Many people have a habit of sleeping with the television on. They say that without this background sound it is much more difficult for them to fall asleep. The explanation for this is found in the concept of white noise, which has become popular and which, evidently, many people resort to.
The background sound of the TV not tuned to any channel is an example of white noise. As well as that of a radio not tuned to any station or that of the air conditioning. What they have in common, from a physical point of view, is that they are continuous and monotonous sounds. They are said to have a calming effect.
In this regard, neuroscientist Seth Horowitz stated that “White noise is literally a wall of sound energy, without patterns” . And the idea that it helps sleep has become so widespread that there are already technological applications to reproduce it.
Does white noise have any positive effects?
From a biological point of view, it is claimed that white noise can mask or hide other noises coming from the environment. Thus, if another auditory stimulus arises, it will most likely not be able to activate the cerebral cortex during sleep.
In other words, this means that white noise is a kind of invisible shield, a barrier to other sounds. In this way, those who tend more to wake up due to noises derive extreme benefit from this background “chant”.
It should be remembered that hearing is the only sense that continues to function fully during sleep. This is because it is essential for survival: if all the senses were completely shut down, there would be no way to spot a danger and wake up to avoid it.
But for this very reason our hearing sometimes becomes very sensitive to the noises generated while we sleep. Some people wake up several times at night from a dog barking, a car, or any other sound. In these situations, white noise prevents this from happening and allows you to continue to sleep peacefully and blissfully.
The criticism of white noise
Although thousands of people around the world claim that white noise is a great ally of sleep, it is not a scientifically proven fact. So far there are no studies to corroborate or contradict this thesis. On the contrary, important names have expressed their opposition to the hypothesis.
Seth Horowitz said that, in the long run, white noise can affect hair cells, the ones that allow us to capture sound. The expert argues that prolonged exposure to such noise forces these cells to maintain high activity. The consequence of this would be that if they suffered damage, the natural process of repairing that damage would not take place or at least it would be more difficult.
Just as there is still no scientific evidence on the benefits of white noise, there is also no research in the opposite direction. There are, however, a myriad of people around the world who use it to sleep better. It has also proved very effective with infants and is sometimes used to study with greater concentration.
Meanwhile, there has also been talk of noises of other colors. We speak for example of the “brown noise”, that produced by a waterfall in the distance, more generally it is a monotonous and relaxing, but natural sound. There is also talk of “pink noise”, which is less regular. An example is rain. All these noises would have similar effects.
Sleep disturbances and white noise
Some scholars have suggested that sleep disorders should not be treated with “tricks” of this kind. They argue that there can be many causes behind insomnia and that they should be investigated. Maybe thanks to white noise you can sleep, but that doesn’t solve the other underlying problems.
Rather than a problem in itself, insomnia is a manifestation of deeper problems. In most cases, the inability to fall asleep is associated with anxiety states and unresolved conflicts. While white noise can largely resolve sleep disturbances, it could also help mask the symptom of a serious illness.
On the other hand, the inability to sleep has disastrous consequences. It not only aggravates nervousness and depression, it also greatly affects physical health. It is therefore not strange to resort to such “tricks” which, after all, are much less harmful than the consumption of tranquilizers or the passive acceptance of constant wakefulness.
We could perhaps say, then, that the smartest solution would be to find a middle ground. If white noise helps resolve insomnia, then it is definitely a good thing to use this method. At the same time, we must not forget that there may be other difficulties that we should not stop paying attention to, however good this patch we have found to resolve the symptom.