Can White Noise Improve Sleep Quality?

The value of a good night's sleep cannot be overestimated. A good night's rest is not only necessary to revitalize and refresh the mind and body, but it is also vital to overall mental and physical well-being.

Regular, proper sleep plays an important role in:

  • Improving concentration level
  • Decreasing the risk of depression and other mental health issues
  • Improving cognitive development
  • Lowering the risk for cardiac problems and diabetes
  • Improving physical strength and energy
  • Improving decision-making
  • Increasing physical and mental engagement
  • Reducing risk of accidents in the workplace or driving

Unfortunately, according to a recent CDC (Centers for Disease Control) survey, over one third of American adults and children are not getting the sufficient amount of quality sleep regularly and need help to do so.

Quality Over Quantity

There are many factors governing how many hours of sleep an individual needs but one thing is clear: quality is better than quantity every time. Most sleep experts agree that the right environment is vital and this means the room should be:

  • Cool but not cold
  • Calming and restful
  • Dark (or with very minimal light)
  • Quiet

Creating a cool, calming and dark sleep environment is generally easy to manage -- but it is sometimes impossible to ensure peace and quiet. People are living closer to each other -- and walls are not as thick as they should be -- and exterior noises and disturbances are a part of modern living. 

Aircrafts, barking dogs, passing traffic, alarms, noisy pedestrians and sirens are a nightly occurrence – along with a noisy neighbor's television or a roommate's loud music -- can spoil a night's sleep.

A pleasant night of quality sleep is attainable -- but might be aided by a device to eliminate disruptive sounds. White noise may be the solution!

What is white noise?

Without being too technical, white noise is a scrambled mix of audible sounds which might imitate a gentle rain and other natural sounds, as well as pleasant generic sounds – all capable of masking disruptive noises.

White noise is used as a sleeping aid as all exterior noises are masked and replaced by a soothing and restful background sound. Using a white noise machine has been shown to be effective for helping to fall asleep – and to stay asleep.

Research and Study

The concept of using white noise to aid sleep is not new -- and machines for this purpose existed as far back as the 17th century.

Towards the end of the 20th century, more detailed research was conducted on the effects of white noise on sleep with encouraging results. 

Researchers found that using a white noise machine helped newborn babies and toddlers to fall asleep faster -- and was beneficial in improving the time spent by adults through the different stages of sleep.

Further testing and research has discovered that white noise has:

  • Helped adults to fall asleep up to 38% times faster
  • Helped to improve the depth and quality of sleep
  • Improved sleep quality for seriously ill patients

A New York survey revealed that 64% stated that outside noises like planes, dogs, traffic, televisions, radios and unexpected street noises were the biggest obstacles to falling (and remaining) asleep -- and many were suffering some sleep deprivation as a result.

The Right Choice

Using a white noise machine -- or app -- is a personal choice and will depend on factors such as price, sound quality, convenience and the range of sounds produced. 

A machine is the more versatile and better option for prolonged use, while an app is probably a good short-term choice and handy when traveling.

Price. As with all electronic devices, prices can vary greatly between products. A basic white noise machine is probably sufficient for occasional use while problem sleepers may need to invest in a medium to higher-end model.

Sound Quality. Checking the sound quality is important before considering any purchase. Cheaper machines may produce a tinny, light sound which can defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. A rich, smooth sound that relaxes and soothes is the desired goal.

Convenience. Small and compact rather than bulky and cumbersome is the aim -- and a white noise machine with a timer (while not necessary) is a big plus.

Sound Options. Many machines offer more than just generic white noise sounds. Some create “pink” or “brown” noise -- and emulate sounds such as waterfalls, wind, rainfall, running water and other soothing sounds from nature.

Another fairly obvious, but often overlooked, feature is a good volume control. Different situations and environments may call for different volume settings to mask out intrusive background noises.

Bedtime Routine is Important

While a white noise machine can certainly aid in falling asleep and improve sleep quality, it is only part of the equation -- and creating a good bedtime routine is key to sleeping well.

Schedule. Going to bed and rising at the same time every day will form a sleep habit.

Exercise. Physical exercise (even moderate) is good for the body and tiredness helps with sleep.

Dark Room. Keep any ambient light in the room at the lowest level possible. Turn off unnecessary light-emitting electronic devices and ensure shades or curtains block external light completely.

Food and Drink. Eating a large meal or drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed inhibits sleep.

Exterior noises and interruptions cannot be foreseen but they can be masked out or eliminated with white noise. If external noise is at the root of interrupted sleep and diminished sleep quality, a white noise machine may not be the complete solution -- but it will certainly be of immense benefit.