I have been struggling with sleep issues for years. I hope some of these ideas help you!
What Is a White Noise Machine?
A white noise machine is an affordable, easy-to-use gadget that helps many people relax and get to sleep at night. It's essentially a small fan inside a compact, durable housing. There's a plug, an on/off switch, and a speed control -- that's about it. This is a very simple device that makes a steady "woosh" white noise when the fan inside is turned on. For many people, including me, this sound helps me get to sleep and sleep throughout the night. I think it sounds like a very quiet air-conditioner, and it covers up my partner's snoring just enough that I can fall asleep.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
— William Blake
My Marpac White Noise Machine
Of the units that I have tried and owned, my favorite by far is the "classic" white noise machine made by Marpac. Keeping a Marpac noise machine going during the night helps drown out street noise and other people making sounds that would otherwise interrupt my sleep. I also like the way it reminds me of summer, since there's actually a little fan inside the unit that makes the exact same noise as a summertime air-conditioner or window fan. For me there's something nice and soothing about a summer sound like that.
White Noise Versus Insomnia
Insomnia can be a serious health issue, and even a mild case of this condition is a nuisance that can make your life miserable. The benefits of owning a white noise machine are wide-ranging. Sleep is one the pillars of good health, and a simple, affordable solution is very hard to find. I myself have used this product for sleeping for about 5 years, and I have owned several different models with different features. I can honestly say that I don't know how I ever got to sleep before white noise came into my life.
The greatest benefit of owning and using a white noise machine is very simple — better sleep. Those of you who struggle with insomnia, as I did for many years, will immediately see what a big deal this is. Insomnia robs you of restful sleep. My kind of insomnia was the can't-relax variety — I would often lie awake for hours, waiting for sleep to come, listening to my partner breathe, wishing I could just tune out. Those were tough times, and the later it got, the more anxiety I would feel, and that anxiety fed my inability to fall asleep. It was the classic vicious cycle with which all of us insomniacs are sadly familiar.
How a White Noise Machine Soothes Insomnia
White noise is the kind of sound produced by a fan, or a vacuum cleaner -- a steady, low rush of sound that promotes relaxation prior to sleep. It's thought that this noise might replicate the sound of the womb, triggering a relaxation response deep in our mammalian brain. The sound, by providing a constant, soothing sound for your brain to settle on, lulls you to sleep without you even being aware that it is working. This quiets the mind and keeps you from focusing on other noise, like your partner's snoring or traffic noise outside, that might interfere with the process of falling asleep.
Sleep is the best meditation.
— Dalai Lama
For such a small, affordable little gadget, a white noise machine can have an incredible impact on your life. It's true that you really don't realize how lack of sleep is affecting you until you get a truly good night's sleep. The difference in how you feel is amazing, but even more important is the difference sleep makes in you ability to function. This can impact everything from your emotional stability to critically important things like your alertness while driving. Consider these chilling statistics from the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll:
"60% of adult drivers – about 168 million people – say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third, (37% or 103 million people), have actually fallen asleep at the wheel! In fact, of those who have nodded off, 13% say they have done so at least once a month. Four percent – approximately eleven million drivers – admit they have had an accident or near accident because they dozed off or were too tired to drive."
Asleep at the Wheel?
If you have ever found yourself starting to all asleep behind the wheel, you know how disturbing and truly dangerous it is. If you trace the cause of your sleepiness while driving, chances are it's rooted in one or more bad nights of sleep leading up to that scary moment. Sleepiness behind the the wheel is no joke and it one of the leading causes of highway injuries and fatalities.
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Before I started sleeping better, I was involved in an accident -- non-fatal, fortunately -- caused by me being too sleepy to respond fast enough to a road hazard. And I hate to think (or admit) how many times I basically drove off the road due to a lack of sleep the night before, only to be brought back by the rumble strips under my wheels. That's scary, and I think you have had the same experience.
