Is Sleeping with White Noise Harmful?
Sleep is the single most vital thing about keeping yourself healthy.
No matter how well you eat, exercise and avoid stress, without being well rested you cannot be at your best.
Having experienced sleep deprivation due to having newborn babies to look after, I can assure you that it feels like a blessing to be able to sleep through the night now.
However, often times, you don’t get to have that luxury.
Here, let’s list some of the many other potential problems that might prevent you from having a good night’s rest:
Notice how I easily listed at least 3 things that were a disruption because they were loud? From crying babies to airplanes, noise is what causes the issue.
That is why we will be discussing the potential consequences of using white noise to combat this.
Keep in mind that if you’re a sound sleeper that falls asleep easily you don’t need to fret but most of us aren’t, so we need to look at other options.
The Good and the Bad of White Noise
First of all, let’s discuss what white noise is, in practical terms.
You can use these words to describe anything from the sounds of birds chirping, people talking around you to the more scientifically generated white noise, made by machines like this.
Curiously, you get the odd distinction of having white noise that’s natural, such as the aforementioned people talking around you being what machine generated white noise protects you from.
After all, we’ve discussed how noise can negatively impact your productivity at work and how to combat it.
With sleep, you’re fighting for your health.
That is why “good” white noise was invented, to counter the sort that would stop you from sleeping.
Now, let’s explore some of the ups and downs of using such an aide.
Is Sleeping with White Noise Harmful?
Ways White Noise Improves your Sleep
Let’s discuss why white noise as a concept of aiding sleep even exists. It has to do with how we evolved our hearing.
We tend to function on an alarm basis. Loud noise, if we’re familiar with it and it does not raise any red flags, is not an issue.
Some people can sleep through the noise of an entire barnyard. Some get disturbed and jolted out of sleep by the barking of a neighbor’s dog several houses away.
This is how we’re wired, how our brains function, and there’s no escaping it. Not even in the hospital.
Studies have shown people sleep worse if they hear doctors and nurses talking in the hall outside their room, as opposed to having loud machines right in their room. This is how white noise works.
Using it, we manage to:
- Drown out other sounds that might alarm us in our sleep
- Have a steady sleep rhythm
- Let our brain rest
Let's go over these benefits some more, in-depth and discover why and how they exist:
The Deeper Sleep
Startling yourself awake isn’t fun. Still, it happens a lot, even to us, of this modern day and age, when we know we’re hardly going to be in danger and there’s no real need for intense reactions.
Yet, we still do it regularly, it’s a common occurrence.
Whether it’s nightmares, a noise you didn’t consciously hear or something else, these instances make your sleep a lot worse.
Now, let’s not forget that there are instances where a light sleep is appreciated and beneficial.
Obviously, if you’re in the army or in a dangerous situation, you need to be ready to wake up at the snap of a finger.
Does this do anything for most of us, however? Do we need this, or do we need to sleep well and for a long time?
White noise helps combat the issue of being easily awoken.
There’s a very real, tangible benefit in the form of you being used to the one, loud noise and being immersed in it.
You cannot awaken as easily, or not at all until you've rested, because there's no startling noise to make you do so. You're just sleeping and it's a very firm sleep at that.
The Steadier Sleep
I know it seems like the same thing, but it’s not. Even the deepest of sleepers can still have fitful and bad instances of rest.
It’s not so much about whether you wake up or not, but how the process goes.
After all, if you sleep for 10 hours, without waking up, but it’s all nightmares, did you ever really get any rest?
White noise machines sort of trick the brain.
They make it relax and give you a sedate, steady type of rest that provides the most benefit to your health.
Because your brain doesn’t have any distractions or outside noise to latch onto, just the constant hum of the white noise machine, it does not interrupt the process and you’re allowed to sleep properly and soundly.
The Restful Sleep
Obviously, the goal of any kind of sleeping, be it a 10-minute nap or sleeping for 12 hours to recover from a long double shift, is to actually be well rested, upon waking.
White noise largely helps with this. Usually, you can boil it down to:
It may seem exaggerated but it’s true.
Sufficient, targeted white noise does its utmost to make sure you have as much REM as you need, by simply providing a good ambiance for it to happen.
Deep sleep, after all, is hard to enter if your brain feels you need to be awake at any moment.
Since deep sleep is the by far most restful, this is a clear benefit.
Another pitfall avoided is being coaxed out of deep sleep too violently. The masking noise prevents it.
Finally, you end up having less fodder for nightmares to take root, when outside noises are eliminated.
They won’t be gone for good, but certainly occur less often.
Potential Harmful Effects of Sleeping with White Noise
There haven’t been many downsides found to utilizing white noise to aid your sleep.
That does not mean that none exist, even if they’re not obvious or too hard to avoid, however.
Largely, it boils down to two very important factors:
- The loudness of the machine
- How much it’s used causing addiction
It seems almost impossible, with how much the benefits of white noise have been praised, doesn’t it?
Yet, it’s precisely those same benefits that are the biggest danger.
Some white noise machines can be very loud and need to be used with care.
Anything over 85 decibels is a danger to your hearing, especially if you listen to it for over 8 hours.
The same noise used to mask the other ones can overwhelm your eardrums if it’s too loud, itself.
Especially be wary of the noise level if you use one of these with a baby or small child.
Another problem is the possible addiction caused by white noise.
Your brain gets used to and dependent on the relaxed state it’s in.
You end up conditioning it to the blissful, constant hum and it doesn’t want to go back to having to react to all manners of things. This is a notable danger for newborns and toddlers.
However, limiting both yourself and your child’s exposure to the machine will counteract these negative side effects.
Just remember that prevention is key.
Final Thoughts: Is Sleeping with White Noise Harmful?
White noise has been proven as useful and relatively harmless in most aspects and applications.
The research isn’t conclusive, but it’s promising.
Despite this, be wary and always make sure to exercise caution in applying it to your own life and health, as well as that of a loved one.
Too much caution is never a bad thing, after all.
Related: Positive and Negative Effects of White Noise on the Brain