If you're trying to fall asleep but have trouble zoning off or sleeping soundly throughout the night, you might want to consider getting a sound machine. You don't want to skimp out on sleep, as it can hurt your immune system and overall health and wellbeing.
Various research touts the benefits of different sounds in improving sleep performance, as they can block out disturbing noises, like cars honking, and they can remove that awkward silence, too, depending on where you live. Either way, there's something about these specific sounds that can help you snooze and be especially pleasing to the ear.
So, which is best? It varies based on the individual, but here are a few common sounds that can help you fall asleep and get through the night, as recommended by Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health and attending emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC.
"White noise is comprised of sounds waves that contain all the frequencies, so what you essentially hear is a type of static, whooshing and hissing that can drown out the sounds of a neighbor coughing or someone walking on a creaky floor above," says Glatter.
Plus, white noise is not actually a natural noise, but a conglomerate of sounds. Here's how it works its magic: it may help you fall asleep easier because it removes the high and low pitched frequencies that can startle you and keep you awake at night.
What's it sound like? "White noise is akin to many people who live in the city running their air conditioner or fan at night so they don’t hear garbage trucks and falling dumpsters. It’s also compared to hearing static from a TV or the sound of steam hissing from a radiator. White noise essentially sounds like a high-pitched type of buzzing," says Glatter.
But your brain has an interesting approach to interpreting the sounds. It essentially accentuates sounds in the higher pitch frequencies, making them sound louder than they truly are, he says. So, you may hear the sounds from a number of frequencies, but the highest ones tend to stand out from the lower pitched frequencies, he explains.
While white noise is still a great option, pink noise might be even better. "Pink noise is similar to white noise, but focuses on the power of lower frequencies. It’s almost like white noise, but with an accentuation of the bass, as opposed to the treble on your stereo," he explains. "Pink noise is comparable to hearing a steady rainfall, waves lapping on the beach, or the leaves rustling in the trees," he says.
"A study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology from 2012 looked at the effect of pink noise in adults on sleep quality at night, as well as napping during the day. They did EEGs to measure brain waves that reflect depth and quality of sleep," he says. And, it was found that pink noise can prolong steady sleep time and lead to greater quality of life.
"When the participants listened to pink noise compared with no noise, researchers discovered an improvement in deep sleep (the more restful and rejuvenating stage of sleep) at night, and a much larger improvement during daytime napping. The participants also commented that they generally slept better with pink noise," Glatter says.
"What we refer to as brown noise has even greater focus on the lower frequencies. The roaring of a waterfall, or the pinch of low thunder are examples of Brown noise," he says.
If you're looking for something less jolting, you'll want to try brown. "Brown noise is typically less pronounced than white or pink noise. And with blue noise, even higher frequencies are the focus, such as a high-pitched hissing of water," he says.
Brown noise is especially great for relaxation, so it come in handy when you're especially stressed out.
Still, it’s important to realize that not everyone responds in the same way to pink or brown noise in terms of sleep benefits. It’s really a uniquely individual preference, so it's worth trying them all out to see what works best.
"Many people often have to play with different options to see if they sleep better with one of the options," says Glatter. "Some smartphone apps such as Noisli or Simply Noise offer different types of noise (pink, brown or white) that may help you improve the quality of your sleep. A website, playnoise.com, also allows you to even stream pink noise and other types of noise. You can even buy machines that play pink, brown or white noise, for your home," he adds.
While we're at it, here are 7 hacks to a better night's sleep.