Is white noise really helping you sleep at night?
Whether it comes from natural sound, a machine designed to create ambient noises or simply the sound of an everyday household item, white noise has been linked to giving people a better chance at sleeping through the night due to its ability to create a steady sound that remains constant.
Modern technology has enabled sleepers to use the drone of air purifiers as a way to create this sound, and while there are numerous apps that are available on your smart phone to create white noise, it may not actually do anything.
It could, however, make sleeping more difficult, according to a new study.
New research published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews from the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania compiled its findings through a systematic review of 38 studies, where they concluded that while white noise can reduce the amount of time it can take one to sleep, the evidence isn’t exactly concrete.
The Guardian reported about the study and mentioned a few popular apps — the Bedtime Fan app and Android’s White Noise Generator — which both have millions of downloads. While they may be popular, Mathias Basner, a psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the evidence behind these apps working remains to be seen.
“If these apps or devices could only do good things, I wouldn’t really care. But because there may be negative consequences, I would just be careful,” Basner told the outlet. “I wouldn’t broadly recommend them, because there is no evidence that they are actually working.”
Basner and his team looked at many studies dealing with white noise on different subjects — from infants, to children, college students and even adults — when compiling its review. But after reviewing past studies, researchers said that the quality of evidence supporting better sleep with white noise machines is “very low.”
While some studies did find benefits such as in a hospital setting or nursing a child to sleep through a sound machine, researchers said that many studies were limited sample sizes, meaning there were not enough participants.
“The results from this systematic review indicate that quality of evidence of continuous noise to improve sleep onset latency, sleep fragmentation, sleep quality, and sleep and wake duration is very low,” the study said.
Speaking to the Guardian, Basner warned about the potential side effects from sleep-type noises because it doesn’t allow our body to fully turn off at night.
“Whenever we’re exposed to sounds and noise, the inner ear is translating that into nerve signals that are then interpreted by the brain,” Basner said. “It is an active process, which generates metabolites, some of which have been shown to be harmful to the inner ear. You probably want to have a period where the auditory system can wind down, regenerate and prepare for the next wake period.”