Understanding White Noise & How It Supports Healthy Sleep  

If you or your children have ever had trouble falling asleep or found sleep easier with some slight background noise, you’re likely one of the many that prefers white and/or pink noise. In technical terms, white noise is a consistent noise that plays evenly across every hearable frequency. Hearing noise might seem counterintuitive to your ability to fall asleep, but frequency is key. Uneven noises, like the sound of traffic or noises coming from your neighbors, are quick and sudden. Because you can’t predict them, they’ll often jarr you out of your sleep. This isn’t the case with white noise, which is comprised of evenly spaced sounds spread across frequencies.  

How It Helps You Sleep  

There are numerous factors that affect your quality of sleep, like how much light is in the room or what the temperature of a space is. If you prefer cooler materials, you might invest in a cooling mattress from a company like Muse Sleep. If you enjoy the feeling of physical pressure, you might invest in a weighted blanket. Noise also has a big impact on our quality of sleep.  

White noise has a soothing quality, and you can liken it to the soft glow of a night light. A study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences found that patients in a coronary care unit who had white noise broadcasted in their rooms experienced better sleep than those that didn’t. White noise also masks any environmental sounds that might make it difficult to get to sleep.  

Pink Noise vs. White Noise 

The main difference between white noise and pink noise are their underlying acoustical properties. As previously mentioned, white noise is spread across the sound spectrum broadly, and includes low range, mid range, and high-range frequency. Pink noise, on the other hand, is softer on the high end of the frequency and higher on the low end of the spectrum. This means higher pitched sounds are softer with pink noise, whereas the power is constant with white noise.  

Research from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that pink noise could boost memory and enhance deep sleep, particularly for older adults. During the study, two groups were given a memory test before they went to sleep. The group that listened to pink noise before bed performed three times better on the test than the group that didn’t.  

 Examples of White & Pink Noise 

Everyone is different. While some people prefer natural sounds, like rainfall or the tug and pull of the ocean, others don’t like to hear sound they can attach an image to. A fan is one of the best real-world examples of white noise, along with air conditioner humming and television static. Pink is more often found in nature, such as steady rain, wind, or rustling leaves.  

Today, there are countless white noise machines designed to facilitate sleep. These machines make for great, safe, non-drug alternatives. You can also find both white and pink noise playlists on YouTube and music streaming services like Spotify and iTunes.  

What is sound masking? 

Sound masking is similar to, but different than white noise. Sound masking is the process of integrating background noise into a space—typically offices and work environments—to reduce distractions and increase comfort. Although it seems counterintuitive, adding this soft sound can make a space seem quieter. Because you can’t clearly hear what other people are saying, it’s less of a distraction and can improve productivity.  

Not Everyone Needs White Noise 

For some people, white noise does more harm than good. From a biological perspective, you don’t need to rely on sound to sleep. For instance, a 2012 National Sleep Foundation poll found that only 5% of Americans used a sound conditioner to sleep (fan, phone app, etc.). However, if you are accustomed to hearing sounds at night or rely on certain sounds for comfort, you might find yourself gravitating towards a sound-filled evening.  


However, some experts recommend that if you do find yourself leaning on white noise to sleep, find out what the root of the problem is. Using sound machines as a “crutch” could wound up masking underlying sleep issues that require deeper solutions.  

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