Anyone who sleeps with white noise is likely to tell you they can’t fall asleep without it. And when you count up all the apps and white noise machines on the market, it may seem like you’ve stumbled upon the holy grail of sleeping.
While sleep experts agree that white noise apps or machines (or the original version—fans) are definitely soothing, the data to back up whether it truly helps us sleep is limited at best. Yet with apps listed in the “Health and Fitness” category ,and manufacturers who claim “sleep is just a click away,” is there really any science behind it?
The Great White Way
For the people who say it helps them sleep, white noise functions as a kind of anti-noise, says Joseph Ojile, M.D., medical director and chief executive officer of the Clayton Sleep Institute. It’s a redundant noise, something that distracts your brain but you don’t have to focus on.
Not everyone needs it to catch some zzzs, but for those who do, white noise dampens other sounds, sort of like snow muffles noise. The whirring of a fan, an app, or a machine covers up all the little sounds that could be distracting to your brain—your partner’s snoring, a dripping faucet, or people talking outside your apartment on a Saturday night, says Christopher Winter, M.D., a fellow at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and medical director at the sleep center at Martha Jefferson Hospital.