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White noise for sleep Is it really effective?

They say that white noise helps you sleep better, more specifically falling asleep. The fact is that lately it is very fashionable. So much so that it is very easy to find it in numerous music apps, playlists or YouTube videos. There are even small white noise devices on the market to put on the bedside table, but… Is it really effective?

To begin, let’s define what is meant by white noise. It is a sound that integrates the entire spectrum of sound frequencies that exists, in a harmonious way and without any sound standing out above any other. That’s why it’s called white noise, like the color white, which is the sum of all colors.

Examples of white noise they would be the sound of rain falling monotonously and constantly; the breaking of the waves of the sea; the crackling of wood in the fireplace…

And at domestic environmentit’s what produces the television turned on without tuning in any channels, or even the noise made by a fan.

In recent years, the idea that white noise is used to induce sleep has spread and there are studies that point in this direction, but there is no clear evidence according to published research, in which the samples are not very broad and the methodologies do not match to be able to compare results.

This is how he explains it to EFEsalut Nieves Fuentes Sánchez, research psychologist at the Jaume I University from Castelló de la Plana, whose studies currently focus on learning about the influence and repercussions of music on the brain.

According to the researcher, there is still much to investigate, but it is true that there are works that point out that listening to white noise increases the quality of sleep.

Among others, he mentions a study published in 2005 in the United States that observed that patients admitted to the ICU of a hospital slept better after being exposed to this sound.

He also alludes to research that found that individuals who lived in noisy homes in New York also experienced an improvement in nighttime rest thanks to white noise.

However, he adds, “it might seem that science supports its effectiveness, but not all studies point in this direction”.

White noise, conclusions

In fact, in 2021 the experimental psychiatry department of the University of Pennsylvania published a systematic review of all studies done on white noise and concluded that the work done so far is not enough to link white noise with improvement in sleep quality.

Some theories hold that white noise helps you fall asleep because it masks other environmental sounds that can disrupt your rest.

But, on the other hand, points out Nieves Fuentes, there are studies that indicate that white noise it can have harmful effects.

white noise
Relaxing music is proven to help you fall asleep. EFE/ Coelho

The effect of music

Other auditory stimuli, such as music, and its influence on sleep do have scientific studies that “have shown that listening to relaxing music before going to sleep helps us fall asleep and increases the quality of it.”

And this is so because it seems that this type of music decreases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and this decrease causes, for example, our heart rate or our breathing to decrease.

The Spanish researcher indicates that a recently published study has shown that physiological reactions differ depending on the type of music we listen to.

While the Upbeat music activates the sympathetic nervous system –generating a greater cardiac response or sweating–, the sad reduces its functioning –slowing down our heart rate, for example–.

Nieves Fuentes is currently participating in a European study that is carrying out biomagnetic research aimed at understanding the emotional stimulus, of excitement or inhibition, that music produces in the brain, and how to handle this stimulus.

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