To understand how white noise machine helps individuals and babies to sleep, we first need to look at why we are unable to fall asleep. Other than being high on caffeine (that we might have taken half an hour ago), the troubling thoughts wriggling in our mind, a large part of the reason can be attributed to the surrounding (or environmental) noise we are constantly subjected to it. It is also the same reason why we sleep better in the night compared to in the day where it is much more noisy. Environmental noises come in all form. It can be the barking from the dogs, your noisy upstair neighbour, heavy vehicles driving pass, quarrelling among neighbours, birds chirping or the railway trains nearby.
As shown by neuroscientist Seth S. Horowitz, our hearing continues to work even when we are asleep. We are kept awake when the background sounds managed to flag up on our cognitive radar (which is why alarm clock works in the first place). Contrary to popular belief that we are kept awake by the volume, it is in fact the context of the sound that keeps us awake (remember those occasion where you felt asleep at the sofa with the TV still running).
Knowing that it is the context of environmental noises that disrupted our sleep, so how does white noise machine helps?
What is white noise?
White noise is machine-generated static sound used to mask annoying environmental noises. It is a combination of all the sound frequencies human can hear into one single wall of sound that block other sound. In layman term, it is like a huge orchestra all playing at different note at the same time. White noise theory involves a combination of mathematics and engineering. Its applications can be found in diverse fields ranging from acoustics, programming, economics and electronics. As white noise comprises of all sound frequencies of the same energy strength, it can be unpleasant to the ears due to the high-pitch frequencies, which is why they are filtered out in sound therapies. White noise has also become a colloquial term for a diverse range of sounds such as nature sounds, ambient soundscapes or even machinery noises.
A “white noise” image
How does white noise machines work?
Imagine you are in a pitch-dark room. You switch on a flashlight and immediately notice the strong light source. Now you are in a brightly lit room (or even outdoor), you switch on the same flashlight again. Chances are the light source will be barely noticeable as it has been masked by the brighter room lights.
White noise machines work in the similar way. They generate white noise that effectively mask the rest of the environmental noise to prevent the context of the surrounding noise from keeping you awake or awaken you from your sleep. Unlike music, white noise contains full range of audible frequencies and thus is able to mask intrusive sound of any frequency.
Are white noise machines suitable for baby?
Babies are used to loud noises. The womb, surprisingly, is a noisy environment. As babies have immature nervous system that causes them to physically flinch when they are subjected to a sudden loud noise, white noise could provide some help if there is a presence of sleep problems. However, it is important to keep the volume of the white noise machine to a low level (i.e. conversation level) so as not to hurt the sensitive hearing of the babies. It is also necessary to strike a balance in the baby’s exposure to white noise to prevent over reliance and affecting the development on the baby.
Rachel at My Baby Sleep Guide recommends white noise for babies for the following reasons:
- It’s not expensive!
- It’s calming and de-stressing for babies.
- Studies have proven that it helps babies go to sleep and stay asleep.
- If you’re sleeping in the room with your baby, it’ll help you sleep better too, since babies make all sorts of weird noises in their sleep!
- It helps to block sounds around the house and outside while your baby is napping, so you don’t have to tiptoe around the house while you’re trying to get work done (or just enjoying the latest episode of Game of Thrones).
Is white noise harmful?
There were multiple studies that conclude on the positive results of introducing white noise to the environment.
In one study of noise disturbances in intensive care units, researchers mixed ICU noise with white noise and found that incidents of wakefulness were reduced. In a separate study, white noise was proved to be beneficial in improving concentration and cognitive performance in ADHD patients. There are numerous anecdotal evidences of parents having success with white noise for babies and infants with some small-scale studies yielding positive results.
Types of white noise machines
For over 50 years, Marpac has engineered and produced sound machines, creating high-quality white noise to the delight of ears worldwide.
Developed over 50 years ago, Dohm is the original, most popular, all natural, white noise sound machine you’ve probably heard about. Its circular shape is easy to recognize, and its uniquely adjustable fan sound is what makes it the best; in fact, Dohm was chosen to be the Official Sound Conditioner of the National Sleep Foundation. Turn it on, and tune out the rest of the world with soothing, all natural white noise.
Whether for sleep, privacy, concentration, relaxation, or tinnitus relief, Marpac has your sound-masking needs covered. We are the highly recommended sleep & privacy solution for restless babies, snoring partners, loud roommates, noisy offices, anxious pets, and more.
Adaptive Sound Technologies (ASM) is a leading supplier of sound masking machines. They use patented technology to generate relaxing soundscapes, and blend lengthy, naturally recorded, high-definition sounds together. Their ranges of sleep sound machines include the Sound+Sleep and Sound+Sleep Mini (for ease of travel) suitable for adult and infant. The devices come with a smart feature that automatically adjusts the volume in response to ambient sounds like coughing or snoring in the bedroom.
Sound+Sleep Noise Machine
Waterfall sound from Sound+Sleep Noise Machine