Silence or White Noise: What is Better for Sleep?

Silence or White Noise: What is Better for Sleep?

Silence is golden, but so is a good night’s sleep. What causes so much strife for so many is determining their optimal sleeping conditions such as temperature, amount of light, and noise levels. When it comes to noise levels, there are some differences in opinion.

The Sound of Silence

Apologies to those who swear by their white noise machine, myself included, but research suggests that a silent environment is more conducive to good sleep as nighttime noise has the potential to cause a spike in adrenaline and cortisol levels as well as an elevated heart rate and blood pressure. 


Noise in the bedroom may also be interfering with the sleep cycle as disturbances in the night have been linked to an increase in stage 1 sleep and a decrease in slow wave and REM sleep.


Exposure to noise at night has also been linked to grogginess, irritability, and poorer mental health in the short-term and the potential for high blood pressure and heart disease in the long-term, but these long-term effects are less clear. 

Why Use White Noise?

If studies reveal the overall negative effects of noise at bedtime, then what is the point in using white noise? For one, white noise can be used to drown out even more unpleasant noise. 


For many, noise is an inevitability and something that is ultimately necessary to content with when it comes to going to bed. Whether it be the hustle and bustle of traffic due to living in a busy city or the drone of roommates watching TV in the adjacent room, it just is not in the cards for a lot of people to sleep in complete and total silence. 


Where white noise comes in is the ability to drown out more bothersome noises such as traffic and a loud action movie. Drowning out these unpleasant noises with more pleasant ones like soft music or the sound of pouring rain can help in aiding one’s sleep as it makes the environment more restful and less mentally stimulating. 

Key Takeaways

The preference for silence or white noise is ultimately that, a preference. The negative effects from excessive noise before or during sleep is often due to the negative health effects of losing sleep. The long-term effects of noise at night are not yet well understood, and there is still little to suggest that it would be adversarial to one’s overall health.


When it comes to discussing the benefits of white noise when trying to fall asleep, there is also conflicting data on whether its implementation is beneficial or hurtful to the quality of sleep and how quickly one falls asleep. Regardless of its supposed benefits or negative effects, it can be a useful tool for drowning out other unpleasant noises.


Due to the lack of concrete evidence to suggest that white noise is helpful or harmful, it is ultimately up to the discretion of the individual. Some swear by its use and have implemented it into their bedtime routine as a means of telling their brain it’s time to get ready for rest, but others find the extra noise bothersome.


Dr. Phyllis Zee of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine even advocates for her own patients to explore the different options themselves in order to determine what works best for them. While trial and error certainly takes longer than a mere Google search to find the right answer, the best fit changes from person to person and must be discovered for themselves. 

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