White Noise — The Breakdown


If you ever heard the term “white noise” and thought to yourself, “What in the world is that?”, you’re not alone. While white noise is a sound that’s commonly used to help people fall asleep and relax, it’s still not exactly clear what white noise is and how it works. In this article, we’ll give you the breakdown – what noise is, what are its benefits, and how you can make it work for you.

Let’s dive right in.

What Is White Noise?

At its core, white noise is simply a mix of all audible frequencies. Since white sounds include the whole spectrum of frequencies they’re also referred to as broadband noise. This explanation might not sound particularly helpful, so let’s put it another way: white noise is like a radio station that’s not tuned to any one particular station. How white noise works is by picking up every sound at once, it’s the hissing or static sound we hear, which honestly can sometimes be annoying.

Fortunately, there’s a little something called the “frequency following response” which is when your brain begins to match the frequency of a sound that it’s hearing. And that’s how white noise works: when you listen to white noise long enough, your brain will begin to tune out the individual frequencies and focus on the overall sound. This can have a calming effect, which is why white noise is often used as a sleep aid.

The Origins of White Noise

For those who are old enough to remember analog TV and striking all kinds of poses to position your rabbit ear antenna in just the right way to lock in your channel, you will also remember the white noise that you would wake up to in the middle of the night after your channel went off air for the day. The history of white noise is a long one. While the name came much later, perhaps white noise was first described by ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, who talked about something he called “the 10,000 things” that constantly produced a cacophony of sounds.
The technology of “white noise” itself (and consequently its name) is credited to Thomas Edison. He was also the first person to hear a recording of the noise in 1877. But why was white noise named like that?

The term is connected to the occurrence of illumination by electricity also called white light. White light is at its core a combination of different colors, while white noise is a combination of different frequencies that we can hear and recognize. Now that we’ve covered white noise and its origin, let’s see what makes white noise an effective aid.

Why Is White Noise Effective?

It sounds completely counterintuitive to blast a sound made up of all possible frequencies as a way of calming, focusing, and even falling asleep. Then why is white noise so recommended?
Shortly, because white noise is the “better” noise for most people. White noise can help mask other sounds that might be keeping you up at night, for example. Whether it’s your neighbor’s dog barking or your partner snoring, white noise can help minimize distractions so you can finally get some rest.

White sounds are consistent and come out evenly across all hearable frequencies, and as we’ve covered the brain likes to match the frequencies of the sounds it’s hearing so you end up tricking yourself to focus on a meditative continuous noise that helps you switch off everything else.

Now that we know what white noise is and why it works, let’s take a look at some of the different types of white noise.

What Types of White Noise Are There?

We’ll start by dividing white noise into categories based on the source of the sound. Popular types of white noise here include:

1. Machine Generated Sounds

Electrical appliances are one of the sources of white noise. These machines generate white noise that can be effective for people trying to focus or fall asleep. The steady sound of a fan running in the background, for example, can help mask other sounds that might be keeping you awake at night. Along with fan-generated white noise, there is white noise from appliances like air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, and washing machines. White noise generated in the airplane’s cabin is also considered helpful in calming our nervous systems down.

2. Natural Sounds

If machine-generated white sounds are not your thing you can always give natural sounds a go. Birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and even raindrops falling on a tiled roof have also been found to calm us down and help us doze off.

Natural white sounds usually provide a sense of calmness and relaxation that helps you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep throughout the night. Ocean waves, wind, and spring or fall sounds also fall into the category of natural white noise. If you don’t live close to some kind of nature but still want the calming effect of its sounds, this type of white noise can also be helpful.

3. Ambient Sounds

Ambient noises are softer background noises. They are basically very subtle noises that exist anywhere – in a room, a house, outside, or in any given location. They are a sort of sound effect. You can experience ambient noise if you just stand in the room by yourself and make absolutely no sound. Usually, your surroundings (especially in an older house) would make some sort of noise. Ambient noises are also all the sounds you hear outside of your home and in your neighborhood, like distant traffic, machines operating, muffled talking, floors creaking, and piping.

4. White Noise Apps / Platforms

Lastly, there are also many platforms and apps that are created to offer white noise for people trying to sleep, focus, meditate, or relax. They offer a variety of different sound options for people to choose from, including natural, electronic, and ambient noises.
Though it’s most commonly associated with helping people sleep, there are actually many different ways to use white noise. Let’s cover some of its benefits.

The Benefits of White Noise

White noise has several benefits that make it perfect for a variety of things: from masking unwanted sounds to improving focus and concentration.

Masking Unwanted Sounds

One of the most common uses for white noise is to mask unwanted sounds. This is especially helpful for people who live in urban areas with a lot of outside noise or for people who work in open-space offices where they’re constantly bombarded with distractions. By using white noise, you can effectively tune out all the extraneous noise and focus on what you need to get done. In addition, it can help you get a good night’s sleep by blocking out unwanted sounds like traffic or noisy neighbors.

Improving Focus and Concentration

In addition to masking unwanted sounds, white noise can also help improve focus and concentration. This is because white noise acts as a sort of “sound blanket” that blocks out distractions and allows you to focus on a single task.

Studies have shown that people who work in noisy environments are more likely to make mistakes than those who don’t, so if you’re looking to improve your focus and concentration, white noise may be just what you need.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Believe it or not, white noise can also help reduce stress and anxiety levels. This is because white noise provides a sense of security and comfort by creating an “ambient cocoon” that helps block out external stimuli. For many people, this can mean feeling more relaxed and less anxious in stressful situations.

Why Do People Love White Noise?

We can presume that if there is something that will help you improve your cognitive abilities you’ll take advantage of it. Fortunately, there is white noise that helps with sleep, and meditation. It has calming effects on the nervous system and can help you focus and perform your tasks better. And that’s why people like it.

How to Find the Right White Noise for You?

Not all types of white noises are created equal. For some people, ambient white noise may be the best option, while others will enjoy natural sounds like rainfall and ocean waves. Some people will only resonate with man made sounds like whirling fans and trains passing by.

To find the best white noise for you, you have to experiment. Now that you know the different varieties of white noise and their benefits, you can go ahead and pick a few to test. We recommend starting listening in shorter periods – say, 30 minutes – to see how well the different white noises affect your work, or meditation, for example. Once you get comfortable with the chosen white sound you can move up to longer stretches of listening times.

You should also keep in mind that one type of noise might be ideal for your focus, but another for your sleep, so don’t hesitate to try different white sounds for your different needs.

To Wrap Up

There is no doubt that getting a good night’s sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. Sometimes it can be easier said than done. If you’re having trouble sleeping, white noise might be just what you need. White noise will help you drown out disruptive sounds so that you’re able to fall asleep easily and stay asleep throughout the night. It will help you focus so you can get your work done. You can also use it to calm yourself down, and meditate.

White noise can be the aid you’ve been looking for, we advise you to give it a try!

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