For us city dwellers it is a rare and precious moment when we experience silence. Most of us can always hear some form of noise or the other. The hum of a far off aeroplane, the rhythmic rumble of a train, the constant flow of cars speeding down the freeway… These are just some of the sounds that we associate with being in the city. We can go on about barking dogs, the chatter of people, honking hooters, helicopters. You get the picture.
With all of these sounds constantly bombarding us, it is not really surprising that so many city dwellers suffer from insomnia or other sleep-related problems. But sounds aren’t all bad. What if I was to tell you that there are actually sounds that might help you to fall asleep? Musicians and scientists have been working together to create music and noise to relax the listener.
Can sounds wake you up?
If a tree falls in the forest and no-one was there to hear it fall (or if whoever was there was asleep), did it make a sound? The simple and short answer is; yes.
Let’s get one thing clear people. Even when you are asleep, you can still hear. I’m sure most of you know that already, right? I mean (if you do not use one of the awesome goodies we spoke of last week to wake you up) your normal alarm clock wakes you up with a sound. That is the long and short of it. End of discussion.
According to National Sleep Foundation, whether certain sounds wake you up or disturb your sleep depends on the stage of sleep you are in, the time of night and weirdly enough, how you feel about those sounds. If the type of noise doesn’t bother you while you are awake, chances are that it won’t bother you when you are asleep. For instance, let’s say the sound of thunder scares you, if a thunderstorm blows in at night you will probably wake up and feel anxious. Whereas for me, the sound of thunder is comforting, so I will just keep on sleeping soundly.
Research has shown that noise is more likely to disturb your sleep during the second half of the night and when you are one of the lighter sleep phases.
Some of the most irritating night-time sounds…
So we proved that sounds can keep you awake. But what are the most annoying night-time noises out there?
1. Alarms & Sirens
High-frequency noises, such as alarms and car hooters, are the number one slumber disturber. Interestingly, it seems to wake more females than males. It might have something to do with mothering instincts…
2. Barking Dogs
This is especially irritating when you are trying to fall asleep. The noise is not enough to wake you from deep sleep, but it can definitely keep you awake. It might even cause some anxiety, “why are the dogs barking? Is there an intruder?”. Thoughts like that can keep you tossing and turning for long, if it doesn’t drive you to get up and have a look around…
Have you ever tried to sleep while people are talking and laughing nearby? It is almost impossible to relax and drift off! The laughter keeps drawing your attention back to the waking world.
If you’ve never been kept awake by your neighbours, you are the luckiest person alive! In the city, most of us live in close proximity to our neighbours. If you live in an apartment building or in a complex, you will know what I’m talking about. A while ago I used to live in an apartment building and every night, right about the time that I got into bed, the neighbour above me would take a bath. I’m not sure about the layout, but it felt like his/her bath was directly above my bed. I could hear each individual drop of water dripping from the tap into the tub. When the person moved, I heard it. So for a long time, I fell asleep to the sound of water running down the drain… It’s a wonder I never dreamt about drowning.
Snoring is just one of those things that won’t go away. Unfortunately, the person that does the snoring rarely wakes up because of his or her own snoring. It is always someone else that has to suffer. But here is the good news: There are a few tricks that one can try to stop snoring. Don’t sleep on your back, sleep on an extra pillow or do some jaw exercises.
Okay, so how does this help me to relax?
Everyone knows that snoring and sirens are irritating. What we really want to know is; which sounds can help us relax. How can we cancel those annoying noises and sleep? Do we have to get earplugs or sleep with our heads under the cover? Luckily not!
Like we’ve already mentioned there are some pretty cool sounds out there that was created specifically to help you relax. Research shows that the brain feels safe and relaxed when it hears low pitched sounds, or sounds with a low frequency. So musicians and scientists went out to create or capture sounds like that. Below are some of the natural sounds that will help you to fall asleep:
The light pattering of rain is almost always a winner. Most people find this sound soothing and will start to relax upon hearing it. You can try out various apps on your mobile phone or on your laptop. At the moment I am listening to the free web version of Rainy Mood, but if you want the extra features you will have to pay for it via the Apple Store or the Google Play Store. I can feel those sounds lulling me to sleep already! Time to switch off the speakers and listen to the mechanical clatter of my keyboard.
