One of the biggest problems faced by today’s population in regards to their quality of life is the lack of proper sleep. Sleep is one of the most essential biological functions. And poor quality sleep leads to various physical and mental health issues.
To ensure proper quality of sleep, we need to understand the causes of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation means not getting the amount of sleep needed by your body. There are many reasons that can cause sleep deprivation, but one of the most important factors is noise.
This is where white noise comes in. White noise provides a masking effect that hides obtrusive or offensive changes in noise levels, preventing disturbances in sleep. So how does white noise work? And is it a good option for improving your sleep quality? To understand this a little better, we need to develop a better idea about the stages of sleep and their importance.
Four Stages of Sleep
The sleep cycle has four stages. These stages are classified on the basis of eye movement. The stages are comprised of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep) and NREM sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement). They are differentiated based on brain activity which can be measured by an EEG.
Stages of NREM sleep contribute to deep restorative sleep. This part of sleep is essential for the rest and recovery of the body. It is believed that REM sleep plays an important role in maintaining the cognitive functions of the brain, like learning and memories. It is also the stage of sleep when we experience dreams.
The Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is a biological process comprised of many different components. It plays a significant role in the sleep-wake cycle of the body.
The circadian rhythm is controlled by the area of the brain called the master clock. This center in the brain is stimulated by various external stimuli like sunlight, temperature, noise, etc. to signal the body to sleep or be awake.
Unwanted Noise and Sleep Disturbance
A loud and sudden noise can jolt you awake. But changes in the ambient noise in your bedroom can also mess with your sleep. Changes in the lower frequencies in the middle of your sleep can disturb its sensitive stages and prevent deep sleep. Most people may not even notice this type of sleep disturbance as it occurs subconsciously. The only symptom is waking up tired despite having a long and uninterrupted sleep. Studies have shown that noise that isn’t enough to cause you to wake up can still fragment your sleep and reduce sleep quality.
Environmental noise can prolong the light stages of sleep and reduce stages of deep and REM sleep. This means the body doesn’t get enough time in the restorative part of sleep, which is crucial for maintaining health. Moreover, REM sleep is essential for preserving brain function and cognition. So, lack of sleep can cause mental health problems like mood and behavioral disorders.
So, it’s pretty clear that noise is bad for sleep. But then why does white noise help you to sleep? Are some noises good and others bad?
How Some Noises are Good for Sleep?
It might seem counterintuitive that you can use noise to sleep better after learning how noise hampers sleep. But there’s actually an interesting reason behind it. To understand how these noises help, it’s important to know more about them. You’d be surprised to know that there are different hues of noise just as there are different colors in the light. Some of these are pink, brown, red, white, black, etc. White noise is comprised of all frequencies of sound like the color white is a combination of all the colors of light. Similarly, black noise is complete silence, meaning the total absence of any sound.
Among the sounds popularly used to help in sleep, pink and white noise are the most common.
White noise is a sound that spans the entire audible frequency at an uniform amplitude. This just means that the noise is at the same volume level at all ranges. This produces a ‘SHH’ noise like that of television static or the humming of an air conditioner. This creates a masking effect that blocks abrupt changes in noise levels.
White noise creates a virtual sound barrier, that prevents sudden shifts in the soundscape from reaching the ear, thus preventing disturbances in sleep. This really helps in those deep sleep stages, allowing for deeper and more satisfying sleep.
A study conducted by Havard Medical School along with other international health agencies showed that patients with transient insomnia in presence of white noise went to sleep 38% more quickly compared to patients trying to sleep in a room with normal environmental noise. The study concluded that the administration of white noise can be helpful for minimizing symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Another study saw that patients admitted to a critical care unit got an average of 3 hours less sleep than patients who were administered white noise. Moreover, the patients experienced virtually no change in their average time of sleep during their stay. White noise machines have also been found to help children with ADHD focus on school tasks and get better sleep at home.
The difference between white noise and pink noise is that in white noise the amplitude is equal across all frequencies. But in pink noise, the amplitude decreases as the frequency increases, so the lower-end frequencies have more volume and the higher frequencies are softer by comparison. The sound is similar to steady rain, the rustling of leaves, etc. Studies have shown that playing pink noise while sleeping, can help with deeper and more stable sleep. White noise covers all audible frequencies from high to low, so it works better to block out a wide range of sound. On the other hand, the human ear is more sensitive to higher frequencies, so hearing white noise for a long period of time may be uncomfortable for some people. Here, pink noise is the better option as it has less prominent high-frequency noise. So, it puts less strain on the ears.
Why a White Noise Machine is a Good Option?
To get the benefits of white noise during sleep, you don’t immediately need to buy a white noise machine. You can listen to white noise and pink noise playlists and audio online. It’s a very cheap and effective solution and you can do it with your phone and some earphones.
But sleeping with earphones on can be uncomfortable. Another good option is to use a bedside speaker or a dedicated white noise machine. A good plug-in white noise machine on your nightstand means you can use it when you go to sleep and forget about it in the morning and go about your day.
Considering you can get a quality white noise machine for around 20$ online, it is the most cost-effective and convenient solution.
Overall, a white noise machine can help you get better sleep and reduce sleep deprivation. It’s hard to overstate the importance of good sleep for leading a healthy life. If you are facing sleep-related problems, talk to a doctor to see if there are any underlying problems. Follow your physician’s advice and never attempt to self-medicate. Try to sleep early and manage your stress levels. The best sleep is that which comes naturally.