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Having trouble sleeping? Listening to white noise could help

Apr, 19, 2020

With all that's happening in the world today, getting a good nights sleep can be harder than ever.  Increased anxiexty and worries can keep both your mind and you awake.

Sometimes listening to something else can be enough to distract and help you get to sleep. Enter the concept of 'white noise'.

It’s a common solution to sleep problems, and is probably better than counting sheep. Here’s a look into how it works and more importantly, how you can use it to help you.

What exactly is white noise?

In the most technical terms, white noise is a unique pattern of sound that is used to mask background sounds. Audiologists would describe it as "noise with a constant amplitude throughout the audible frequency range". This kind of 'pure' white noise can only be generated electronically using precise mathematics. 

It sounds a lot like radio static with harsh, high-frequency energy. Interestingly, there are many other 'colours' of noise such as red, brown, violet and pink, each with different technical applications in acoustics and engineering.

Less technically though, the term 'white noise' is often used to describe any kind of constant, unchanging background noise. This can be anything from sounds in nature such as waves, a crackling campfire, or the buzz of cicadas, to the artificial hum of an air conditioner or vacuum cleaner.

So why should you care about it?

If you’ve ever struggled to sleep through the sound of a noisy neighbour or barking dog, white noise could help you. According to some neuroscientists, our hearing evolved as a biological alarm system and it never switches off. As we sleep, our brain is constantly monitoring the input from our ears, like a cognitive night watchman, and anything that seems unusual will alert us that something is wrong. In this way, it’s not the volume of the sound that startles us, it’s the context. 

A recent study in hospital intensive care units showed that what actually disturbs sleepers is not the magnitude of ‘peak noise’ itself, but the difference between this peak noise and the background noise. In reality, this means that by adding white noise to your sleeping environment, you can mask the sound of the unusual noises that would otherwise normally wake you. 

How do you use it?

These days, white noise comes in many forms that you can implement at home. If you’re flush with cash (and presumably short on sleep) you can purchase a cutting edge 'sleep sound system' for hundreds of dollars. However, for others not wanting to spend as big, there are smartphone apps that do a similar job. 

Here are our top 5 free White Noise APP recommendations:

  1. myNoise (iOS or Android)

  2. Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds (iOS or Android)

  3. Atmosphere: Relaxing Sounds (iOS or Android)

  4. White Noise Lite (iOS or Android)

  5. Rain Rain Sleep Sounds (iOS or Android)

However, if you do get desperate and it’s the middle of the night with a thumping soundtrack coming from your neighbour, switch on a desk fan or put a load of washing on.

It might not be perfect white noise, but it may be just enough background noise to get you through the night.

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The Amplifon blog is our place to explore ideas and themes of interest. For professional audiology advice, please contact your local clinic for a consultation.

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