Millions of people world-wide have or had at some point in their life a difficult time getting into that restful slumber. In the United States alone, an estimated 50-70 million people have some form of sleep disorder that prevents them from falling asleep or sleeping soundly. Although the core issue varies, the problem still remains and is now recognized as a public health problem according to the CDC. More and more sleep studies show exactly how white noise helps you catch those zzzz’s at night.
It is recommended that adults receive 7-8 hours of sleep per night while teens need 9-10 hours and children 10+ hours. In the US alone, 35.3% of adults are getting less sleep than what is recommended. This leads to decreased concentration, poor memory, falling asleep behind the wheel, among an array of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and depression.
What is the answer?
As we spend almost one third of our entire lives sleeping, it is important that we continue to find ways to to alleviate the anxiety and worry that many are faced with when they watch the hours tick by without a lick of rest. For many who face this difficult time regularly, there may be an answer that may be better than sleeping pills. The answer for you could be something as simple as white noise. You may have heard people say they swear they cannot fall asleep without their fan blasting at full speed, and there may be truth to what they are saying and an entire science behind why that is.
Let’s start off by explaining what noise pollution is and how it affects your sleep. Essentially, when you are nodding off to sleep, or are even in a deeper stage of sleep, your ears do not just ‘turn off’. Although there are people who grow accustomed to the hustle and bustle and every noise imaginable that occurs outside, for many, the neighbor’s barking dog or the passing of traffic is disturbing and may be the reason you are not getting the restful sleep that you want and need.
White noise helps the brain that never quits
While you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds on a basic level. That means, the tv or radio that you left on before sleeping, or your snoring significant other may cause you to wake up just enough to shift around, partially waking you from your slumber. When the environment goes from completely silent to a sudden noise, like a slamming door or a screaming toddler, your body wakes. Sometimes, it may not wake fully, but it is just enough to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, so briefly that you don’t remember the next morning.
Let’s get to why white noise helps. White noise is a consistent noise that occurs evenly across all frequencies audible to the human ear. This sound plays evenly on every octave, essentially “flooding” your audio sensors with sounds from the entire audible spectrum that helps to prevent you from picking up on any other sudden background sounds. Similar to white light, white noise contains all frequencies as white light contains all colors. It is counterintuitive to think that so much noise can be relaxing, but hearing every audible frequency at a continuous interval will do just that.
So white noise helps that much huh?
White noise masks and blocks out sudden changes to the noise environment that will rouse light sleepers. In one sleep lab study conducted in an ICU, white noise was played over a sound system while patients tried to sleep. The number of awakenings was significantly reduced when this noise was added to their sleeping environment. It’s proven that sound plays a large role in brain activity waves synchronization, even while you are sleeping. So, the consistent sound of “white noise” slows and regulates your brain waves, which is an important factor of a restful night of sleep.
If the sounds that white noise produce don’t help, believe it or not, there are other spectrums of “color” noises that can help. In addition to white noise, there is also “pink noise” and “brown noise” for instance. The differences between these two noises are simply spectral density. For instance, pink noise and brown noise alike gives more emphasis to lower frequencies. Regardless of your preferred “color” noise, they all work the same way in masking sometimes unpreventable noises that may happen during the night. It just comes down to personal preference.
Listen below to some samples of the different color noises:
Of course, there may be broader physical issues, including sleep apnea, which is the obstruction of the airway while sleeping, that can contribute to sleeplessness. A visit to your primary care physician may be in order if the cycle of sleeplessness continues. However, in many individuals, it may just be a matter of picking your favorite “color” noise that can help you to finally get that rest your mind and body deserves. As the studies show, white noise helps and it’s worth giving it a try.