We all understand that noise affects sleep. Few of us can doze off while a jackhammer pounds the sidewalk beyond our bedroom window. But there is more to crafting a sleep-promoting aural environment than blocking intrusive noises. Many people, including children, find silence as disconcerting as loud noise. With nothing to focus on, they struggle to quiet their mind and relax their body.
If sleep often eludes you, you may want to experiment, playing different sounds until you find what works. Everyone is different, so the sounds that relax you might put another person on edge. However, some sounds have been shown to reliably help many people to fall asleep.
White noise is a sound in which all the frequencies are played at the same intensity. It sounds like steady humming or hissing, and it has been shown to help people with insomnia. Some people are very sensitive to any shift in noise levels, even when they’re asleep. White noise helps to mask sound changes, creating a consistent and soothing background that promotes sleep.
White noise isn’t the only “color sound.”
- Pink noise mixes high and low frequencies at different intensities. Pink noise often sounds less harsh than white noise, and recent studies have shown that it can help to increase the time spent in a deep sleep.
- Brown noise has even more intensity at low frequencies than pink noise, and some people find it more relaxing than pink and white noise.
We often hear examples of white, pink, and brown noise in our environment. A fan or air conditioner can be comforting creates a hum of white noise. Pink noise is likened to the sound of falling rain or waves lapping against the shore.
But the easiest way to reliably create white, pink, and brown noises is with a speaker connected to a noise-generating application. Many such apps are available for phones, including White Noise Lite for iOS and myNoise for iOS and Android.
If you own an Apple HomePod, you can ask Siri to play a variety of Ambient sounds, including white noise and nature sounds with the command “Hey Siri, play [noise] from ambient sounds”. Replace [noise] with your preferred sound. You can hear the full list of ambient sounds with “Hey Siri, what sounds can you play?” Similar features are available on Amazon Echo and Google Home devices.
White noise is artificial, but similar effects can be achieved with sounds recorded from nature. People often find the sound of rain on a rooftop relaxing, and there are apps that deliver high-quality rain and other nature sounds. They sound better with headphones, but it’s straightforward to connect to a Bluetooth speaker or smart speaker in the bedroom.
The most popular sounds include:
- Running water
- Wind in trees
Podcasts and Music
If white noise and nature sounds don’t work for you, consider soft podcasts, talk radio, and music. White noise is great if changes in noise levels keep you awake, but, for some people, it’s the inability to shut off their own thoughts that keeps sleep at bay.
Gentle voices from a radio show or podcast and soft, relaxing music offer an external stimulus to focus on, which can drown out intrusive thoughts. For some, leaving the TV on with a low volume serves the same purpose, but the light from a TV often makes it harder to fall asleep.
If you find that radio, podcasts, or TV are helpful, consider setting a timer to shut off the sound after you fall asleep. Although you may not be conscious of the sound through the night, it can disrupt your natural sleep cycle, preventing deep sleep and causing a less restful night.
We’ve discussed three types of sound that can help you sleep, but everyone is different, so it’s worth experimenting with different sounds and with silence to find the one that works best for you.
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