What is white noise and does it help you sleep?

(ORDO NEWS) — There are several common misconceptions about what constitutes white noise. Often people think of it as TV interference or the serene sound of rain, but technically they are not the same thing. To produce white noise, each frequency that the human ear hears is played in a random order with the same amplitude, which results in the sound “shhh”. Interestingly, white noise got its name because it is analogous to white light, which is a mixture of all visible wavelengths of light. Since white noise has the ability to drown out potentially distracting sounds, residents of noisy cities use it to fall asleep faster, and scientists have been trying for years to figure out how white noise affects concentration, memory, sleep and cognitive abilities. Several studies conducted in 1990 showed that white noise can be effective for insomnia. Subsequent studies in 2015 and 2017 confirmed earlier findings and also showed that white noise can improve sleep quality in some patients.

What is White Noise?

When measuring sound waves, “frequency” refers to the rate at which the wave vibrates per second, while “amplitude” (or “power”) refers to loudness. Frequency is measured in hertz and amplitude is in decibels. The relationship between the frequency and amplitude of a sound wave is used to define the different “colors” of noise that share structural properties with the corresponding light waves of the same name.

The most famous property of white noise is its ability to mask harsh sounds that are destructive to the sleeping brain, which is especially important for residents of megacities and those who are struggling with anxiety or other mental disorders, which often make it difficult to fall asleep. Fortunately, finding white noise suitable for sleep is not difficult today, as the saying goes, “just google it,” and scientists have been studying the effects of white noise on sleep since the 1960s.

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For example, a small study published in 2016 in the journal Caring Sciences found that white noise improved the sleep duration of patients in coronary care units from an average of less than five hours of sleep to more than seven. This study examined data from 60 patients who were hospitalized for three days. White noise was used to mask hospital sounds that disrupted the patient’s sleep. In general, many researchers agree that white noise is another tool that can be used to improve sleep quality and maintenance, as well as to achieve physical and mental health.

What other colors is noise?

In addition to white noise, there are various noise “colors” such as pink, brown, and even blue noise. The difference between this noise and white noise lies in the amplitude of the frequencies used. Moreover, other colors will have different sound amplitudes in different frequency ranges. For example,  pink noise has louder low frequencies and softer high frequencies.  And since the human ear is especially sensitive to high frequencies, many people find pink noise more pleasing than white noise.

According to Insider, a number of studies have shown that pink noise can actually reduce brain wave activity. Since the brain becomes less active during the early stages of the sleep cycle, helping this process, pink noise can help shorten the time you fall asleep, increase sleep duration, and improve overall sleep quality.

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In a 2017 study, researchers examined the sleep quality and memory of 13 elderly people aged 60-84. The results showed that listening to the pink noise during sleep not only helped the participants fall asleep, but also kept them asleep enough to improve the memory performance.

Pink noise or white noise – which is better?

Researchers do not provide a definite answer to the question of whether pink noise is better than white. The most obvious reason is the lack of research comparing the benefits of these two types of sounds. Ultimately, the best color for sleep noise comes down to personal preference. You may even fall asleep in silence. However, if you find the high-frequency sounds too harsh, then pink or red noise may be to your liking. In turn, for those who like higher-frequency sounds, the researchers advise to listen to white or blue noise. Do you fall asleep in silence or do you prefer white noise?

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