What Is White Noise? Can It Really Help You Sleep Through The Night?

What is white noise? Learn why it is called white noise and if it is suitable for sleep deprivation. Can a white noise machine lull you to sleep in minutes?

There’s nothing like a good night’s rest. Simply switching off at the end of the day isn’t possible for everyone. Many struggle with their sleep, and it can get very irritating. Your productivity goes down a steep slope if you do not invest in resting your mind. Ordinary tasks may feel like complicated and laborious ventures that you just do not have the energy for anymore.

There are now sleep doctors, well-trained in internal medicine and psychiatry, who recommend various sleep disorder treatments. One of them is the sleep noise or the white noise treatment. White noise science of sleep is suggestive of a frequency of sound that can affect a person on the psychic level, allowing the human mind to relax.

White noise is a specific form of sound that takes in all of the frequencies a human ear can hear, from 20 hertz to somewhere around 20,000 hertz. When all these frequencies are played simultaneously while keeping the amplitude and intensity equal, the resulting sound is called white noise. It sounds like the steady buzz of a hair dryer or a “shhh” sound.

Another way of understanding the term white noise is this. Imagine yourself standing in a room that is full of untuned pianos. Now imagine that all of their keys are pressed simultaneously, generating sounds of multiple frequencies, where no one frequency is like the other. It sounds like the amalgamation of all those notes.

Why is white noise called white noise?

If you combine all of the frequencies of sound audible to the human ear and play them together, you get white noise. It is the most basic definition. White noise has a high pitch and usually sounds like static or a hiss. It is also called broadband noise, as it spans over and takes into all possible sound bands.

A scientific explanation of the frequency is that its power spectrum remains constant over all frequencies, giving the white noise signal an equal intensity over the sound density. Simply put, it contains all wavelengths of the sound spectrum. That is also why it can drown out all other sounds. It is a mask that covers all random noise or sounds that are present in an environment.

Where does white noise come from?

White noise is derived from the term white light, as it is simply its auditory equivalent. A white light holds all of the colors together, combining all the frequencies of all the colors. Similarly, all of the audible sound frequencies make up the white noise. For instance, imagine listening to 20,000 tones of sound, all playing simultaneously.

An electronic device like a microcontroller, microprocessor, or signal processor is used to produce a consistent humming or droning sound, which is afterward called white noise. It happens by continuously floating random numbers in a stream through a digital-analog converter. It can be loud or low, depending upon the desired intensity of the listener. White noise is unvarying and steady, which implies that the frequency stays stable.

What is white noise used for?

There are various fields of science where white noise is currently in use. We’ll start with the simplest and move on to the complex ones.

  • People use it because of its consistency. It can obliterate or block unnecessary or unwanted sounds, creating this invisible mask that takes precedence over every other sound. If you have a sleep deficit because you are instantly alarmed by the slightest of auditory disturbances, white noise can help you miraculously. Therefore, if you live near the train station or the airport, or your home place is on a busy street, relying on white noise can help. It’ll pan out in you getting some much-required nap time. Psychiatrists call white noise the ‘sound cocoon.’ It is very soothing and can put you to sleep instantly.
  • Musicians also use white noise to produce electronic music and recreate some percussion instruments like snare drums. Their frequency domain consists of high noise; the simplest example is that of a non-existing radio station that produces static.
  • Another field that makes use of white noise is engineering. It checks an electronic circuit’s impulse response, especially for amplifiers.
  • In computing, programmers use white noise as the base for random number generation and to create digit patterns. In short, any technology related to sound component delivery uses white noise, like speaker systems and video game audio components.
  • Doctors recommend white noise to a patient suffering from tinnitus in the medical field. Tinnitus means that you keep hearing or perceiving a sound even when there is none present in your atmosphere. They recommend these machines to aid during sleep and enhance a particular space’s privacy.
  • It can also help people with ADHD focus better on their given tasks.

What is the difference between brown, pink, and white noise?

The brown and pink noise are only altered versions of white noise, where brown is the softest, and white is the strongest/harshest. While it sounds like the hiss of a radio station with an unused frequency, brown noise resembles the sound of a river rushing in the forest or the rumbling of winds.

