Thursday Sleep Tip: White Noise to Soothe the Savage Beast

A lot of people swear that they sleep better in the rain. I assume that what they mean is that it is raining outside, but that they are inside where it is dry. Trying to sleep outside in the rain might be a little too similar to Chinese water torture. Actually, my wife and I were camping a few years ago on the coast and a heavy rain storm came up unexpectedly during the night. The rain leaked through the top of our tent and dripped on my head, making sleep impossible. So, I speak with some authority when I say that sleeping while physically in the rain is of no benefit to you.

However, it is pretty well established, at least anecdotally, that when the rain is falling outside people find it easier to get to sleep inside. In fact, it doesn’t have to be rain. All kinds of ambient, “white noise” sounds can have a positive effect on sleep. I have heard numerous reports of electric fans, ocean waves, wind, the furnace, static on a radio, and of course rain being significant aids to sleep.

Benefits of White Noise

So-called “white noise” is beneficial in several ways.

  • White noise tends to be soothing, helping you to relax
  • It is a distraction that can prevent your mind from wandering to all sorts of things that keep people up at night
  • The steady stream of sound provides a constant mask over other sounds that might otherwise startle us awake.
  • Some kinds of white noise can have a hypnotic effect that lulls you to sleep

White noise can help you to get to sleep faster, and it can help to prevent you from being awakened by things that go bump in the night. For these reasons and others it is worth looking into utilizing some sort of ambient sleep sounds to help you get to sleep at night.

Sources of White Noise

The easiest way to start using white noise for most people is simply to get a small fan, such as you would use to promote air flow during the summer. You probably already have at least one fan lying around. Provided it is in good working order you will likely find a fan suitable for making white noise.

Another simple option, if it is located near enough, is to use the ceiling fan in the bathroom. These usually put out a pretty constant level of ambient sound.

There are some good websites that stream white noise. One of my favorites is at simplynoise.com. I use this one when I am on vacation, or when I’m working at home and need to filter out the sounds in the rest of the house. You have your option of three different levels of sound – white, pink and brown. And you can set an oscillating level if you like, too, which simulates the effect of waves on the shore.

Another site I recently came across, but haven’t had much time to explore yet, is SoundSleeping.com. They have a variety of different sounds and you can mix and match up to five different streams if you want.

White Noise Machines

Marpac White Noise MachineHowever, I prefer to use a white noise maker that I purchased from the store. A white noise maker is not very expensive and it is easy to take with you on trips. Most of them have a number of sounds to choose from, such as rain, waves, birds, streams, and many others.

At some point I will take some time to review the best ones on the market. For now, though, you should know that not all white noise makers are created equal.

It’s probably worth paying a little more money than the cheapest brand. The sound quality will be better. But there is an even better reason to make sure you get a good one. All white noise makers run repeat loops of sound over and over again. The cheapest ones tend to have a loop that is only 2-5 seconds long, and it won’t take your ears and brain long to detect the patterns in the sound. Once that happens the white noise can be more of a distraction than a benefit.

Happy sleeping!

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