Since I got my white noise machine, though, I fall asleep faster and sleep longer. If I travel and forget to bring my white noise machine with me, I am immediately reminded of how things used to be. I have spent several nights lying awake in a hotel room or at relatives, kicking myself for forgetting to pack the one thing that helps me get to sleep every night.
The Marpac Story -- How a Dog Dish Changed the Way You Sleep
Much like the modern running shoes began small (they actually made the prototype with a waffle iron), the home-use noise machine began with a small company in 1962. That's when Jim Buckwalter turned his dog's water dish upside down and placed a small fan inside it. Today, the company makes technologically advanced noise machines, but the principle is the same -- a small fan inside an enclosure. There's nothing digital about it.
Different (and Better) Than a White-Noise Phone App
While some apps on you phone have a "white noise" feature, these are digital samples that have a noticeably different sound than an actual fan or air conditioner. I have never felt the same way using an app on my phone as I do when I have my actual Marpac going. A real white noise machine makes a warmer, more soothing sound, because it's not a harsh digital copy. Using the small fan with a fully adjustable housing, white noise machines make a soothing "whoosh" sound that helps you sleep and covers up distracting noises.
What Does a White Noise Machine Sound Like?
Here's nine hours -- yes, nine hours -- of nothing but blank sound emanating from one of the basic models. It's a little hard to hear the warmth of the fan sound, since it's a digital recording, but you can get the idea of how loud (or quiet) a white noise machine is from this video. I guess you could even leave is running while you sleep tonight!
How to Stay in a Deep Sleep State
Research suggests that once you're asleep, hearing this sound all night keeps you in a deeper state of relaxation. The steady whir keeps your brain in a state of peace, drowning out random sounds that would normally wake you up. The benefit for you is sounder sleep and a better state of wakefulness throughout the day.
Everything from better job performance and salary to stronger relationships and emotional stability have been linked to better sleep. There are even links between sleep pathologies, such as sleep apnea, and early death. While a white noise machine may not save your life, I can personally vouch for the fact that it can make your life better. Feeling rested is a precious thing. Lying in bed watching the minutes and hours add up is no way to live.
More Uses for White Noise
1. MASK DISRUPTIVE NOISES: My white noise machine blocks out noise from the street, as well as sounds from family members getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, etc. We also have a few neighbors who like to party, and there are nights when all that stands between me and a shouting match is the peace and quiet provided by my little noise maker. Other uses include blocking construction noises and lawnmowers.
2. KEEP CONVERSATIONS PRIVATE: In my work, I occasionally need to have conversations that are confidential. I have a white noise machine outside the door of my office, and there are times when the person I'm talking to feels safer due to the privacy we get from having our words masked by the machine.
3. CONCENTRATION: As a study buddy, a noise machine is just about perfect. It never interrupts, it keeps outside noise away, and for some people it improves concentration. If you have some chapters to read, this little unit can help.
Yet Another Benefit: a White Noise Machine Helps Babies Fall Asleep
The soothing sounds of a white noise machine lulls babies to sleep and produces a consistent, steady sound to mask noises which might otherwise wake them up. Research suggests that soothing, constant noise like a vacuum cleaner, car engine, or fan mimics the sounds of the womb. A white noise machine creates that same sound, and can really help new parents cope with the demands of a little one who just won't close her eyes and give everyone a little rest!
Sleep Like a Baby
A Quick Sleep Poll
The following sources were used in this guide:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Margaret Minnicks from Richmond, VA on January 23, 2017:
Interesting article. I learned a lot by reading it. Thanks for sharing it!
teaches12345 on December 10, 2016:
I often fall asleep to the noise of a fan and it makes sense that it is similar to a baby's experience in the womb.
GreenMind Guides (author) from USA on December 03, 2016:
Hi Thanks Blonde Logic. I was serious when I said I couldn't remember sleeping without one. Now I guess I'm white-noise dependent...
Mary Wickison from Brazil on December 03, 2016:
What an education. I didn't know these machines existed. I don't have problems sleeping but I know people who do and will mention your article to them.
I find it interesting that you use this in your line of work too, and that people accept that it muffles the sounds. Great idea.