Using a White Noise Machine for Better Sleep: Everything You Need to Know

white noise machine and woman sleeping

White noise machines can be extremely effective devices for getting a better nights rest.

However, people are often left a bit confused when they first hear the term “white noise machine”. After all, the concept of a device with the purpose of creating noise to help you go to sleep might seem counter-intuitive at first.

Given that this type of device is unfamiliar to many people, this post aims to answer some of the most common questions regarding white noise machines and how they are used to get better sleep. 

The more you know about this device, the better you will know if a white noise machine is right for you.

White noise machine basics: what’s the deal with this device?

white noise machine in bedroom

Before delving into a discussion on the best white noise machines to fit your needs or how to set up this device, it’s important to understand what white noise machines actually are. 

What are white noise machines and what do they do?

White noise machines are electronic devices that produce the constant drone of sound known as “white noise”. These devices are often relatively simple to operate and are usually about the size of a typical alarm clock.

What exactly is white noise you might ask?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines white noise as “a heterogeneous mixture of sound waves extending over a wide frequency range”1

In simpler terms, white noise is really just a mixture of low and high-frequency sounds that creates constant background noise.

Although white noise machines can be used for a variety of purposes including various types of audio testing, these devices are most commonly used for sleeping.

To get a better nights sleep, people often keep a white noise machine playing continuously on their nightstand throughout the night.

How a white noise machine can help you sleep

White noise machines are excellent devices to help you fall asleep and stay asleep as well.

But how?

White noise machines drown out some of the typical noises at night that can suddenly wake you up. Various studies2 claim that as a result, white noise playing in the background is excellent for falling asleep and staying asleep.

These outside noises that can disrupt you from your sleep can come from many sources. For instance, in the middle of the night when it is dead quiet and you hear a car lay on the horn just a hundred feet away from your window, you might wake up in an instant. Sleeping in dead silence means that even softer sounds from outside can be heard from your bed. 

Alternatively, if your partner has a snoring problem, you can be kept awake for hours trying to get some shuteye. 

However, when you have a white noise machine playing right next to you all throughout the night, disruptive noises such as these will be drowned out by the gentle white noise playing right next to you. 

Although using a white noise machine is a great way to deal with sleep depriving noise, there are a few other ways in which quite noise machines can help you sleep… 

Finding peace in constant soft noise- Some people simply don’t like to go to bed in dead silence. For some people, a fan needs to be on regardless of how warm it is, or the TV needs to be on in the background. In turn, a white noise machine is an easy way to create similar background noises to fall asleep to.

Masking tinnitus- Tinnitus is the perception of an annoying ringing in the ears. As you can probably imagine, this constant ringing can keep you up at night. In turn, a white noise machine is an excellent way to drown out this ringing so that you can fall asleep more easily.

Quieting babies- White noise machines aren’t just for adults that can’t get to sleep. Babies also can dose off to sleep faster with a white noise machine. In turn, couples that have a baby that cries throughout the night can potentially help their child go to sleep faster and stay asleep with the aid of a white noise machine. This, of course, also can help the couple stay asleep given that the baby might not be as disruptive.

Are white noise machines safe? Do they damage hearing?

There is no hard evidence that suggests that using white noise machines to aid sleep is dangerous to your health.

For some, the thought of using a white noise machine is concerning because some people imagine that doing so could damage hearing. 

However, keep in mind that white noise machines aren’t supposed to be blaring noise loud enough to damage your hearing. White machines are supposed to help you go to sleep and in order for them to do their job, their volume has to be relatively soft. This way the noise won’t be loud enough to keep you awake, and it certainly won’t damage your hearing.

What does a white noise machine sound like?

White noise machines often have a number of different sound settings that you can select from.

Some of the most common white noise sounds include…

Simple static variations- Almost all white noise machines have a simple static-like noise setting. It’s difficult to describe what this noise sounds like other than to say it just sounds like static from an old TV that lost connection but just more mellow.

Although the basic static noise will be slightly different depending on which model of white noise machine you buy, in general, they all have sound settings similar to this.

Fan sounds- Another common noise that white noise machines play is a simple fan sound. For people that sleep better when there is a fan playing in the background, of course, this is an excellent noise option.

Nature sounds- Sounds of the wilderness are some of the more natural sounds that many people find soothing to fall asleep to. Common nature sounds that some white noise machines can play include waves crashing, crickets in the night, and rain pattering against a window sill.

