White Noise Machines: Everything You Need to Know

If a noisy environment is keeping you up at night, one of these magic machines might just change your life…

When I first traded my small town in the Home Counties for the bright lights of the capital, many aspects of my life improved – my social life (no more dashing off to catch the last train!) and my stress levels (no more anxiety-inducing 90-minute rush hour commute) to name but two. But there’s one thing that was seriously suffering: my quality of sleep.

It turns out all the things that make an area attractive to the average young Londoner – walking distance from loads of pubs and clubs, two minutes from the tube, 24-hour McDonald’s on your road –  make it a nightmare when it comes to getting some much-needed shut-eye. Throw in a next door neighbour who loves nothing more than a good 3 am drum ‘n’ bass session and I was at risk of turning into a sleep-deprived zombie.

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Enter the white noise machine.

What is a white noise machine?

To use the technical definition, white noise is a combination of all the different frequencies of sound. Not feeling especially illuminated? Don’t worry, us neither. To use the broader definition then, white noise is ambient sound – think the crackle of static, the gentle humming of a fan, the steady thrum of the engines on an aeroplane. A nice, steady background noise. White noise machines mimic those sounds, either with the help of recordings or by creating them organically.

How do they work?

If you’re being plagued by unwanted noise, it might seem counter-intuitive to introduce more noise to the situation but bear with us, because it actually makes perfect sense. Have you ever noticed how next door’s loud TV bothers you so much less in the summer when you have a fan on? That’s the white noise effect. Because white noise combines so many different frequencies of sound it masks other noises by effectively confusing your ears so they don’t hear sounds other than ones you’re intentionally listening for.

Et voila! If all goes to plan, after a few nights you should be sleeping blissfully through the passing cars, the faraway music and the people who’ve decided that outside your front door is the place to stop for a late night chinwag. Plus, the beauty of white noise is that while you’ll definitely notice it the first couple nights, it’s so unobtrusive that pretty quickly, your brain will tune that out, too.

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Who are they good for?

Most people who are bothered by environmental noise stand to gain some relief from a white noise machine. They don’t only work for city dwellers; you can swap out cars and music for barking dogs and squawking seagulls to much the same effect.

Plus, white noise machines have many applications other than as a sleep aid (although that’s their biggest selling point). A lot of people find they help them to concentrate while trying to read, study or work in a noisy environment too. He might not know it, but my white noise machine is the only thing keeping my neighbour alive when he decides to crank up the volume on a Tuesday evening (if you’re reading this, neighbour, do you take requests? I’m a big fan of Britpop, or maybe some early noughties indie? Ta).

Additionally, white noise machines are known to have had some success in the treatment of tinnitus (white noise won’t make the annoying ringing go away, but it could help you to stop focusing on it), and they’re particularly popular with new parents as white noise is known to help soothe fussy babies, possibly because to tiny ears, the sound is similar to being inside the womb.

Shut up and take my money!

You don’t necessarily need to splash the cash to get all the benefits of white noise – there are hundreds of white noise videos on YouTube and many of them are up to ten hours long, so you can happily leave them playing overnight. If you want to move onto something permanent though, here are some of the models that are making (white) noise on the market.

  • Lectrofan White and Pink Noise Machine (Travel Size) (£49.95, Amazon)

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Full disclosure, this is the model I use, and I’ve already told my flatmates that in a situation where I might need to rescue them from fire, I’m saving the Lectrofan first. This is the daddy of white noise machines though, with 20 different sounds to choose from, including ten white and pink noise sounds (pink noise being very similar in vein to white noise, but slightly higher pitched) and ten different fan sounds, varying from industrial fan to desk fan, so you can find your perfect pitch. At nearly £50 it’s not the cheapest option, but the range of sounds, timer option and the fact that the noises are created organically rather than a looped playback of a recording, which some people can find annoying, are all big plus points.

  • HoMedics Deep Sleep White Noise Machine (£39.99, Amazon)

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The HoMedics Deep Sleep White Noise Machine is a mid-range option that’s got a lot of attention over the last year. It only has four different tones but according to the bods behind it, that’s all you need, as each has a distinct function. ‘Soothe’, the tone with the lightest pitch, is designed to calm your mind. ‘Mask’ fights external distractions like road noise and ‘Relax’ targets unwanted noise indoors, like snoring or TV, to help you unwind. ‘Calm’ is the deepest tone, a gentle rumble to help both infants and adults drift off to sleep. Energy conscious users will enjoy the range of timer settings, also, as you can choose to have the device auto switch off after 30, 60 or 90 minutes.

  • Hoomipooty Portable Sleep Therapy (£19.99, Amazon)

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Something a little bit different for our last option – the Homipooty Portable Sleep Therapy machine boasts not only white noise but five other ‘natural’ sounds, rain, brook, summer night, ocean and thunder, to help soothe and de-stress. It’s lightweight and portable, with 15, 30 and 60-minute timer options. The only negative point is that it uses recorded tracks rather than generating the sounds, but for the price, it’s well worth it.

 

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