Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Sound is an essential component of a serene sleep environment, making it necessary for quality sleep and health; however, sound can also constitute noise and disrupt your sleep.
Several researchers have linked environmental noise with poor sleep and sleep deprivation, worsening physical and mental health.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise levels greater than 40 db at night can cause sleep troubles. However, some sounds help block out environmental noise, increasing the likelihood of sleep and enhancing sleep quality.
These sounds occur in nature, like the sound of running water or a blizzard. It could also be soothing music, white noise, or pink noise.
These sounds may not be equally effective for everyone to improve sleep. The best sound to initiate sleep depends on individual preferences and respective sleep disorders.
A tranquil room is still the best option for rest; however, because it is not always possible to have a serene environment, knowing the sounds that can blot out environmental noise and improve your sleep is worthwhile.
Types of Sleep-Inducing Sounds
Sleep specialists have discovered that some sounds can mitigate the effect of noise on sleep and improve sleep. These sounds include:
1) Nature Sounds – Nature sounds are inherently relaxing. These sounds make your brain feel at rest, which can help initiate sleep. Nature sounds include:
- Ocean Sounds: The rhythm of ocean tides has a calming effect on the brain.
- Rain: The gentle sound of the evening rain helps shield environmental noise.
- Wilderness Sounds: The chirping of birds or the swoosh of the wind enables you to experience the elements, helping improve sleep. Studies show that these natural sounds help mitigate fragmented sleep.
2) Music – Most people listen to music in many forms. Sleep scientists have observed an association between sleep and relaxation. However, not all music is sleep hygienic; some music can hurt your sleep. Different genres of music have varying effects on sleep. Typically, slow music is suitable for sleep; however, the best music to improve your sleep depends on your musical inclination. Incorporating soothing music into the bedtime routine can help insomniacs get better sleep. It takes a while for the soothing effect of music to take effect in some people. Studies show that it might take up to 3 weeks for the brain to associate music with sleep.
3) White Noise – It’s the sound produced when all the sound frequencies audible to the human ear are played at the same amplitude. It’s the static sound you hear from a television or radio. White noise contains all frequencies that the human ear can perceive, so it helps blunt the irritating effect a sudden increase in environmental noise has on the brain. Aside from masking environmental noise, white noise is also associated with improved sleep quality, even in a noisy environment. Examples of white noise sources include radio and T.V. static, sound from a vacuum cleaner, and sound from a revolving fan.
4) Pink Noise – This sound occurs when all frequencies audible to the human ear are produced but with the lower frequencies having higher energy. Research shows that pink waves soothe brain waves and reduce brain activity; this helps to initiate sleep. Pink noise is different from white noise in that the audible frequencies are not at the same level of intensity. Pink noise is similar to nature sounds, like waves crashing, birds chirping, or the pitter-patter of rain. Some studies show that participants preferred pink noise to white noise for sleep. Pink noise also helps mask environmental noise and increase the proportion of deep sleep. You can get a pink noise track on apps on your phone or online.
5) Meditation Tracks – Research shows that meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, helps to improve sleep for insomniacs. Meditation is an effective way to improve your mental health, which can help you sleep better and improve your quality of life. They create a sound environment that allows your brain to relax, initiate sleep, and reduce wakefulness. You can get meditation soundtracks on dedicated mobile apps or online.
6) ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) – ASMR is a pleasurable tingling sensation people feel in their body in response to some activating audio and visual stimuli. It’s an experience commonly associated with a blissful feeling and good health. Recent studies show that autonomous sensory meridian response sounds have sedative properties. These sounds can help improve the initiation and maintenance of sleep. Common ASMR triggers include; whispering and tapping. You can access many ASMR soundtracks on dedicated apps and online.
Ways to Optimize Sleep
Apart from optimizing your sound environment for sleep, you can imbibe other sleep hygiene habits that will help you sleep better. These include:
- Sleeping in a comfortable, calm, and familiar environment
- A consistent bedtime allows your brain to associate that particular time with sleep
- Ensure you only try to sleep when you are tired. If you can’t sleep after trying for 20 perceived minutes, get up and return to bed when you’re drowsy
- Do not use your gadgets during bedtime. Bright lights from your phone, laptop, and other digital devices can keep your brain active
- Do not take stimulating drinks like alcohol or coffee close to your bedtime
- Do not hesitate to see your sleep doctor if your sleep troubles persist despite your best efforts.
- Buxton OM;Ellenbogen JM;Wang W;Carballeira A; O’Connor S;Cooper D;Gordhandas AJ;McKinney SM;Solet JM; “Sleep Disruption Due to Hospital Noises: A Prospective Evaluation.” Annals of Internal Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22868834/.
- Nightnoise Guidelines FOR EUROPE – Intranet.euro.who.int. https://intranet.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/43316/E92845.pdf.
- M.J.;, Cordi. “Updated Review of the Acoustic Modulation of Sleep: Current Perspectives and Emerging Concepts.” Nature and Science of Sleep, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34335067/.
- Gould van Praag CD;Garfinkel SN;Sparasci O;Mees A;Philippides AO;Ware M;Ottaviani C;Critchley HD; “Mind-Wandering and Alterations to Default Mode Network Connectivity When Listening to Naturalistic versus Artificial Sounds.” Scientific Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28345604/.
- VJ;, Trahan T;Durrant SJ;Müllensiefen D;Williamson. “The Music That Helps People Sleep and the Reasons They Believe It Works: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Online Survey Reports.” PloS One, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30427881/.
- Feng F;Zhang Y;Hou J;Cai J;Jiang Q;Li X;Zhao Q;Li B.A.; “Can Music Improve Sleep Quality in Adults with Primary Insomnia? A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis.” International Journal of Nursing Studies, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29100201/.
- E;, Dickson GT;Schubert. “Music on Prescription to Aid Sleep Quality: A Literature Review.” Frontiers in Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32849025/.
- Alkahtani MN;Alshathri NA;Aldraiweesh NA;Aljurf LM;Aldaej L;Olaish AH;Nashwan SZ;Almeneessier AS;BaHammam AS; “The Effect of Air Conditioner Sound on Sleep Latency, Duration, and Efficiency in Young Adults.” Annals of Thoracic Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30745938/.
- Messineo L;Taranto-Montemurro L;Sands SA;Oliveira Marques MD;Azabarzin A;Wellman DA; “Broadband Sound Administration Improves Sleep Onset Latency in Healthy Subjects in a Model of Transient Insomnia.” Frontiers in Neurology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29312136/.
- FM;, Barry RJ;De Blasio. “Characterizing Pink and White Noise in the Human Electroencephalogram.” Journal of Neural Engineering, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33545698/.
- A;, Warjri E;Dsilva F;Sanal TS;Kumar. “Impact of a White Noise App on Sleep Quality among Critically Ill Patients.” Nursing in Critical Care, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34931413/.
- Papalambros, Nelly A., et al. “Acoustic Enhancement of Sleep Slow Oscillations and Concomitant Memory Improvement in Older Adults.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 1 Jan. 1AD, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00109/full.
- Gong H;Ni CX;Liu YZ;Zhang Y;Su WJ;Lian YJ;Peng W;Jiang CL; “Mindfulness Meditation for Insomnia: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, U.S. National Library ofMedicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27663102/.
- N.J.;, Barratt EL;Davis. “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): A Flow-like Mental State.” PeerJ, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25834771/