV static
  • Benefits concentration building
  • In some cases might help with sleep
Grey noise
Violet noise
  • Similar to brown noise in terms of energy and frequency
  • Intensity increases with time
  • Useful for tinnitus patients
Violet noise
Blue noise
  • Similar to pink noise in terms of energy and frequency
  • Intensity increases with time
  • Similar to a hiss
  • Not used individually but combined with other noises to minimize external sounds
Soothing track

As you can see, among all different types of noises, white noise offers the most benefits.

Dr. Stephane Pigeon, a sounds expert, says that these colorful noises are not included in ‘white’ category because they help drown out sound peaks at specific frequencies, instead of covering ALL frequencies.

Here’s how white noise looks like compared to other types.

Wikipedia

The difference is clear. White noise comprises same amplitude waves but a lot of varying frequencies. Others, focus more on specific amplitudes than on frequency.

According to Pigeon, when it comes to white noise, you might want to increase the volume to make it more effective. It does have the correct frequency levels but not in the proper proportion. “If you take another color like brown, it already has that interesting rumble in it, and might work better,” says Pigeon.

On his website myNoise, Pigeon offers a variety of color and white noise for experimentation. You can adjust the color scrolls and listen to the perfect sounds to drown out surrounding distractions.

When is white noise useful?

Besides sleeping, white noise can be used in multiple instances. Here is an overview of the various uses of white noise, but we’ll take a more in-depth look at its benefits later on.

  • Work: Listening to white noise while working can reduce distractions; thus, helping you finish routine tasks without delays.
  • Travel: Take a white noise generator with you during your journeys. It can make your plane rides or road trips more relaxing, and perhaps you can catch up on your z’s in a short nap.
  • Study: White noise is also useful while you’re studying. It eliminates surrounding distractions by increasing your focus and enhancing memory.

Does white noise work with babies?

Good news for exhausted parents — YEP, it works!

A 1990 study conducted by J.A. Spencer and colleagues, demonstrated the effectiveness of using white noise to put babies to sleep instantly. The experiment included 20 babies, out of which 80% of infants fell asleep within five minutes of listening to white noise.

So, how does it work?

Even though newborns sleep for a long time (up to 12 hours every day), their cycle is somewhat broken. In other words, babies tend to sleep in episodes throughout the day. It hinders performing your routine chores and makes it difficult to catch a wink at night.

Children should be put to bed around 8 pm. It’s necessary you create a perfect ambiance for them, so their body gets a hint and starts releasing melatonin.

Experts suggest white noise machines for infants to make a peaceful and serene environment. Put on calming tunes or lullabies at least one hour before bedtime while you lie down with your baby.

This white noise assists tired parents in two ways:

  • Your baby goes to sleep almost instantly and you’re spared all the hard work of patting or singing.
  • Even if you or other family members are still awake, the white noise will block out the external sounds. Thus, your baby’s slumber won’t be disturbed.

Now that you have understood its basics, let’s take a look at the various pros and cons of white noise for adults and babies.