The importance of a good night’s sleep
Sleep is one of the most essential of our bodily functions, yet it’s something that is hard to come by for so many Americans.
In fact, an estimated one in three U.S. adults fails to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep on a regular basis, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Perhaps that’s why the global market value of the sleep economy is worth an estimated $30-40 billion U.S. dollars, according to the consulting firm, McKinsey&Company.
While there are plenty of products that promise to help enhance the quality and quantity of a person’s sleep, one of the most recommended by sleep doctors is a sound machine.
What is a sound machine?
Simply put, these devices are meant to help with relaxation by offering sleep sounds for better slumber.
“Someone might use a sound machine as a reminder to wind down before bedtime, as a meditation companion, a soothing music player, or a sleep aid,” explains Jade Wu, sleep psychologist and researcher at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.
“Sound machines can also mask other environmental noises that are distracting or stimulating, such as barking dogs or a neighbor’s music.”
How does a sound machine work?
Sleep disruption is a huge problem for people suffering from lack of sleep, and these disruptions tend to occur as a result of several sounds that a person can hear when they’re trying to sleep.
Thus a sound machine can help create a masking noise that muffles all other sounds and does not wake the individual up, explains Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist, and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.
“If there is a barking dog two houses away, using a masking sound brings the ‘sound floor’ up so that the bark gets muffled and does not show an appreciable change in the volume, and not wake someone up,” he says.
Benefits of using a sound machine
The benefits of using a sound machine are mostly science-backed, which is why sleep experts are so keen on recommending these devices to help with better sleep habits.
Drowns out noise
Research has shown that using a white noise machine is an effective way to get better sleep in loud environments.
One 2017 randomized trial published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that white noise machines were particularly useful in helping soothe colicky babies (unknown excessive crying from an otherwise healthy baby) to get them to sleep and while reducing crying.
Greater sleep duration
One study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences in 2016 gave 30 patients in a coronary intensive care unit a sound machine for sleeping and monitored another 30 patients who slept without one.
“White noise machines were shown to significantly increase the time patients spent asleep,” says Breus. “Patients using a white noise machine, after three days, saw their average sleep time rise 49 percent, from 4.75 hours per night to 7.08 hours per night.”
A 2017 study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that people between the ages of 60 and 84 spent more time in a deeper sleep stage when listening to noise from a sleep machine. The researchers also found that the volunteers’ short-term recall was better the next morning when compared to sleeping without the noise.
Drown out ringing from tinnitus
People with tinnitus will often report ringing in their ears, along with other sounds like buzzing, humming, roaring, or clicking. While this noise can come and go, it can make it difficult to perform daily activities, like work or sleep.
For tinnitus patients, a sound machine can help to partly or fully mask the noises they hear—known as sound therapy, according to the American Tinnitus Association. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of these sound machines is limited to during or immediately after use.
What to look for when shopping for a sound machine
Wu says the most important factor to consider when shopping for a sound machine is how much you like it personally—not based on what someone else thinks about it.
“Not everyone responds the same way to specific soundscapes and noises, so instead of trying to find highly engineered noises or being sold on claims of special frequencies, which may or may not have real scientific backing, focus on finding an aesthetically pleasing machine that you enjoy having in your bedroom,” she says.
She recommends trying out the soundscapes offered and seeing if they are soothing to you.
“Find a machine that is easy to use, one that you can set-and-forget with a programmed routine, so it becomes a seamless part of your relaxation or bedtime routine.”
The best sleep sound machines
Here are some of the popular sound machines on the market right now that are recommended among experts.
iHome Zenergy Bedside Sleep Therapy
This sound machine from iHome comes with dual customization sleep timers that allow you to set the amount of time you would like the sound to run—and include dual alarms for separate wake times.
It also has built-in sound therapy, including 10 variations of relaxing sound modes. You can download the iHome Zenergy app on your smartphone and control the sound machine from there in order to help you sleep better.
HoMedics White Noise Sound Machine
If you’re on a budget, but don’t want a sound machine without all the bells and whistles, Breus recommends this option. “It has a classic design, works well, and is great for folks not looking to shell out a ton of money,” he says.
The HoMedics offers six soothing sounds, including white noise, thunder, ocean, rain, summer night, and brook and is fairly compact, so it’s convenient for travel.
Marpac Dohm Classic The Original White Noise Machine
This sound machine from Marpac Dohm has been around since the 1960s and has a staggering 13,000-plus 4.5-star reviews on Amazon It features fan-based white noise that’s natural and soothing along with two-speed options and a volume toggle for easy adjustability.
It’s backed by the brand’s one-year warranty—and they even offer you a 101-night trial to test it out for yourself. If you don’t feel like your sleep is better after the trial period, you can get a refund.
Manta White Noise Machine
If you’re looking for a super small white noise machine that does it all, consider the Manta white noise machine. Breus frequently recommends it to his patients thanks to its efficiency and small size.
It plays 40 different tunes including white noise, ocean waves, bird sounds, and thunder, and measures in at just 4″ x 4″ x 2.4″.
Hatch Restore Sound Machine
If you’re OK spending more, this device from Hatch Restore is pretty much everything you dreamed of in a sound machine or a sleeping device of any kind. It allows you to set a bedtime routine, which you can customize with several different light-sound combinations and serves as a clock for your nightstand.
“It’s easy to use, serves as a soothing presence in my bedroom and I don’t have to keep a close eye on my clock in the evening because the Restore reminds me when it’s time to start my bedtime routine,” says Wu.
“By the time I’m in bed and have closed my eyes, my brain and body have already been relaxing and drifting closer to sleep without any effort from me,” she says.
Sound Oasis Bluetooth Sound Therapy System
Sound Oasis is a sleep specialist-designed sound machine that can audibly transport you to different landscapes with its 20 nature sounds, ranging from Maui surf to steady rain. It can also stream other sounds and music from your phone or computer via Bluetooth.
The sound machine also comes with a USB charging cable and access to their apps including Tinnitus Therapy, Nature Sounds, Baby Sleep Sounds, and White Noise.
Tinnitus sufferers, need more convincing? One Amazon reviewer says, “Works far better for Tinnitus than a conventional speaker. This speaker also works well with pillow speakers and is the only solution that I have found to address Tinnitus sleeping problems without the use of a fan.”
LectroFan White Noise Sound Machine
This sound machine from LectroFan lets you choose from 20 different sounds, each of which are non-looping. It has easy-to-use volume controls that range from very soft to very loud, and has a sturdy design that’s powered by AC or USB.
Sharper Image Ultimate Sleep White Noise Sound Machine
For just $20, this Sharper Image white noise machine does pretty much all of the same things that its pricier competitors do. It offers 16 soothing preloaded audio tracks, 20 levels of volume, and even has options for changing the brightness level. It also has three timer settings—30, 60, and 90 minutes.
Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine
This travel-friendly white noise sound machine makes the perfect companion at home and overseas. Its adapter has 110/240V compatibility making it ideal for international trips. The portable Big Red Rooster machine, which boasts 23,000-plus reviews and a 4.4-star rating on Amazon, comes with six sounds, including rain, brook, ocean, thunder, and summer night, plus a classic white noise sound.
There’s also an optional auto-off timer you can use at 15-, 30-, or 60-minute intervals.
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