Buying a white noise machine

white noise machines and price tag

Image source: yourbestdigs.com

There are a few different types of white noise machines that have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. It’s good to know what sets white noise machines apart to make an informed buying decision.

Different types of white noise machines: Analog vs digital  

White noise machines generally fall into two categories: analog and digital.

Analog white noise machines

Analog white noise machines are devices that contain a mechanical system to generate noise. Typically these white noise machines have a fan inside of them, not for the purpose of blowing air, but to create the actual white noise.

The main benefit of these types of white noise machines is that they create more “authentic” noise. Unlike many digital white noise machines, the noise isn’t played on a recorded loop over and over. The noise is generated continuously from the constantly running fan, which can make the noise sound more natural than a prerecorded track.

These white noise machines are also often adjustable in pitch. They typically have plastic covers with holes on the top and can be shifted closed and open to change the pitch of the fan.

The downside of analog white noise machines is that they can be relatively larger and heavier than digital white noise machines, making them less suitable for travel. Because analog white noise machines have an actual mechanical system built into them, they can be a bit clunky. Additionally, these white noise machines usually aren’t capable of getting as loud as digital devices which can be a concern for some.

Digital white noise machines

Digital white noise machines are devices that electronically play white noise through a speaker.

Typically digital white noise machines, either create white noise on the fly or play continuous loops of recorded white noise. Some, however, are capable of doing both.

The digital white noise machines that generate white noise on the fly create a soothing white noise sound spontaneously without a hitch since the noise isn’t prerecorded. You can typically adjust the pitch of these devices to find a frequency of white noise that is most relaxing for you. The lower frequencies of white noise are typically preferable.

Digital white noise machines that play on a loop often play snippets of nature sounds for 10-20 seconds before repeating. For instance, these devices can play waves crashing, or rainstorm sequences.

However, the downside of digital white noise machines that play sound sequences on a loop is that they sound a bit unnatural to some. After listening to the same 15-second sequence the first few times, you probably won’t even be able to tell that the sound is on a loop. However, after a few nights of listening to the same sequence, you might be able to pick up on where the loop starts and stops. This, of course, can be annoying for some, but for others, it might not be such a big deal.

One of the main benefits of digital white noise machines is that they are typically smaller in size than analog white noise machines. This makes them relatively easy to travel with. In addition, many are made to look pleasantly contemporary, unlike some clunky mechanical white noise machines that may look like eye-sores on your nightstand.

Best white noise machine for sleep?

Although there is a wide variety of white noise machines to choose from, there are a select few recommended below that offer great value.

Best digital white noise machines:

LectroFan by Adaptive sound technologies is an excellent digital white noise machine if you are looking for an electronic device that generates white noise on the fly.

This device is capable of playing ten different fan noises and you can adjust the pitch of the white noise as well. Ultimately, the ability to choose between the many fan and noise pitch combinations makes this device extremely personalizable.

To check out on Amazon click here!

Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine by Sleep Sound Machines is one of the best digital white noise machines with looped nature sounds.

This device can play sounds of rain, brook, thunder, ocean, summer night and of course, basic white noise recordings. The device is extremely simple to use and is compact enough so that it won’t take up too much space, or look unappealing on your nightstand.

To check out on Amazon click here!

Best analog white noise machine:

Marpac Dohm Classic by Marpac is an excellent white noise machine that generates its noise from a real fan.

The fan can run at two speeds within its adjustable acoustic housing shell to create relaxing sounds of rushing air. Not only can you change the fan sound and pitch by adjusting the top but you can adjust the volume as well, making this device more customizable than most analog white noise machines.

To check out on Amazon click here!

How much does a white noise machine cost?

The prices of white noise machines vary drastically. They can be priced anywhere from 10 to 70 dollars depending on the quality.

To put things in perspective, the prices of the recommended white noise machines are listed below:

LecroFan: $49.95

Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine: $19.99

Marpac Dohm Classic: $44.95

Keep in mind that digital devices on the low end of the price range can really lack good quality sound. The white noise of these lower-priced models can sound tinny and weak which can making trying to sleep more aggravating than soothing. Analog white noise machines at this price range often sound fine but with cheaper materials, the mechanics can break down more easily.

Digital and analog white noise machines on the higher end of the price range tend to have a much better quality sound. These devices often have much more customizable sound settings and tend to be more robust as well.

White noise machine alternatives

Although white noise machines are excellent tools given that they are specifically designed to create background noise for sleep, there are a number of alternatives that you can use. There are a few devices at home that might suffice instead of an actual white noise machine.

