I have a standing fan beside my bed, and I sleep with it on every single night. Hot, cold, just right, I turn the fan on. I can’t seem to really get a good night’s rest unless I lower my body temperature and while that is a big reason I always have it on, the other is the sound. The gentle whirring lulls and soothes me, blocks out outside noises, and helps me relax and give into sleep that much easier.
That constant pitch of the fan is called “white noise” and most people need it or some sort of sound to fully slip into slumber. Complete silence is difficult for many because random noises tend to seep into our consciousness more easily and disrupt our rest, causing us to toss and turn. Ambient noises block out environmental sounds that also make it hard to fall asleep as well as relieve stress and help focus an overactive mind on rest.
None of this is probably surprising as sound machines have been around for years. Different “color” noises, ASMR, nature sounds, gentle music, meditation apps — any kind of audio frequency that is constant and relaxing — make your brain feel you are not being threatened and calms your fight-or-flight reflex. If you’re like me and hearing something in the background helps you close your eyes and go to dreamland, the choices are now getting kind of endless.
Lions and tigers and bears and birds and wind and water and… Nature
A whale singing its melancholy song, a river running over rocks, waves moving against the shore, birds chirping, wind in the trees — the sounds of nature have been a source of relaxation for centuries. Hearing these leads to a decrease in what is known as the body’s sympathetic response or a lowering of what we recognize as the fight-or-flight impulse and increases the parasympathetic response that helps us embrace rest. It stands to reason that as natural beings we are intimately connected to the flora and fauna that inhabit the Earth with us, and that includes the sounds they make.
Sleep has become one of the most important topics of discussion and focus, and a subject that has warranted several customized creations to address the need for better slumber. Just as music soothes the savage beast, so does it support better rest when composed the right way. Over the last few years, compositions have been created, symphonies written, and entire musical experiences that include sleep-ins while an orchestra performs a full night of instrumentation are strategically written to lead you to sleep, serenade you as you snooze, and then gently wake you up.
One reason it works is that the right music at the right beat rate — 60 beats per minute — can guide your heartbeat toward sleep. As you drift away, your heart rate lowers to, yep, 60 beats per minute, and with music that plays to that, your brain and body start to adjust to work with it. Those tunes are slower, lower, and more relaxing.
Autonomous sensory meridian response or ASMR is another auditory pathway to blissful rest. It’s that tingling, base of your spine feeling you get from certain sounds that soothe, relax, and even stimulate you. Whispers, lilting voices speaking affirmations, fingers tapping on a table, rubbing fabric — little noises that enter your brain and make you feel cared for, caressed, embraced. They are like warm hugs to many people, and some swear by its ability to relieve stress and anxiety, and many can’t fall asleep without it.
The colors of noise
We all know about white noise — my fan is an example of that. These are those sounds that reflect all the frequencies someone experiences at any given time so its ability to block out all other auditory inputs is well-documented. But do you know about pink, brown, and blue noise?
Each color incorporates different levels of frequency with pink becoming a current favorite to support sleep due to its use of more bass notes than white noise, making many feel it is less harsh on the ears. This mix is reflected in the sound of rain falling or ocean waves. Brown has even more bass tones and blue more treble.
There is no perfect color noise for sleep because each of us is different, however, and how our brain processes these sounds depends on our chemical makeup. Regardless, if it works for you, it works.
Your sleep, your choice
If using earplugs and blocking out all noise and achieving complete silence works for you, that’s excellent. But if you discover you need to hear something in the background, what and how you experience that is completely up to you. While the usual thought is soothing, gentle sounds wafting in the background are what work, you may gravitate toward city sounds, train whistles in the distance, even heavy metal. Many people like sleep sound machines and if that’s you also, finding one that has a variety of sound inputs to access is highly suggested because the choice really is yours. After all, there is no true rhyme or reason as to what kinds of sounds work best for each of us, and that means there’s no such thing as a wrong pitch or tone if it helps you slumber.
Ultimately, ambient sounds are known to lull us, regardless of how they manifest, and finding your fulfilling night’s sleep “song” is a journey worth taking.