White noise is the common name for a consistent sound like that of air conditioner, for example. Its consistent hum contains all the frequencies audible to the human ear. This uniform and constant sound drowns out other background noises, like slamming doors or cars beeping, and gives you a better chance to sleep through them undisturbed. This is called auditory masking and it could be especially beneficial for those suffering from anxiety or other mental distress which heightens the sensitivity to their surroundings.
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This topic has been researched for quite some time. A study conducted in 2005 and published in Sleep Medicine compared the sleep of three groups of four subjects - the first group slept with no background noise, the second with the recorded background noise of a hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and with ICU and white noise combined. The researchers found that the white noise did help the patients sleep better, to a degree comparable to the patients who slept with no noise.
Another small study, published in 2016 in The Journal of Caring Sciences, had similar results. 60 patients in coronary care units were studied over the course of a three-night stay. White noise was used to drown out the hospital sounds that could cause sleep disruption, and it was found to improve the sleep duration of patients in coronary care units from an average of fewer than five hours of sleep to greater than seven.
Examples of white noise range from radio and TV static to falling rain or a stream of water. There are white noise machines engineered to produce a sound with all frequencies, but if you want to avoid a hefty price tag, white noise was made extremely accessible thanks to the internet. There are various phone apps and websites for white noise that do the trick just as well, according to consumer reports. There are even YouTube playlists like the one we linked below.
The upside of white noise is that there is virtually no risk in trying it out, aside from the chance it might be ineffective, no harm can come of it. Before you prepare your white noise app for the night, double-check if there isn’t any other factor that might affect your sleep negatively. White noise is more likely to be helpful when combined with these habits:
Diet and exercise are important for a healthy sleep cycle too. Make sure you don’t eat a heavy meal too close to your bedtime and schedule exercise at least a few hours before you plan on going to sleep.