Pink noise is a toned-down version of white noise. Where white noise has equally intensity frequency over all bands, pink noise allows its frequency to go down three decibels at every upper octave. It is why pink noise has a definitively lower pitch. It sounds more like a waterfall’s fall than an electrical fan’s whirring. Various studies have revealed that pink noise is more consistent with enhanced deep sleep in adults, while it also improves the cognitive abilities of the listeners.

Brown noise is also another form of white noise. It also works the same way as pink noise, with the frequency decreasing at every higher octave. However, the difference between the two becomes visible when the decreasing frequency doubles in brown noise. It is also called red noise, which generally resembles the sound of rainfall and a constant running shower.

Brown is a much better choice for people who suffer from tinnitus as it reduces the patient’s symptoms. The ringing in their ears is improved with their cognitive ability. The brown and pink noise are much more soothing versions of white noise.

Steady buzzing, droning sounds like that of the flowing river or rumbling clouds, or waterfall, or the sound of waves repeatedly crashing are examples of white noise.

Why does white noise help with better sleep?

Turning on a sound to help sleep better may seem counterintuitive for many. However, for those of you who have already benefited from white, pink, or any other color sound, it will sound quite normal.

Take a scenario here as an example; as soon as the winters set in, households generally tend to get quieter on the inside because there are no fans or air conditioners pumping air anymore. Even the tiniest of sounds can start becoming a bother. Or, for instance, your partner has a snoring problem. Sleeping with unsteady snores from the person lying next to you is awkwardly challenging.

That’s why some people actually swear by having a steady sound-making machine at their disposal to flick off their awake switch. If you do not want to invest in an expensive machine, apps for smartphones are always available that work perfectly well.

Why is it necessary for us to focus on sleep?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) ran a survey in the past year and the results were terrible for the average U.S. citizen. One-third of the adults living in America do not sleep enough. It is of paramount importance that one gets a night of good sleep.

It can help with our health and vitality. A head refreshed from a sound slumber is more capable of positive interventions than a groggy mind. Mental well-being should value above everything else. A healthy mind is conducive to a healthy society.

The other benefits good sleep can provide include:

  • Boost in productivity
  • Better concentration
  • Lesser chances of psychotic illnesses, like depression and other mental risks
  • Lesser chance of developing heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes
  • Higher cognitive abilities
  • Better judgement when it comes to making decisions

Many of these are disturbed because of a noisy surrounding environment. It is where white noise can chip in to give you better resting time. White noise can help blanket the sounds around you so that any little or loud creak in your surroundings doesn’t make it to your brain. Therefore, you end up unresponsive to all such outside stimuli, and your sleep remains undisturbed.

Healthy habits of inculcating a sleep time ritual can help with an excellent nighttime slumber. You can wind down by reading your favorite book or turning on your favorite music by dimming the lights and creating a soft, soothing glow. It signals to your brain that it is time to let go of your worries and settle in for the night.

How do white noise machines work?

They create a buffering sound that makes a barrier between your eardrums and the onslaught of outside noise and helps you sleep despite the troubling atmosphere or surroundings.

Sleep deprivation can come with severe risks to a person’s physical and mental health. It is crucial to focus on having a good sleeping schedule to stay healthy. While nighttime rituals can help train our brains to relax and move towards sleep slowly, sometimes, that just isn’t enough. We find so many people compromising on sleep because of various reasons.

Why invest in a white noise machine?

No reason is good enough for anyone to sacrifice their sleep. A sleeping aid like a white noise machine can come in handy for people who are wound up too tight. It can induce sleep, and it can help in making you stay asleep.

It can be an excellent addition to households where people have multiple working schedules. A white noise machine can help your brain switch off while lights pour inside the room if you’re doing night shifts and can only sleep during the day.

Life nowadays is fast-paced and loud, which isn’t a healthy or perfect scenario for various reasons. Metropolitan areas are now more crowded and noisy than before, and the streets are all jammed up with vehicles honking away at each other. Surviving in cities is a never-ending problem because there is no peace anywhere. A steady white noise from a source can help trigger the brain’s snoozing mode, which can help with a deep sound sleep for the listener.

What to consider while buying a white noise machine?

