Adding noise machines to your bedroom sounds like a crazy way to improve your sleep. Especially if you’ve been doing everything you can to reduce the sounds of dogs snoring or way-too-early-birds chirping outside your window at 5:00 a.m. every day.
But there’s actually something to it when it’s white noise—AKA noise that has no distinct pattern, and has a range of frequencies that create a blanket of soothing noise to cover anything that otherwise might disturb your slumber. And since exactly every single human is looking for ways to improve their sleep, the tech world has jumped on creating all kinds of different white noise solutions.
There are very few studies on the effects of white noise, but the research points to a few conclusions. The first is that the changes in sound around you are what disrupts your sleep, not the overall volume of sound (so if a loud refrigerator hums all night, you’re good. If it cycles off and on, you’re gonna be tired tomorrow). Second, white noise (or in this case, the similar “pink noise”) might actually decrease your brain wave complexity, which is good news for sleep.
Both of those things suggest (and experts agree!) that it’s likely not the sound itself that’s doing anything for your sleep, it’s that the steady, constant sound is blocking out other distracting sounds that normally would jolt you awake. That makes sense to me: I live and die by white noise— I use it every night (see snoring dog reference above), and especially depend on it in a hotel or strange place to help my brain relax and not pick up strange noises. If you live on a noisy city street, or just want to catch a nap while the rest of the world is awake, it can be a godsend.
By now you might be intrigued, but how do you know if white noise static, rainforest rustling, rolling waves, or the simple whir of a fan will work for you? Experts say there’s not a lot of science to that part; it’s all about personal preference. Just figure out what feels the most soothing to you and stick to the same sound each night, since your brain likes ritual when it comes to sleep.
Here are a few that I love for their design and features, each of which solves a problem for a different kind of sleeper.
Wall of Sound
If you love the whir of fan blades, Snooz is probably right for you. It provides the natural, soothing sound of moving air and is app-enabled so you can adjust the volume or shut-off time from bed. Unlike with a regular fan, you can adjust the intensity of the sound from light to a deep drone without blasting your face with intense air, and thanks to a minimalist design, it’ll look cool on your nightstand. This is my white noise machine of choice right now: I’m less of a fan of the recorded loops and more of the natural air sound.
Noise to Go
Rohm is perfect if you’re traveling trying to sleep in hotel rooms sandwiched between crying babies and fighting couples. It’s small, portable, and can be charged via USB. In terms of sounds, you can choose from generic whirring white noise or ocean waves. Rohm plays recorded loops, which I’m less crazy about, but it’s packable in my carry-on and does the job.
Speaking of travel, Bose now makes Noise-Masking Sleepbuds, AKA tiny personal noise machines that fit in your ears. I recently wore them on a cross-country flight, and it was incredibly peaceful. They’re noise-blocking, not canceling, so you can still hear important sounds like your kid calling for you, but normal bumps in the night won’t wake you. They are comfy in your ears even if you sleep on your side and come with a gorgeous charging case worthy of a spot on your nightstand. The best part? If you share your bed with someone who has different sleep habits, these are the perfect solution. They don’t disturb my husband, and he can’t stand white noise.
In a pinch, you can also skip the machine altogether and download an app like myNoise. It’s not quite as sophisticated as the devices but has even more sounds to choose from than you’ll find on a machine, and you can even record your own sounds if you want to. (Maybe the soothing sound of your partner washing all of the dishes while you relax with a good book?) An app is also obviously totally portable and can be hooked up to an external speaker, and Consumer Reports found they can work as well as machines when it comes to improving the quality of your shut-eye. I have one of these apps on my phone: It came in handy when I went on a camping trip with my daughter— every time I heard a twig snap outside our tent I shot up in the air. A little white noise calmed me right down.
In the end, see what works for you and soon it’ll be as crucial a part of your routine as that eye mask. Just remember, Netflix does not count as white noise.
Do you use a white noise machine to help you sleep? Share what you like or don’t like about it in the comments below!