There are, of course, always two sides to every story. When it comes to white noise to help sleep, there are some experts who suggest that it may do more harm than good.
The main concern is that, while using white noise as a sleep aid may help you to drift off faster, it may not allow your auditory system to fully shut down overnight. Listening is an active process that requires your brain to do some work, even in the case of white noise. That means your auditory system may not get a chance to rest and regenerate overnight. However, more research is needed into the impact of this.
Another issue is that white noise could impact your auditory system’s ability to function, over time. One study found that when used for long periods of time for sleep or for managing tinnitus, white noise can impair the central auditory system in the brain. It found that white noise can make the brain less sensitive to individual sounds over time, meaning that the brain may end up finding it more difficult to block our irrelevant sounds and we might find it harder to focus on particular sounds when it’s noisy, like trying to have a conversation when there is a lot of background noise.
This study suggests that, while white noise can be beneficial in the short-term, it might not be such a good idea in the long term.
The other issue with white noise is that you could run the risk of hearing damage if you don’t control the volume. You risk possible hearing damage after being exposed to sounds that are 80 decibels or over for more than 8 hours without hearing protection. That level of noise is roughly equivalent to a busy downtown street – so if you’re trying to mask the sound of a busy street outside, it could be tempting to turn your white noise machine or app up even louder than that.
So, does white noise help you sleep? It can do, but it’s important to be aware of how loud you’re listening to it! How loud should white noise be, then? Ensure you’re listening at levels no higher than 50 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to the level of a quiet refrigerator humming or a quiet conversation.
You may also want to use earplugs for additional protection. Earplugs like Loop Quiet offer up to 27 decibels of noise reduction, reducing the noises that keep you up at night while protecting your ears. You might even find that you can fall asleep with the earplugs alone, and don’t need to use white noise after all.