Should I Sleep with White Noise?

December 1, 2023 · John Gallagher

Can White Noise Improve My Sleep?

You might turn to several solutions in your quest for a good night’s sleep. For example, some people regularly write in a sleep journal to identify how their sleep patterns change over time. Others might use one or several sleep apps to track those same rest patterns and other important health metrics.

White noise is another popular sleep aid. More than 50% of the U.S. population uses some type of white noise to sleep. Many white noise users claim that the background sounds help lull them into a sleep state. Others add white noise to their sleep hygiene routine simply because it’s a familiar, consistent sound.

Many people claim that white noise can help improve sleep quality — though more research is required to medically back that claim.

What is White Noise?

White noise is a sound that combines all the frequencies the human ear can hear. Just like white light is a combination of all colors of light, white noise is a combination of all noise tones. Scientifically, white noise refers only to this combination of sounds. However, in conversations about sleep, people often refer to “white noise” as any peaceful sound that encourages rest.

Whiter noise often sounds like static. You might hear sounds similar to a radio, fan, television, or vacuum. While it’s the most popular form of color noise, it’s not the only type of noise that people listen to.

Pink noise is a softer, deeper noise that sounds a little more like heavy rain than white noise does. The amplitude is lowered even further for brown noise, which tends to sound more like a deep brass instrument section. 

How Can White Noise Improve Sleep Quality?

Popular white noises include nature sounds, ocean waves, or static. While researchers aren’t yet sure why people prefer white noise to sleep, one popular theory is that it helps decrease background noise. If you’re someone who gets distracted by sounds around you, white noise might be able to help eliminate those distractions and promote rest.

Are There Downsides to White Noise for Sleep?

Research is still limited on the effects of white noise for sleep. However, some studies do suggest that adults who sleep with white noise are more prone to sleep interruptions. Other studies suggest that white noise can affect how you might navigate sleep stages. If you suffer from tinnitus — the perception of ringing in one or both ears — white noise could make the issue worse.

Some clinicians also suggest that white noise could increase a risk for hearing loss, particularly in young children. This is because white noise is accumulated noise. When played at high volumes for long periods of time, the weight of the noise could delay development of auditory processing capabilities in the brain, leading to auditory processing disorders.

People of all ages can reach a point where they depend on white noise to help them sleep. While white noise might be useful in encouraging sleep when you’re staying in a new place, it’s not necessarily a healthy sleep dependence. For example, you might have a more difficult time falling asleep one night if you cannot access white noise.

How Should I Incorporate White Noise Into My Sleep Routine?

Many people consider white noise to be an important part of their nightly sleep routine. If that’s you, make sure to choose the right sound, keep the volume set to a moderate level, use a reliable sound source, and combine white noise with other proven sleep strategies.

1. Choose the Right Sound

Different people prefer different white noise varieties to help them sleep. While some sleepers might use a sleep machine that only emits white noise, others prefer pink or brown noise. Or, you might prefer nature sounds, rain sounds, or other variations of white noise. Feel free to test which types of white noise, or relaxing noise, help you achieve the best night’s sleep.

2. Keep the Volume Set to a Moderate Level

Volume level is another factor to consider if you want to use white noise as a sleep aid. Your white noise should be loud enough that it drowns out background noise. However, it’s even more important that you don’t make your white noise too loud. Excessively loud white noise could keep you awake; even worse, it might lead to hearing loss.

3. Use a Reliable Sound Source

You can find white noise in many different places - including video streaming websites like YouTube and audio platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Make sure you stream your white noise from a reputable provider. Use a podcast or video provider that you trust. After all, you don’t want your white noise audio changing after you fall asleep.

4. Supplement with Other Proven Sleep Strategies

For best results, supplement your white noise habits with other proven sleep strategies. For example, use the right pillows and blankets to help make sleep a priority. Make sure to create a soothing sleep environment by preserving a comfortable temperature. Avoid naps after 5:00 PM and avoid using your phone, computer, and other electronics at least 60 minutes before bedtime.

There’s another vital component to a restful sleep that’s often overlooked: the right mattress. The right mattress is one of the most important items to any sleep hygiene regimen. In the same way that a great mattress helps promote restful sleep, a poor-quality mattress can keep you tossing and turning all night.

At Mattress Warehouse, we’ve done the hard work for you. Our patented bedMATCH sleep diagnostic program considers 18 unique metrics — from height to weight to shoulder width — to identify the best possible mattress options for you. We’ll help you identify choices that suit not only your body type but also your sleep preferences.

Take our five-minute bedMATCH sleep quiz for mattress results that match everything you’re looking for in your best night’s sleep.