It’s May, and it’s raining, hard. Through these freakishly violent downpours, engulfing a large portion of the UK, and the (not so) gentle sound of raindrops on our window panes, one would think that us Brits would find getting a restful night somewhat easy. With all the technology currently available to emulate the sound of rain and promote sleep, surely the real thing is much more effective?
But what is it about the sound of rain, or other “white noises” that lull our brains and (in turn) our bodies into a deep sense of relaxation?
White noise is is a random signal (or process) with a flat power spectral density according to Wikpedia. Simply put, well, frankly there is no simple way to explain the exact definition of white noise. It appears to be a complicated mass of physics, somewhat intelligible to the non-scientist population. That said, white noise, in its most common term, as in produced by devices sold on the market, is often described as a sound that is random in character, which sounds like a rushing waterfall or wind blowing through trees.
Noise, like light, is made up of a spectrum of frequencies. With light we can see all of the colours that make it up when it refracts through, say a prism or in the sky, in the form of a rainbow. When we can not identify the individual colours of light, we describe it as white. In the same way, the adjective ‘white’ in white noise, is used because what you are hearing is the combination of a variety of sound frequencies all together.
According to Howstuffworks.com, If you took all of the imaginable tones that a human can hear and combined them together, you would have white noise. Here is one way to think about it. Let’s say two people are talking at the same time. Your brain can normally “pick out” one of the two voices and actually listen to it and understand it. If three people are talking simultaneously, your brain can probably still pick out one voice. However, if 1,000 people are talking simultaneously, there is no way that your brain can pick out one voice. It turns out that 1,000 people talking together sounds a lot like white noise. So when you turn on a fan to create white noise, you are essentially creating a source of 1,000 voices. The voice next-door makes it 1,001 voices, and your brain can’t pick it out any more.
Taking this example, and applying it to bedtime, we see how using a white noise machine could allow your brain to tune out all the individual noises you may be fixating on when trying to get to sleep. Consider this- how often can you find pure silence? Think of all the quiet, yet resoundingly audible sounds you can hear from the comfort of your bed. The urban household has a large number of appliances running at the same time and depending on the location of your bedroom, one or more of these may filter through to your place of rest, even with the door tightly shut. Radiators are a common problem, as are fridges, computer fans, dogs barking, cats mewing, neighbours, insomniac family members and traffic noises. Rural settings, although considered more peaceful, are still plagued with modern amenities and people often remark that the sounds of nature are louder than any double-decker bus regularly passing through the night. When you take into account the staggeringly large amount of noise we are subjected to, it’s no wonder that the modern mind finds it difficult to switch off.
Arguably, the people to be most envied are those who reside by water, especially the sea. Water-front properties have always maintained higher price tags than even some city batchelor-pad-esque penthouses. But why? Because of the delicious sounds of the water lapping on the shore. Yes, of course we all desire to look out at the views every morning and to experience personal sun sets, but essentially, living by the ocean provides your own, in-built white noise machine. Drowning out (literally) all other distractions, it allows your brain to focus on one, hypnotic, undulating sound. Our hearing is the final sense to switch off before sleep and placating, or numbing your auditory system is a genius way of ensuring happy, stress-free sleeping experiences.
Whilst a mass exodus to the coast may not be entirely possible, we are lucky in the UK in the fact that you are apparently never more than 70 miles from the sea. So maybe a weekend break to Brighton, or the Isle of Sky could test our little theory? If you’re budget can’t accommodate either of these options, how about investing in a white noise machine? Dohm (although suggesting that their machine provides the sound of silence- a complete oxymoron) come highly recommended. Otherwise applications are available from both itunes and the Android market so you can turn your mobile phone into a blissful sleep aid. Use with headphones for best results at bedtime and through a speaker for general use. Do try out a variety of products before shelling out cash for anything as we are all individuals and our brains respond differently to various stimuli.
And most of all, relax, breathe deep and sleep well.