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Some people swear that they can’t fall asleep without a fan running, others leave a radio or the TV on to help them sleep.
In a way, all of these are sound machines, because they help you to both fall asleep and to stay asleep.
Sound machines help you to stay asleep
For some people, it is not falling asleep that is the problem, but staying asleep that is the cause of their troubles.
People wake for lots of reasons during the night, but sudden noises or inconsistencies in background noises are common causes of wakefulness at night.
So for example, you might fall asleep easily, but if all of a sudden a dog starts barking, you are wide awake.
Maybe a police car drives past, sirens blazing or your teenager comes in and puts the TV on full at 2am in the morning?
All of these sounds can be jarring, because they are an interruption in the normal background noises, and they stimulate you to wake. In the short term, these might not be so troublesome, but in the long term, traffic noise in particular, has been shown to cause cardiac disease and hypertension.
A sound machine works because it blends all of these external noises into the background, so there are no sudden noise break-outs. This means that you are not jolted out of sleep so often and instead, have a much greater chance of staying asleep for longer periods of time.
Research undertaken by the Sleep Foundation found that more than 40% of people have unbroken sleep patterns and one of the recommendations from this study was to use a sound machine to help promote a good nights sleep.
Sound machines also help you to fall asleep, by a combination of soothing natural sounds, light therapy and aromatherapy.
A sound machine helps noises to blend into the background
I am sure you have seen or heard of people who can fall asleep anywhere, anytime? It doesn’t matter how much noise is going on, they can sleep practically standing up. I have seen people sleep in busy airports, in nightclubs and at football matches.
This happens because all of the noise simply blends into one blurb and your brains just becomes used to this background noise and ignores it. So it is not necessarily loud noises that wake us up, but the fact that the noise is different and stands out to us.
This is why a parent can sleep through just about anything – except their baby crying. As soon as they hear their baby’s cries, they are instantly awake.
If someone hammers on your door at 2am, you are going to hear it, even if you use a sound machine, because this is a noise that you need to hear – like a crying baby.
Other noises, which might stand out and wake you from a deep sleep, can be masked by a sound machine, allowing you to have an uninterrupted night’s sleep at long last.
How does a sound machine actually work?
Well, sound machines help to blend unexpected noises into the background hum, so that you are not constantly disturbed and can have a good night’s sleep.
The reason this method actually works is because our brains automatically crave sensory input, so when we are trying to sleep in a nice quiet room, our brain instantly latches on to any sudden noise.
In these situations, sudden noises, such as horns blaring, people laughing and shouting or trucks driving past actually stimulate our brain to wake us up. It is as if our brain is primed for external noises and even though we might be deeply asleep, our brain instantly grabs onto any sound that stands out from the norm and alerts us into wakefulness.
If this seems weird to you, then think about people who undergo sensory deprivation. In the short term, using sensory deprivation flotation tanks can help with relaxation and meditation, but in the long term it can lead to anxiety, hallucinations and depression.
These hallucinations are caused by the brain being deprived of any outside stimulus (as in a nice quiet room when you are trying to sleep) and it is this lack of noise that causes the brain to hallucinate and actually create the stimulus it craves.
So sudden noises stimulate our brains to wake us up, but a constant level of noise provided by a sleep sound machine, dampens this response and helps us to sleep undisturbed throughout the night. That’s why some people like to keep a fan or a radio on during the night, it is the same theory as used by a sound machine.
Short of moving to a quieter environment, sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent environmental noises, but you can do something to help your brain dampen its craving for outside stimulation.
This is where a sound machine can be invaluable in helping you achieve a good night’s rest and since they aren’t really expensive (most are less than $100), purchasing a sound machine might just be one of the best investments you ever make.