How does white noise affect sleep?

Some people seem to be able to sleep through resurfacing works or a full brass band but most of us would struggle when it comes to sleeping in a noisy environment. So what can you try if traffic noise keeps you awake all night or your neighbour’s dog keeps barking until dawn? The answer could be white noise.

What is white noise?

Put simply, white noise is a unique type of sound signal designed to mask background sounds. You may be old enough to remember white noise (‘static’) on the television when a channel wasn’t tuned in properly for example. However, whilst some people find white noise disturbing, many have actually found it’s handy for drowning out noises which are keeping them awake. It’s essentially swapping an irritating intermittent sound, which can vary in pitch and volume, for a sound which is constant and therefore often preferable.

Other types of ‘white noise’ sounds

Sometimes “white noise” can describe a variety of constant, unchanging background sounds. It is often used as an umbrella term for a range of sounds such as:

  • machinery noise, like large home appliances and air conditioning units
  • sounds of nature, like waves, animal sounds or rain
  • ambient soundscapes like the crackling of a log fire or the hum of a vacuum cleaner

Some people prefer listening to these types of noises instead of the harsher, higher frequency sound of true white noise when it comes to getting to sleep. In fact, white isn’t the only colour either; there’s grey, violet, red and even brown noise too. The various colours represent a particular spectral density and are often used in engineering, physics and acoustics. Pink noise in particular has also been found to also be a popular sleep aid as it not only helps you fall asleep but stay asleep too.

How does white noise work?

It does seem like an odd concept that to cure insomnia you would add more noise instead of less, but white noise is effective because it blends the racket from traffic, dogs barking etc. into just one background noise. This can then be better ignored by your brain so helping you to drift off. Essentially, it’s the type and context of the sound that is important in whether it will keep you awake or not – it’s about finding ways to block it out, and this is the function of white noise.

What white noise sound machines are available?

There are several ways you can generate white noise, although if you share your bed with a partner you may want to invest in some good quality headphones!

There are various white noise apps available to download, plus of course there’s Youtube. Alternatively you can even purchase your own white noise machine which may be preferable for people who want easy push-button functionality. White noise machines also won’t tie up a device like a phone, CD or laptop, some of which can also generate light when in use which will ironically then keep you awake!

Is your partner a snorer? White noise can help here too!

Sometimes noises are much closer than outside or in the next street – and there’s nothing more disturbing than trying to get to sleep when you’re sharing your snoozing space with a snorer. By popping on some headphones and listening to white noise you may find that even loud snoring will blend into the background. Additionally, get them to try the Kally Anti-Snore pillow which is designed to reduce snoring frequency and volume by as much as 50%. It’s got an ergonomically designed S-shaped foam core to support the head, back and neck and is hypoallergenic too. So you can both get a good night’s rest!

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