Clinically reviewed by Sharon Leach RPSGT, RST, CCRP, CCSH
We tend to think of noise as something negative. But if you struggle to sleep well, white noise can be positive! Anecdotal evidence and clinical research suggest this type of sound can be helpful for sleep difficulties and other health issues.
What Is White Noise?
White noise combines several sounds at different frequencies to produce a uniform audible sensation. There are many types, but often it sounds like soft hissing or static.
White noise isn’t the same as environmental sounds. Things like ocean waves, thunderstorms, or chirping crickets may be pleasant and soothing, but sound experts classify them differently.
There are also differences between white noise and other sounds like pink or brown noise, primarily in the intensity of their frequencies. For example, pink noise puts more emphasis on lower sound frequencies.
How White Noise Machines Improve Sleep
Maintaining proper sleep hygiene can help you get more and better-quality sleep. That includes sleeping in a dark, comfortably cool, and quiet room. The last requirement is where white noise machines can be beneficial.
These machines emit sounds specifically designed to keep your ears from picking up others that might occur while you sleep — animal noises, appliances cycling on and off, your house creaking, etc. Without something “blocking” them, those sounds can wake you or, at a minimum, reduce your sleep quality.
However, it’s crucial to observe recommendations from hearing experts and sound machine manufacturers regarding appropriate volumes. For example, you should avoid listening to sounds exceeding 70 decibels for more than 24 hours or 75 decibels for more than eight hours. As with any medical “treatment,” you should use the minimum effective dose.
When shopping for a white noise machine to improve sleep, be sure to do your research. A device’s specific frequencies may be better for addressing different environmental issues. For instance, one machine may be better than another at blocking the sound of a snoring partner.
White Noise Machines for Babies
Like adults, it seems that babies that struggle to sleep can benefit from white noise. Research indicates that sound played at an appropriate volume may improve a baby’s sleep patterns. White noise may be particularly helpful for colicky babies.
However, there are critical considerations parents and caregivers should keep in mind.
White noise at a volume over 45 decibels can be harmful to babies and fetuses. Consequently, pediatricians recommended using lower volumes and keeping white noise machines at least seven feet from where a baby is sleeping. Also, many babies don’t require white noise to sleep soundly and can become dependent if exposed to it.
Other Health Benefits from White Noise Machines
White noise machines might also help with other medical conditions and behavioral challenges. For instance, it may help people who suffer from tinnitus or “ringing in the ears.” It may also reduce agitation in people with dementia.
In addition, white noise may help school-age children relax and focus on their work. And parents often find that white noise calms children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Learn About the Baptist Health Sleep Center
Restful sleep is vital to good health. If you struggle to get enough high-quality sleep, our experts can help. Get details on our Sleep Center today.