What is the best white noise to sleep with?

What is White Noise and How it Helps with Sleep

White noise is defined as a random signal with a flat power spectral density, meaning it contains equal power within a fixed bandwidth at any center frequency. It is a blend of all audible frequencies distributed evenly over the range of hearing (20 Hz to 20 kHz in humans) Wikipedia. White noise sounds like a hissing or rushing sound, similar to the static noise on TVs and radios.

White noise helps to mask and drown out other sounds that may disrupt sleep. The random, steady pattern of white noise makes it less noticeable and distracting than sudden bumps in the night. It creates a cocoon of calm by blurring sharp noises that would otherwise startle you awake. Studies have found white noise improves sleep quality, duration, and continuity in various populations including college students, intensive care unit patients, and newborns Sleep Foundation.

In addition, the sound patterns of white noise are soothing and comforting to the brain. The non-structured, unorganized sound waves mimic similar patterns found in nature that humans instinctively find calming, like ocean waves, light rain, and rustling leaves. This induces a relaxed mental state that makes falling asleep easier.

Types of White Noise

White noise refers to a sound containing many frequencies with equal intensity. It is commonly generated artificially using machines or apps to create steady, consistent background sounds. There are several different types of white noise:

Examples include:

  • Sound machines – These electronic devices produce various noises and sounds, including white noise. Popular options include fans, rainfall, ocean waves, etc.
  • Phone apps – Many free and paid apps provide white noise soundtracks, like ambient hums, thunderstorms, and more.
  • Electric fans or air conditioners – The consistent humming creates a form of real white noise.

White noise can also occur naturally, such as the sound of wind or fast-flowing water. The main difference between natural and artificial white noise is consistency—natural sounds may vary in intensity, while artificial noise remains steady.

Some types of white noise are continuous, while others are intermittent. For example, the hum of an AC unit or online white noise generator play steady, unchanging sounds. Rainfall or ocean waves fluctuate slightly creating intermittent white noise.

Benefits of White Noise for Sleep

One of the main benefits of white noise is that it helps block out disruptive noises that can interfere with sleep. Environmental sounds like traffic, construction, or a partner’s snoring can prevent someone from falling asleep or wake them up in the middle of the night. The consistent ambient sound from a white noise machine helps mask these sudden changes in volume that disrupt sleep (Sleep Foundation).

By blocking out unwanted sounds, white noise improves overall sleep quality. People get deeper, more restorative sleep when there are fewer disturbances. Studies show that white noise increases slow wave sleep, the most restorative stage of sleep (YogaSleep). Getting better quality sleep means waking up feeling more refreshed and energized.

White noise also helps people fall asleep faster. The ambient background noise is soothing and provides a consistent auditory stimulus that facilitates falling asleep. People naturally fall asleep faster when their environment is free of sudden disruptive noises. A 2018 study found that students fell asleep faster and had an easier time falling back asleep when using white noise (Sleep Foundation).

Lastly, white noise increases total sleep time. By improving sleep quality and helping people fall asleep faster, individuals get more time asleep overall. White noise helps minimize awakenings during the night, allowing for longer continuous sleep. In studies, people using white noise slept over 30 minutes longer on average (YogaSleep). More time spent sleeping results in increased energy and better cognitive function during the day.

Best White Noise Machines

The best white noise machines according to experts (https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-white-noise-machine/) offer multiple sound options, adjustable volume, timers, and portability. The top recommended brands include:

LectroFan – This white noise machine offers 10 fan sounds and 10 ambient noise sounds like rain, ocean, thunder, etc. The volume is adjustable and it has a precise digital timer so you can set it to run for up to 12 hours. It’s very portable at 6 x 3.2 x 3.8 inches.

Marpac Dohm DS – A low-tech option that uses an actual internal fan and produces quality white noise. The Dohm has a fan covered by a metal case with two-speed settings. The volume is adjusted by twisting the case. It’s not as portable as other machines but provides some of the most natural sounding white noise.

Adaptive Sound Technologies LectroFan Micro – Very compact and lightweight at just 5.8 ounces and 2.2 x 2.2 x 1.3 inches. Provides 10 fan sounds and 10 ambient noises. Volume, sound options, and 30/60/90 minute timer are all controlled through Bluetooth app connected to your smartphone.

Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine – Has 6 soothing sounds including white noise, thunder, rain, waves, summer night, and brook. Features a timer, volume control, and night light. Very affordable option.

Best White Noise Apps

When it comes to using white noise to help you sleep, one of the most convenient options is a white noise app on your phone or tablet. These apps provide a wide selection of relaxing ambient sounds and white noise to choose from.

Some of the top recommended white noise apps for phones and tablets include:

  • White Noise Lite – This popular free app offers over 40 high-quality sounds like fans, ocean waves, rain, and more. It has a simple interface, lets you mix sounds, and plays all night if needed.
  • Atmosphere – With over 70 free HD nature sounds and the ability to layer sounds, this app helps blocked distractions so you can rest or focus. It has a sleep timer and alarm clock.
  • BetterSleep – This app generates audio “soundscapes” to promote sleep based on your preferences. It has over 50 sounds, bedtime reminders, and alarm capabilities.
  • Calm – For a paid subscription, Calm provides simple noise profiles like rain, wind, or waves. It also offers sleep stories, breathing programs, and relaxing music.

