Do White Noise Machines Work?

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Have you ever wondered if white noise really helps you get to sleep? The idea behind white noise: It drowns out other sounds around you, making it less likely that something will disturb you and wake you up. Our brains still process sounds while we are asleep, but white noise can help mask these other sounds to prevent sleep interruption.

As Popular Science explains, white noise is a “consistent noise that comes out evenly across all hearable frequencies… [it] creates a masking effect, blocking out those sudden changes that frustrate light sleepers, or people trying to fall asleep.”

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According to the foundation, about five percent of Americans use a “sound conditioner” like a white noise machine in their bedroom. Furthermore, 74 percent of Americans say having a quiet bedroom is important for good sleep.

The explanation of what exactly white noise is can get kind of technical. A Georgia State University website describes it as “noise whose amplitude is constant throughout the audible frequency range.”

Popular Science provides a more user-friendly comparison: “Say you’re a musician. To play a middle C note, you play something that’s about 261.6 hertz, the unit of frequency. White noise is just an equal amount at every frequency, from low to high, that a human being can hear. To keep the music analogy going, it’s a gigantic band all playing a slightly different note. (Machines pushed to the limit, like fans, are especially good at hitting these notes.)”

Similar to white noise, brown noise, pink noise, ocean sounds, and waterfall or rain sounds can also help with sleep.

So, does it work or is white noise just a placebo? Science says it’s legit. A 2004 study found that white noise helped ICU patients sleep more soundly. Previous research suggests that white noise can help people fall asleep more quickly, and may help mothers settle babies to sleep.

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If you want to try out white noise, you don’t need to run out and buy a specific machine. Apps like Simply Noise are free to use, and some people find that the sound of a fan, air conditioner, or air purifier does the job just as well. Especially if you live in a busy house or hear a lot of city sounds at night, listening to white noise may help your rest more than you realize.

[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]

Featured image: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

Joe Auer

Joe Auer

Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site. He likes things simple and takes a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications. When he isn't testing sleep products, he enjoys working out, reading both fiction and non-fiction, and playing classical piano. He enjoys traveling as well, and not just to test out hotel mattresses! Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.


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