There are a variety of factors that can affect your choice of the white noise machine. A few are given below to help you understand what may be better for you;

  • Depending on your choice, both a machine and an app can work for you. Where a machine will cost more, it will come with a better sound as it is calibrated to provide steady white noise. An application will be a better choice for anyone who prefers their phone as the only machine for listening to sounds or music. Moreover, it’s portable, which is a huge plus.
  • Consider your budget as you can find a variety of options among both. Various white noise machines are available in the market, and some low-cost versions only come at $20. Some smartphone applications are free, while some come with costs. Select the one that suits your requirements.
  • Always check the sound quality before paying for a device or an application. Check the reviews, if any are available, to see what other customers or users have said about any particular machine. While many devices have a digital sound, you can also find others that offer a mechanical sound. Select the one which you prefer. Only make sure that whatever you select provides an uninterrupted loop.
  • One should be able to control the sound volume, regardless of where it comes from. Check the specifications the manufacturer provides to understand the high and low notes of the white noise. They should match your requirements/needs.
  • Always go for a device that allows a timer. It is essential because one can manage a sleep schedule by setting a timer for specific needs. Some apps and devices come with pre-set time blocks, while others allow the user to put in a number that is specifically suitable for them.
  • The high-pitched tone of pure white noise may not be good enough for some people; however, you cannot come to this conclusion without giving it a try. So, investing in a device or an application that does not offer a sound variation may not prove helpful at the end of the day. It is better to have a choice to shift among various sound bands, for instance, pink or brown noise.

What is the effect of white noise on babies?

Babies, like adults, are also equally affected by sounds. If your baby has a colic issue, you are already in a tough spot. White noise can help relieve your worries to some extent, as it has also proven effective in managing colic-related crying in babies and older children. A study conducted in 1990 appeared in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood; it presented data suggesting white noise had a profound influence on a baby’s sleep routine. It made them sleep more quickly.

Babies listen to multiple sounds while they are in their mother’s wombs. Some of these sounds are from the inside, like the beating of their mother’s heart. However, some are outside but reach inside the womb as muffled noises. The sum of all these sounds equals a steady droning or buzzing sound, which babies are familiar with even before they are born. It is one big reason why babies get settled and become less cranky when they listen to such noise.

However, it’s essential to understand that this noise does not have not a miraculous brain-altering mechanism. It can either help you focus on what’s necessary or take your focus off the surroundings, whichever the listener requires.

The true white noise may be unpleasant for babies because of the higher upper notes. Researchers suggest that pink or brown noise may help more in such cases as babies have sensitive auditory canals, and they respond better to softer tones.

White noise science is still in its developmental phase. Scientists and researchers will need time to look extensively for all the clues hidden around us to decide the potency and its effect on the listeners.

What volume of white noise can harm the listener?

A white noise machine can do wonders for frazzled nerves, but one should consider the recommended volume for listening to any sound. The NIOSH has specific guidelines regarding exposure to a particular sound volume. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends listening to less than 85 decibels sounds. Anything above or even equal to that can cause permanent hearing damage.

One can end up having complete or partial hearing loss. Another side-effect can be constant ringing in the ears. A study about these noise machines revealed that most devices or apps that played white noise for infants were too loud, especially if placed too close to the listener. A sound meter is recommended to keep the volume within the recommended hearing limits.

There are pros and cons to using white noise for drifting off to sleep. The data in favor or against it is inconclusive as of yet. Further research in the future may bring up solutions for sleep deprivation and its management. However, if you are interested in finding out what it can do for your sleep, then we suggest that you try the following steps:

  • Invest your time in forming a proper bedtime routine.
  • Turn off the light or dim them around the time you want to turn in for the night.
  • A white noise machine can become one factor that may make you sleep better at night.
  • Remain consistent about your routine, do not give yourself leverage over the weekends unless it is essential.
  • You can try a relaxing bath infused with essential oils or a nighttime massage.
  • Avoid screen time as much as possible right before going to bed.

Once you have a proper routine, you can decide on whether a noise machine will benefit you or not.


As we said earlier, white noise as a science still needs more exploration and research. It is currently much more involved in the technology fields, while its effective everyday use includes its application in the field of sleep management. As all sciences rapidly develop and evolve, white noise can also have a bright future. It has already proven its effectiveness for various sleep and attention disorders, and we hope to see further progress in the coming years.