Once again, the sound of moving water seems to do the trick. Distant waves, like falling raindrops, are a rhythmic sound. This often helps us to relax and fall asleep. When we hear rhythmic, noninvasive sounds such as waves lapping at the beach (not the rhythmic thump of a bass drum), our bodies feel safe. As a rule, people do not feel threatened by the sound of rolling waves in the distance. Also, a lot of us associate this sound with holidays, which makes us feel happy and relaxed.
This really brings that cozy cottage feeling into your bedroom. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing quite as cosy as sitting by a crackling fire on a cold night, drinking hot chocolate and watching the flames dance in the fireplace. It almost always lulls me to sleep. With the Rain Rain Sleep Sounds app, available for Apple and Android, you can bring this feeling home with you. This app is free and you can even mix some of those soothing sounds together. How cool is that? You can drift off to the sound of distant thunder, while the make belief fire is crackling away in the make-belief fireplace next to your bed…
How about artificial sounds?
Yes, there are artificial sounds out there that can also help you to fall asleep. Most of these artificial sounds aim to block out noise pollution. So, in essence, you replace an annoying sound with a monotonous, less annoying one. Think of the sound of a ticking clock, a fan buzzing on the ceiling, that kind of thing. Here are some of the artificial sounds you might want to utilize in your struggle against wakefulness:
If you have an old television, or you grew up in a home with an analogue TV, not only will you know what white noise sounds like, but you will also know what it looks like. White noise is that static you get on your analogue screen between two stations. Just black and white dots all over the screen with a characteristic whooshing sound.
According to recent research, using white noise as a noise cancelling medium works wonders. White noise serves a double purpose. Firstly, it cancels out any unwanted sounds. Made up of many different frequencies, white noise serves as a buffer to outside noises. It is also an effective countermeasure for tinnitus (humming sound in your own ear). The other purpose is much like that of listening to rainfall. It is consistent. When you listen to a consistent rhythm, your heart rate falls and you produce less cortisol (stress hormone). This is good, especially when you want to go to sleep.
A lot of sleep therapists prescribe white noise machines to their patients. There are a myriad of white noise machines on the market, but personally, I prefer the HemmingWeigh White Noise machine (just because it looks a bit like R2D2…). Check it out!
Not the sound of your biggest fan cheering you to sleep (although that would most probably work as well). The simple sound of a ceiling fan or even a standalone fan can lull you to sleep. Once more the monotony of it all is what triggers the relaxation, as well as the drowning out factor. It is easier to put up with one sound than many…
If you have a real fan it also serves a purpose in cooling the room down. It was definitely mentioned on this blog before, but just a quick recap: Your body prefers to fall asleep under cool conditions. You’ve probably noticed that you struggle to fall asleep when it is very hot and humid, so get a fan. It will block out noise from outside of your room and keep you cool at the same time. And I’m pretty sure it is cheaper than a White Noise Machine…
And then there is music…
Sleep is becoming so elusive that some musicians started to compose sleep inducing music.
On Friday the 16th of March, former DJ and sleep coach Tom Middleton released his album titled Sleep Better. His aim with this album is to, you guessed it, help people to sleep better! In an interview with euronews, Middleton explained how the album is supposed to work. He starts off with high pitch sounds, to get the listeners attention. He says that he wants to force the listener to pay attention to the music, and to forget about the surroundings. Once he has the listener’s attention, he eases off into low pitched sounds that lull you to sleep.
The album is available on iTunes, Apple Music, Google play and a few other online platforms. Go ahead, give it a listen. It might help you sleep tonight.
A group of musicians, in collaboration with sleep therapists, created the Weightless phenomenon. Marconi Union’s main purpose with creating this music was to induce a state of calm. The carefully constructed the harmonies, rhythms and baselines so that listening to it would lower your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. According to research, listening to Weightless can reduce anxiety levels by up to 65 percent. That is a lot of pressure being lifted off your shoulders! No wonder they call the piece Weightless.
Off to bed
As I was writing, I listened to all of the music and sounds that I wrote about. And I must admit, they work. I can feel the overwhelming urge to close my eyes and just drift off to bed. So that is what I’m going to do right now. No use staying awake when my body tells me it wants to be asleep.
Ps. please let us know in the comments if you tried out one, or all of these sounds. Tell us if it worked for you and please, if you have some more tips, don’t keep them to yourself.