Key features that make these apps great white noise options include an extensive library of high-quality, looping sounds to mask distracting noises, mix and match capabilities, sleep timers, alarm clocks, and ease of use. Most offer free versions with limited features and paid upgrades for premium access.

Best Natural White Noise

Natural white noise uses sounds from nature to mask background noises and promote better sleep. Some of the most common and effective natural white noises include:

Fans: The humming sound of a fan is one of the most accessible sources of natural white noise. Fans produce a steady, consistent sound that is similar to white noise machines. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. The downside is that fans can produce choppy sounds as the blades rotate, which some find disruptive.

Rain: The pitter-patter of rainfall produces soothing, natural white noise. Rain is unpredictable though, so it’s not always available when needed. Products like rainfall sleep sounds or Youtube rain videos offer a more consistent experience.

Ocean waves: The rhythmic crashing of ocean waves makes for excellent natural white noise. The constant ebb and flow creates a soothing, immersive soundscape. As with rain, ocean wave recordings allow you to enjoy this effect anytime. Some find lower frequencies of ocean waves more relaxing than the high pitches of rainfall.

Other natural sounds like humming, crickets, wind, or a crackling fire can also produce ambient background noise to aid sleep. Nature sounds are free, don’t require batteries or electricity, and provide a calming auditory experience.

The downside of natural white noise is the lack of control and consistency. Volume and sound quality varies, making it less reliable than white noise machines or apps. However, natural sounds often feel more organic and can promote relaxation.

Tips for Using White Noise

When using white noise, there are some best practices to follow for ideal results:

Set the volume appropriately – The noise should be loud enough to mask disruptive sounds that disturb sleep, but not so loud that it is uncomfortable. Place the device at an optimal distance from the bed. Start with a lower volume and increase as needed.

Use timers – If using white noise to fall asleep, set a timer so the noise turns off after you drift off. Continuous exposure may interfere with sleep quality. For babies, play white noise continuously through the night or naptime.

Avoid becoming dependent – While effective in the short term, long term white noise dependence may make it harder to sleep without it. Gradually reduce use over time. Introduce more nights without it and use intermittent reinforcement.

Try different sounds – Nature sounds like rain, ocean waves or crickets may be more soothing than static for some. Experiment to find the most relaxing option.

Consider a smart device – Many white noise machines connect to apps with helpful features like timers, volume control and sound libraries.

Place the device close to the disruptive noise source if possible. This optimizes sound blocking. For snoring partners, place it closer to them than you.

Use earplugs or sleep headphones if needed in especially noisy environments like a hotel.

Consider playing personalized, dynamic white noise that adapts to mask changing background sounds throughout the night.

White Noise for Babies

White noise can be very beneficial for infants as it helps soothe them to sleep. The ambient sounds mimic the noises babies heard in the womb which provides a sense of comfort and familiarity (1). White noise masks other sounds that could potentially wake the baby up and creates a more restful sleep environment.

When using white noise for babies, it’s important to keep the volume at a safe level – under 50 decibels according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2). The noise should not be painfully loud to adult ears. Most white noise machines and apps have volume control and timers to automatically shut off for safety.

Some of the best white noise sounds and machines recommended for infants include womb sounds, heartbeat sounds, rainfall, ocean waves, wind chimes, and static. The Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise machine is a popular option that produces a soft rushing air sound. For apps, Baby Sleep Sounds and White Noise Baby are well-reviewed.

(1) White Noise for Babies
(2) https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx

White Noise for Adults

White noise can provide many benefits for adults who have trouble sleeping. The soothing, constant background noise can help mask disruptive noises like a snoring partner, traffic outside, or neighbors in an apartment building. Studies show that white noise improves sleep quality in adults by blocking these intermittent sounds that can disrupt sleep cycles throughout the night (Source: Sleep Sounds Deep White Noise).

Certain types of white noise may be especially effective for adults. The sound of rain, thunderstorms, or waves can mimic natural environments and induce relaxation. Fan sounds or air conditioner hums can provide a familiar background noise. Many experts recommend pink or brown noise, which have deeper, more rumbly tones compared to high-pitched white noise.

Adults can take advantage of white noise by using a specialized machine designed for sleep. Popular options like the Marpac Dohm or the Magicteam Sound Machine offer adjustable tones and volumes to customize the sound environment. There are also a variety of excellent white noise apps such as Pzizz, Sleep Genius, or Rain Rain that provide high-quality, soothing sounds completely free (Source: Relaxing White Noise). With the right white noise solution, adults can optimize their sleep environment and get better rest.


Overall, there are a variety of effective white noise options to try for improving sleep. The soothing, consistent sound can help block disruptive noises, promote relaxation, and lull you to sleep. When choosing the best white noise, consider factors like sound quality, volume control, tone options, portability, and cost to find the right solution for your needs.

For a simple, low-cost approach, turn to household appliances like fans or air purifiers. Running water from a faucet or shower can also generate effective white noise. Among digital white noise machines, Marpac’s Dohm models provide quality, adjustable sound without loops or breaks. Smartphone apps like White Noise are convenient for travel. Finally, natural white noise like ocean waves or rainfall lets you experience calming, ambient sound.

In the end, the “best” white noise depends on your personal preference and situation. Experiment with different types at low and loud volumes to see which creates the most relaxing effect without being disturbing. Position the source near your bed and try using white noise consistently for several weeks to get the full sleep benefits. With the right white noise, you can curate a peaceful sleep environment and enhance your quality of rest.

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