An exploration of sleep and insomnia, with a single destination in mind:
a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sleep and the Noise Paradox

Ecotones Sleep Sound Machine
Leaf blowers, dripping faucets, low-battery smoke detector signals, snoring, the TV in the hotel room next door, woodpeckers -- these are just some of the noises that can keep you up at night. While everyone has their own tolerance for sound (and there are a miraculous few who can sleep through anything), most people are bothered by noise. Most people need a quiet room to fall asleep.

Paradoxically, a lot of people like to fall asleep to the television, radio, soothing voices, white noise or music. TV and music let them fall asleep more quickly. Why? Why do some sounds work as a soporific, while others, such as hearing faint talking, are irritating stimulants?

The answer is both complicated and not all that important. Sleep is highly individualistic, interacting with so many factors, including stress, temperature, what you ate and drank recently, pillow quality, medications, your genetic makeup, ambient light, age, what you're wearing to bed, and if you're sleeping alone, to name a few.  Sounds can keep your mind from focusing on work, personal relationships, money, and other stressors. Sound can be like the refrain from the Beatles song that goes, "I'm fixin' a hole where the rain comes in, and stops my mind from wanderin'."  The dialog of a familiar movie or the sound of a thunderstorm played over your stereo can do just that: keep your mind from wandering toward thoughts that prevent you from falling asleep.

Sound can mask sound: Ocean waves or having Conan O'Brien on in the background can help block out a neighbor's party or your kids thumping around upstairs. Fighting sound with sound is so popular that there are machines you can buy for that specific purpose.

The "why" question about sleep is interesting, and possibly helpful, but because there are so many varied, individual causes when it comes to a good night's sleep, the "why" question is mostly just that -- interesting from an academic perspective. The real and essential question is: Does this sleep tip work for you?

So we have a paradox of sorts: Some sounds thwart sleep; other sounds can promote sleep.

If you're wandered through life as a bad sleeper, a light sleeper, or have recently become one, then perhaps you should give falling asleep to sound a whirl. In future posts here I'll be writing more about how to use sound to fall asleep and stay asleep, as well as reviewing specific tunes and machines.

People who live and grow up in cities find the country sounds --crickets, rustling branches, birds-- hard to sleep through. And country-dwellers are often kept awake at night by a city's busy noises. The sounds that one person likes might not work for you. Using sound to fall asleep and stay asleep may require experimentation and tinkering.

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