What is White Noise and Why Do We Use It?
| Reuben Howe
A huge range of people may have heard of white noise; from new parents to TV signal engineers! The term has a wide array of uses and so the core purpose of a "White Noise Machine" may not be immediately obvious.
Learn all about the phrase "white noise" and why we now have consumer white noise machines available all over the world.
What is White Noise?
Coloured noise is a novel concept, but a strangely scientific one. The names are attributed based on the specific waveforms and decibel scaling of the sounds.
However, some real-world descriptions of coloured noise sounds are below for clarity:
White Noise - A completely uniform drone of sound, middling in pitch and in volume with no powerful highs or lows
Pink Noise - A noise that sounds more thunderous than white noise. Lower pitches are amplified while higher-pitched sound is still present creating the effect of rain and thunder
Brown Noise - Similar sounding to Pink Noise but without the highs. This leaves a lower, rumbling sound
Blue Noise - The inverse of the previous noises, Blue Noise removes the low sounds and leaves the highs resulting in a high-pitch static
Violet Noise - A higher-pithed white noise highlighting the highs entirely
Grey Noise - Grey noise covers the full spectrum similarly to White Noise, but does so with varied volumes to make every single frequency sound as powerful as the other based on pitch
As you can see, coloured noise comes in varying forms and reacts differently to the human ear than regular sounds. This is because so much of the spectrum is covered by these coloured sounds.
Note: "Hold on", I hear a few of you ponder, "What about that comment about other uses of the phrase and TV signal engineers?". Well, since White Noise is a description of a constant, unidentifiable droning sound the term actually gets used for other contexts than helping babies sleep. When your TV has static from lack of signal you may hear white noise, as radio waves are picked up but not decoded. This is also what happens when you are using an FM radio and not on the right frequency for a station.
What is a White Noise Machine?
Now we understand coloured noise, we can identify what a White Noise Machine might do. At its bare minimum a white noise sound machine is a speaker that plays White Noise when powered. This can be used for a number of applications in itself, but modern machines can do more.
Since the primary purpose of personal noise machines is sleeping aids / relaxation, modern White Noise Machines do more than just play white noise. A machine may host other coloured noise, or even natural sounds including birdsong and heartbeats and thunderstorms. Anything people can relax or unwind to, or that is suited to new-borns and infants, is fair game for a modern "White Noise Machine" despite the sounds not actually being scientifically accurate White Noise!
The term is more about the vibe than the actual sound, unless you are looking for a single-sound device.
A white noise machine therefore became a blanket term for any device that acts purely to generate background, ambient noises.
Does White Noise Help You Sleep?
One of the most common uses for white noise is as a sleep aid. This derives from two key factors:
- New-borns are innately responsive to White Noise due to the recency of their time in the womb. While it might be odd to think about, the environment a new-born has spent 9-months in was surrounded by sounds and a consistent heartbeat sound among others. Providing new-borns a background ambience that reassures the babe it is safe and looked after, like how it was before, can be greatly helpful.
Please make sure you follow distance and duration guidelines for infants and adults alike!
- Changes in background noise are more noticeable than constant background noise. Just like becoming accustomed to the loud music of a concert or the thrum of a car engine, our brains are able to focus on sudden changes in volume much more dramatically than a constant sound. What this means is that even a loud level of white noise may be unnoticeable to someone after a short while, while also drowning out spikes in volume from other sources like car horns or a neighbour's door slamming. Instead of spikes of sound through the night, we are subjected to constant sound. This lowers the chance of being disturbed as we fall asleep.
These two factors mean that both new-borns and fully-grown adults can benefit from a white noise machine, albeit for slightly different reasons!
Portable White Noise Machine for Home and Travel
Due to the age range and required use of a white noise machine, a small portable one for travel can be a lifesaver. Helping a child get to sleep at home can be difficult, but when they are spending nights away from home for the first time it can be a nightmare! A white noise machine can soothe a child away from home and make the bed feel more familiar. Consider picking up a travel white noise machine for these situations.