Google Home- Unbeknownst to many people, if you have Google Home, then you can use your device to play a wide variety of white noise sounds.

Phone apps- There are a number of white noise apps that you can purchase or download for free right to your phone that can be used to help you get better sleep.

Other household devices- Keep in mind that you probably have a number of household devices sitting around that can be used to generate white noise. For instance, humidifiers are excellent for generating white noise while they operate, as well as fans and air conditioners.

Setting up your white noise machine for better sleep

person adjusting settings on a white noise machine

Image source: yourbestdigs.com

Ok, so you have your white noise machine… great!

Naturally, you might be curious to know what adjustments might be necessary for the device.

Adjusting the settings on your white noise machine. What frequency is best for sleep?

Once you receive your white noise machine, unbox the device. Most white noise machines are powered by USB/AC so you can easily just plug in the adapter before getting started. If your white noise machine is a portable design, the device may require charging before you use it.

Once your white noise machine is set and ready to go, simply flip the switch to turn it on.

After playing around with the sounds and frequencies, you might be wondering: “what is the best frequency of white noise for sleep?”

Ultimately, the answer to this question will depend on the person. However, background noise that plays on lower frequencies is often preferable for sleep. These lower frequencies are often referred to as pink or brown noise.

Pink and brown noise technically aren’t the same as white noise. Remember that white noise is a mixture of high and low frequencies playing randomly. Alternatively, pink noise is like white noise but the mixture of frequencies is generally just lower in pitch. Brown noise is also like white noise but the mixture of frequencies are generally even deeper in pitch than pink noise.

In turn, true white noise may not sound as pleasant to you as the lower pink and brown noises. White noise can sound like the static on an old TV while pink and brown noises sound more like the low pitched hum of a fan. However, it is up to you to decide which pitch of white noise has more of a calming effect for you. 

Do you keep your white noise machine on all night?

White noise machines are designed so that they can stay on and running all throughout the night.

After all, the reason why most people get these devices is so that they can sleep through the night uninterrupted by disruptive noise from outside. In turn, most people want to keep their device on all night, to begin with.  

However, if you don’t want your white noise machine to be running for the entire night for whatever reason, there are models that have automatic shutoff settings. This way, your device will ideally shutoff not too long after you drift off to sleep.

How loud should a white noise machine be for adults?

The volume at which you should set your white noise machine really depends on personal preferences. 

Some people have no problem falling asleep in an environment with loud background noise while others are much more sensitive.

However, you obviously should never set your white noise machine so loud that it keeps you up at night. Of course, this is exactly the opposite effect these devices are supposed to have.

In turn, most people prefer to set their white noise machines at levels around 40 dB to 60 dB.

To put this sound level in perspective, 40 dB is about the sound level an old computer fan would produce, 50 dB is about the sound level a running refrigerator produces, and 60 dB is about the noise level an air conditioner produces3.

If these noise levels seem on the soft side to you, keep in mind white noise machines are typically right next to you in the dead of night as you sleep. This, of course, can make any soft noise seem a bit louder.

How far away from you should a white noise machine be? Where should you place it?

There is no one place you absolutely must place your white noise machine. However, most people simply place their device on their nightstand by their bed.

This way you can easily turn your device on and off by just rolling over and flipping the switch.

Keep in mind that white noise machines work best when they are upright with the legs down, and their speaker facing the ceiling if it’s a digital device. Some people think that the device should be on the side with the speaker facing their head. However, the sound of the machine best projects around the room when the speaker is pointed straight up.  

Final thoughts

There are many devices and tools available to help block out noise in your bedroom. From acoustic panels to sleeping earmuffs, there are dozens of ways to get a more peaceful nights rest.

However, the white noise machine may be one of the most underappreciated noise-canceling sleeping devices. The fact that this device is so simple yet practical for blocking out disruptive noises sets it apart.

In conclusion, if you are in need of a basic yet effective tool for better sleep, a white noise machine most certainly is worth looking into.

For a complete list of the best methods for soundproofing your room from top to bottom, you can check out this guide here!


 

References

  1. “White noise” merriam-webster.com, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white%20noise
  2. “Effect of White Noise on Sleep in Patients Admitted to Coronary Cancer” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov,
     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923834/
  3. “Noise Level Chart” noisehelp.com, https://www.noisehelp.com/noise-level-chart.html