In a 2016 study by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than a third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep on a consistent basis. Furthermore, an article in the 2008 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research stated that 35% of the general population experienced middle-of-the-night insomnia at least three times per week. Additionally, 23% of people wake up at least once a night. What this suggests is that a significant number of Americans are sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation can result in a number of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes to impairments in decision making and short and long-term memory. By contrast, increased and improved sleep can result in positive effects on your health. These effects include things such as lowered levels of stress, improved mental clarity, better memory, and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
Sleep aids are an excellent way to improve and increase your sleep. They help people to fall asleep and stay asleep. One such sleep aid is ambient sound.
Your brain is sensitive to noises even while you’re sleeping. However, with ambient sound, common nighttime noises like dogs barking or cars driving by are drowned out. Furthermore, the steady but subtle ambient sound variations will occupy your mind, blocking out distracting thoughts about your day. In doing so, you can better relax, allowing you to fall asleep and stay asleep easily.
Ambient sound is constant, low-frequency noise. There are many different types of ambient sound. They can be comforting, basic sounds, such as voices murmuring and gentle music. Or it can be natural sounds like thunder, rainfall, birds, waves, or crickets. Even commonplace noises like a fan or air purifier can be soothing. It all depends on your personal preference. A sound that is soothing to one person may be irritating to the next. For this reason, we recommend trying out a number of different sounds to find the one that is most relaxing to you. To help you find the right ambient noise for you, we’ve come up with a list of the best ambient sounds for sleep for you to try.
- Ocean Waves
Many people find the rhythmic crashing of water on sand and rock to be calming, which results in a state of deep relaxation. Furthermore, according to Dr. Orfeu Buxton, a professor of behavioral health and director of the Sleep, Health, and Society Collaboratory at Penn State University, ocean sounds are beneficial to sleep because they represent “the sounds of non-threats.” By this, he means that the sounds of the waves can sound like the words, “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” repeated over and over.
- Nature Sounds
An easy way to connect with nature, especially if you’re living in an urban environment, is to listen to nature sounds as you fall asleep. These sounds are also a great way to help you relax. In fact, nature sounds have been scientifically proven to promote a brain state conducive to sleep.
According to a study published by the magazine, Nature, scientists at the University of Sussex in Britain had subjects listen to nature sound recordings and artificial sounds. They then measured the participant’s brain and nervous system activity while listening to these sounds. According to their results, nature sounds created outward-focused attention in the brain, as opposed to inward-focused attention. Inward-focused attention is related to states of anxiety, stress, and depression. Anxiety, stress, and depression are known to affect sleep negatively. Furthermore, this study also found that the subject’s nervous systems went into “rest and digest” mode while listening to nature recordings. For these reasons, the researchers concluded that nature sounds helped promote good sleep.
- White Noise
White noise consists of a mixture of all sound frequencies played at the same level of intensity. This steady stream of sound masks the kind of noise that often disrupts sleep, such as cars honking or people talking.
In a study published in Sleep Medicine, researchers from the Brown University Medical School found that patients in the ICU woke up less frequently at night when listening to white noise. This was attributed to the fact that white noise reduced the difference between background noises and “peak” noises that people might find disruptive.
- Relaxing Music
Music has been known to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also soothe anxiety and quiet a busy mind. These are all things that benefit sleep. In fact, music was found to improve the quality of sleep in young adults who suffered from sleep problems by scientists at the Semmelweis University in Hungary. However, it’s important to note that not just any music will do. Rock and Pop tend to elevate your heart rate because of the percussive beat and fast rhythms. For this reason, you should choose music with slow rhythms. Ideally, the songs should be between 60 and 80 beats per minute.
- Calming Voices
For some people, the sound of human voices can be soothing. They call this feeling autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Essentially, ASMR is a tingling sensation that people feel when they hear certain audio-visual stimuli such as whispering. There isn’t a lot of research about ASMR, but according to a study in PeerJ, people have reported using ASMR to fall asleep.
- Water Sounds
According to Dr. Buxton, the light patter of rain or the steady flow of a stream can be profoundly relaxing. The crucial factor is the gentle and gradual variations of intensity in the sound of water moving. These sounds can counteract sudden and abrupt noises such as sirens and cars braking, that awaken some people.
- Pink Noise
White noise provides an equal intensity of frequencies to all sounds. Pink noise, by contrast, offers a balance of high and low-frequency noises that imitate nature sounds. However, like white noise, pink noise reduces the difference between steady, background noise and loud, jarring noises such as a door slamming.
A study in The Journal of Theoretical Biology found that people who were exposed to pink noise while they slept spent more time in deep, slow-wave sleep. Furthermore, researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine discovered that listening to pink noise at night helped with improving memory recall.
A person’s response to sound is highly individual. We connect memory to sight and smell, and we also connect sound with memory. As a result, sound can arouse in you both positive and negative emotions. Additionally, the emotional state you’re in can affect how you process sound. This is why the National Sleep Foundation recommends paying close attention to what relaxes you. For instance, you might find it jarring to listen to waves crashing on the beach, but the sound of a steady waterfall is soothing. To find out what works for you, try out a sound for a few nights at a time and take note of how your mind and body respond to the noise. If you feel your heart rate increase, this indicates that the noise is stimulating. If, however, your heart rate decreases, this is a sign that the noise is soothing.