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While city noises, barking dogs, loud music, and other aural annoyances can drive us nuts and hamper our chances of getting some good shut-eye, using certain types of sounds at bedtime may actually improve the quality of your slumber. So how can sound improve sleep?
While some people prefer peace and quiet when they go to bed, others need constant sound. This seems especially true for individuals that grew up inactive, noisy environments. They may become so used to a variety of sounds that they find silence unnerving, and they are unable to fully relax and get to sleep.
Dr. Joseph Ojile, of the Clayton Sleep Institute, claims that the right noises can actually help us relax and get to sleep. Ojile has had patients tell him that they fall asleep to relaxing music, which helps them let go of active thoughts and quiet their minds—which, like yours probably does—tend to race from one thing to the next all day long.
While sleep-enhancing sounds are not going to drown out crashing thunder or a shrieking ambulance siren, they are good for soothing a restless mind and providing a calming point of focus, making it easier to drift off to dreamland.
But what types of noise work best to improve sleep? There is no one answer, but generally, people tend to prefer soft, non-disruptive sounds such as falling water or chirping crickets, or special sounds tailored for bedtime listening.
Don’t know where to start? Want to sift through the noise? Read on to learn more about the different types of sound that can lead to better sleep.
White Noise – Sounds that combine all noise frequencies are considered white noise. If you’re old enough to remember the static when TV stations finished broadcasting for the night or the sound of steam hissing from a radiator, you’re already familiar with white noise.
White noise creates a steady background hum that drowns out the other sounds that can keep you up. White noise may also help treat insomnia, but because it could lead to hearing problems, skip the headphones. Since today’s television is never off-the-air (though you can actually find TV static noise on YouTube), use the whir of a fan or a white noise machine to help you nod off.
Pink Noise – Sounds with a consistent frequency are known as pink noise. Pink noise has been found to improve sleep quality by slowing and regulating brain waves so that you wake up feeling more rested. Many of the sounds found in nature, like falling rain and the sounds of the wind or ocean, are in the pink noise category. Don’t worry though, if you don’t live by the sea, there are still plenty of ways to access these soothing, natural tones, either by downloading them from your favorite online music source or listening to music players like Spotify or Apple Music.
Binaural Beats – Binaural beats are another type of “good” noise. Binaural beats combine two slightly different sound frequencies, heard through each ear with the use of headphones.
It is theorized that when the brain is exposed to two separate sound frequencies, it responds by adjusting and perceiving a new single low-frequency tone that coaxes the brain into a state of relaxation and reduced activity. This then calms the brain and helps it to slow down enough for you to sleep.
Music – Relaxing tunes, such as smooth jazz, new age, or classical music, may also help you chill out, wind down, and fall asleep faster. However, it is recommended that you skip the songs that have lyrics – these types may actually stimulate your brain and keep you awake longer.
And as a bonus, listening to music while you sleep may actually improve your memory and brainpower.
Television – There are still those people who claim they can’t fall asleep unless they have the television on. The problem with this is that your brain tends to focus on what’s currently on and you may have issues if you wake up during the night. For instance, explains Dr. Ojile, if what you need to go to sleep is a certain late-night show, you cycle through sleep periodically about every 90 minutes during the night. When you get up during one of those 90-minute periods, that show is not going to be on any longer, so your brain has gotten tuned in to what you were first listening to versus a repetitive calming sound.
Opting for a soothing, repetitive noise is a better strategy.
No Noise – Some people sleep best in absolute silence. They keep their TVs off, put away their phones, and even wear earplugs to bed to ensure they don’t hear any unnecessary noise. While earplugs won’t completely cover the sound of the TV on in the next room or of your partner snoring, they will muffle the noise enough to help make it a bit more tolerable.
Using sound to help you sleep is very easy to do when you need it. Many sound machines are reasonably priced (the Marpac Dohm Classic, recommended by the National Sleep
Foundation is under $45 on Amazon). You can also use sleep CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and apps for your smartphone.
If you’re still having problems drifting off to peaceful slumber, Ojile says there are other tips that can help:
Settling into a soothing sleep routine using sound should have you sliding into sweet dreams in no time.