Noise at night can be disruptive—or it can lead to better rest. These are some of the most potent sounds for sleep.
If you regularly struggle with insomnia, make sure you’re aware of these easy fixes. And if you’re trying to sleep in a loud environment, white noise might help you nod off more easily. A mixture of all sound frequencies at once, at the same level of intensity, white noise does a good job of masking other noises that can disrupt your sleep. Like a whirring fan or the hum of an air conditioner, white noise provides an even, steady stream of sound. In a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers at Brown University Medical School reported patients in a hospital intensive care unit awakened less frequently during the night with white noise present, because it decreased the difference between background noise and the “peak” noises that punctuated the hospital’s noise environment.
It’s no surprise that ocean waves are a popular choice for soothing sleep sounds. For many people, the rhythmic crashing of water onto sand and rock can be meditative—and meditation carries some surprising health benefits. By creating a mental state of relaxation, contentment, and gentle focus, the wave sound can be deeply relaxing. In an interview with LiveScience, Dr. Orfeu Buxton, an associate professor of behavioral health at Penn State University, described how the sound of the ocean can promote sleep. “These slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people, “Buxton explained. “It’s like they’re saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.’”
Other water sounds
It’s not just ocean waves that can provide soothing sounds to go to sleep. Maybe it’s the light patter of a rain shower, or the steady flow of a running stream that helps you wind down at the end of a long day. One key to the power of water sounds to help us sleep, said Buxton, is the relatively gentle, gradual variations in the intensity of moving water sounds. Even more than volume, the abrupt, sudden presence of a noise can be jarring to sleep, Buxton and fellow researchers found in their 2012 study of how hospital noises disrupt sleep, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.