The absence or presence of familiar noises can greatly affect sleep. While some sounds like a dripping faucet or the ticking clock or the barking of the neighbor’s dog can get on your nerves, other sounds like the whir of a fan or the sound of rain on the roof can actually improve sleep.
Steady uninterrupted noise also referred to as “white noise” or more realistically as “pink noise” is known to produce a soothing effect on the brain, helping people relax and fall asleep. It’s called pink noise because light with a similar power spectrum would appear pink. Pink noise not only drowns other noises and distractions, but slows and regulates your brain waves, which is a hallmark of restful sleep.
In an article for Spirit Magazine, one neurologist explains:
Dr. Ralph Pascualy is the medical director of Northwest Hospital Sleep Center in Seattle. He explained to me that the brain naturally craves sensory input. That’s why people in sensory depravation tanks hallucinate; robbed of any stimulus, the brain creates its own. During sleep in a quiet night, any random noise, whether a passing truck or a creaking floorboard, is likely to activate the restless brain, waking you up. Constant white noise, he told me, "gives the brain a tonic signal that dampens its own internal systems."
Over the years, numerous sound machines were produced – bedside gadgets that generated different ambient sounds mimicking rain, waterfall, or wind. With the digital revolution and miniaturization of personal electronics these got replaced by smartphones and websites.
Here is a smart collection of tools that generate background noises intended to relax you or lull you to sleep.
myNoise.net has one of the best collection of background noises, ranging from synthetic noises such as white noise or impulse noise, to natural sounds of waves and tropical forest, to manmade noises like Tibetan meditation, traffic and whispers.
Each sound has various presets that generates a variation of the sound. For instance, the rain sound has presets for “Under the Porch”, “Distant Storm”, “Only Rumble”, and “Under the Leaves” among many others. Every sound is accompanied by an equalizer that lets you increase or decrease the power of individual bands of frequencies to vary its output.
NatureSounds has rich collection of natural sounds ranging from regulars like rain and thunderstorm to bird and animal calls, as well as a few odd ones like boat rowing and children giggling. The app allows you to combine up to 4 such sounds together to create compositions. For instance, you can combine rain with bird calls and an occasional thunder. It’s possible to adjust the volume and speaker balance of each sound individually.
The web app is also available as an iOS app.
Ambient Mixer is a community driven project that offers a pretty interesting collection of sounds categorized into sections such as environmental, home, human, music, nature and technical, to name a few. Each ambient sound consist of 8 individual audio files that has been mixed to create some sort of atmosphere. There are various soothing soundscapes like that of beach, thunderstorm, forest, campfire, as well as peculiar mixes such as kitchen, sports stadium, and even a mediaeval marketplace, which sounds pretty authentic.
You can download these files to your computer (they are all licensed under Creative Commons), or even upload your own audio files, create an audio atmosphere and share it with other users.
Coffitivity plays ambient coffee shop noises. Currently two version are available – “morning murmur” and “lunchtime lounge”. There is another quieter “University undertones” depicting a university café. Coffitivity is available in the app form for Android and iOS.
Rainy Café, as the name implies, mimics the chaotic mess of conversation typically heard in cafes together with rain. Thankfully both the café and rain sounds as well as their volumes can be turned on and off individually.
iSerenity contains pre-recorded clips of about 20 different types of sounds. A few unusual sounds that I noticed in their collection includes “city”, “typewriter”, “hairdryer”, “vacuum cleaner” and “sprinkler”.
Rainy Mood simply plays an audio recording of rain, as soon as the website loads. There are no buttons to click, no sliders to adjust. Just load in the background and let your creative juices flow. Also available in the Android and iOS platforms.
Sound Sleeping offers 5 mixers to load 5 different sounds to be played simultaneously. This can be music (ambient, atmosphere, flute, drums etc.), binaural beats (meditate, relax, sleep) or various sound clips (rain, birds, crickets, motor boat etc.)