Absolute silence is what I need to fall asleep—or a close approximation. But insomnia sufferers like Jennifer, an insurance analyst, need white noise to nod off.

“I’m sensitive to noise when I’m trying to fall sleep,” she told me in an interview on the phone. “I keep the fan on so I won’t be distracted. I can’t go anywhere without my fan. I need it to block out other sounds.”

Fans are ideal for use in the summer: not only do they cool you off, but they can also cover up unpleasant noises like snoring, traffic, and TV. Like all machines that generate white noise, fans produce a constant sound composed of many different frequencies at uniform volume. They don’t drown out disruptive noise so much as mask it, creating background noise your brain tunes out.

But there are other more portable noise-masking options, ranging from pricey to inexpensive.

  • The Marpac Dohm is a round plastic device that measures 5 ¾ by 3 ¼ inches and weighs a pound and a half. Endorsed by the National Sleep Foundation, it has an internal fan that runs at two speeds, producing the sound of rushing air. The Dohm starts at $44.95.
  • At the high end, the Sound+Sleep Nomad weighs about a pound, costs $149.95, and comes equipped with 13 different “SoundStories,” including white noise, pink noise (more bass than white noise), brown noise (more bass still) and sounds recorded in the field, including the ocean, a meadow with chirping crickets, and a crackling flame. It automatically adjusts the volume of the sound track to mask ambient noise such as coughing or TV.
  • Much less expensive are the downloadable MP3 tracks offered by many companies on the Internet. Sound Oasis, for example, sells white noise, pink noise, and brown noise sound tracks that play all night and cost $4.99.
  • Simply Noise, on the other hand, sells an app available in the i-Tunes App Store for just $0.99. It’s called SimplyRain, for use with an iPhone or an iPad.
  • Finally, if the idea of wearing ear buds or ear phones all night is unappealing, my brother swears by his SleepPhones, wafer-thin speakers encased in a soft fleece headband he wears at night. Via tiny cables, the speakers plug into a CD player, MP3 player, or an iPod. They start at $39.95.

If you need background noise to fall asleep, which type of noise works best?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

2 Comments

  1. Sima Eizenbach July 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

    I like reading your blog:1. I hava a young friend who suffers from Insomnia so I am happy to translate to her. 2. I have a hard time falling asleep.
    But I wanted to add something I found: many times I have a hard time falling asleep because I have unfinished businesses on my mind: basically,I “entertain” grudegs in my mind etc. Also, I had past trauma that makes my sleep very light. Did you relate to these points somewhere? thank you, Sima from Yerushalayim.

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    Reply

  2. Hi Sima,
    I’m really glad you’re enjoying my blog, and I’m honored that you would take the time to translate it for your friend!

    I haven’t written much about the thoughts and ruminations that tend to keep people awake at night, nor have I written about past traumas. These are good ideas for future blogs, though. Thanks for passing them along.

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    Reply

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