White noise is described as a combination of all of the different frequencies of sound. While sleeping, our hearing is still alert and our brains still continue to process sounds. White noise is used to create a masking effect for those sounds, blocking out unexpected changes or inconsistencies in noise that disturbs light sleepers and people trying to fall asleep. The monotonous attribute of white noise makes it easy for us to ignore.
According to an article by Huffington Post, because white noise is steady but unpredictable, it gently draws our attention without requiring any actual focus. Dr. Christopher Winter, a neurologist and sleep medicine doctor, explains that with white noise “There’s really nothing there to process — it’s a very basic, nonrepetitive sound.” Huffington Post described a sleep study from 2014, in which an audio was played of someone reading words while people slept. The results showed that the “sleeping participants’ brains automatically categorized the words being read as either verbs or colors”.
Genuine white noise can only be generated electronically. However, there are other types of white noise used to promote healthy sleep, such as: nature sounds, machinery noises and ambient soundscapes. Some people prefer those background noises compared to the harsh tone of pure white noise.
Want to find out if white noise helps you sleep better without having to purchase a sound machine? Try using a fan or a free white noise or nature sound MP3. Another option is to download a white noise application on your smartphone.