What are white noises and why do they help you sleep?

Last update on Aug, 30, 2021

White noises generator

In general, noise in acoustics indicates a sound event that is composed of several audible frequencies. Within this definition, white noise describes a monotonous sound that is supposed to help the brain to ignore unpleasant frequencies, i.e. disturbing noises. In this process, annoying sounds are screened out and environmental noise is suppressed.

True white noise can only be generated electronically by a random generator, as it contains all frequencies with the same amplitude (i.e. the same volume level). Because it contains a lot of high-frequency energy and the ear is more sensitive to high-frequency sounds, it is often not a pleasant sound and is perceived more as an intense whistling sound.

To listen to white noise, you can also use certain devices that reproduce white noise, often similar to nature. Examples of white noise are waterfalls or wind blowing through trees. Through the use of these devices the user calms down, relaxes and in many cases sleeps more peacefully.

White noise helps you fall asleep

Hearing is the only sense that remains fully active during sleep. However, there is the disadvantage of being disturbed or even woken up by sounds during sleep.

People who are very susceptible to noise can benefit from white noise. White noise suppresses background noise and blocks out environmental sounds. Thus, if noises occur during sleep, they do not reach the sleeper's consciousness and do not wake the person up.

However, experts caution against treating sleep disturbances with white noise alone, because this may solve the sleep disturbance temporarily, and not the underlying problem.

When working, reading or studying, distractions are often annoying. Distractions caused by telephones or e-mails can be easily eliminated by switching off the devices. This solution is not applicable if the annoyance comes from environmental noise. 

Many workers in UK are exposed to high levels of noise pollution on a daily basis, including external sources (e.g. construction sites) as well as internal sources such as colleagues or keyboard noise. The consequences of this noise pollution often lead to psychological problems and deficits in concentration and, consequently, to a lower level of performance.

Many people use music, podcasts or the radio. Through headphones, the ears perceive little or no ambient noise. However, this carries the risk that the new noise source becomes a distraction. White noise can mask ambient noise and in these cases helps to increase concentration.

Children: white noise to help them sleep

There are many reasons why many children have problems falling asleep. An effective remedy can therefore be to have children listen to white noises. They can block out environmental noise, and the soothing sounds remind children of the sounds they hear in the womb, thus promoting relaxation and sleep.

Many parents are already wondering whether white noise as a sleep aid is harmful to children. Long-term studies are not yet available, but the following points should definitely be considered:

  • White noise should not be played continuously, because then it will no longer help to calm the child. In addition, children should have different listening experiences to develop their hearing.
  • Sounds should not be set too loud and should not be too close to the bed.

Does white noise help to fight tinnitus?

White noise can also be used to reduce the annoying symptoms of tinnitus. White noise does not follow a sound pattern (unlike music) and therefore stimulates the brain. This calms the auditory centre and ear noises are reduced.

There are various devices that can be used to reproduce white noise, including all mobile devices that can play sounds. However, there are also special hearing aids for tinnitus that produce a permanent noise and thus ensure that the sounds heard mask the tinnitus. You can find more tips on treating tinnitus here.

Youtube and applications against background noise

There are several applications, games and Youtube audio videos that reproduce white noises, thus allowing the user more concentration or better sleep. Some of the sounds are also downloadable, so you always have them in portable devices, such as an MP3.
Noise canceling apps can also filter out ambient noise or even blend it completely. With so-called noise cancellation, an integrated microphone records ambient noise. This is then converted into counter-sounds which neutralize the sound waves that occur. There are also headphones that cancel noise and work similar to apps.

Pink Noise: what's the difference?

White noise tends to remain at the same volume, even if the frequency changes. Pink noise, on the other hand, becomes quieter as the frequency increases. Pink noise is often referred to as 1 / f noise. The name derives from the fact that pink noise becomes quieter in inverse proportion to the frequency  ("f").

Pink noise sounds more like ocean noise due to the alternation of high and low frequencies. Additionally, pink noise is said to have the effect of prolonging deep sleep phases and improving memory performance.

Brown noise, unlike pink noise, sounds more like stormy weather and therefore depends a lot on the listener's preference. Examples are: thunderstorm, rain shower, fireplace, distant storm. The name does not derive from the color, but from the Scottish botanist Robert Brown.

Both pink and brown noise can help counteract tinnitus. Just like white noise, pink noise can be reproduced through a generator. There are numerous applications, online audio games on Youtube and MP3 files for different sounds, tones and noises. So everyone can try the different noises and find the one they like best.
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