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There’s no shortage of gear that promises better sleep, from blackout curtains to bamboo sheets to memory foam mattresses. White noise machines are a sizeable part of this market—domestically, more than half a billion dollars and growing. And unlike some of the other options out there, their use has been proven by both history and science.
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The demand for white noise at bedtime reflects a much deeper yearning on behalf of the public — to sleep exactly like a baby. After all, the womb’s oceanic pulsing gives every human a taste for its calming effects, and there’s science to back up that it helps on the outside too.
A 2022 study from mechatronic engineering scientists out of Seoul, South Korea found that white noise can help people fall asleep more quickly, albeit with limited participants and reliance on self-reporting (i.e. sleep diaries). At the same time, they’re unlikely to harm, and the inexpensive price tag and benign designs mean those who struggle to fall asleep or wake up lethargic could benefit from giving one a shot.
White noise machines all do the same thing — distract the brain and drown out its thoughts so it (and you) can rest. There are mechanical versions that produce sound from within and electronic models that play recordings of relaxing sounds. There are also additional features like customized schedules, sound options, travel-friendly sizes, and smartphone apps. Amazon is home to a slew of options at low prices, but the leading machines in the category run from $25 to $200, still a small price to pay for a restful slumber.
What the Experts Say
For this story, SPY interviewed Matthew Lehrer, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Science at the University of Pittsburgh, and Scott Peterson, senior vice president of product management at Yogasleep, to help sort through the best white noise machines available now.
First, a note about what “white noise” is. White noise is, by definition, a broadband sound that contains all frequencies across the audible spectrum at once. There’s also pink noise and brown noise that contain some portion of frequencies across the audible spectrum and are typically lower pitched.
Lehrer says the first thing consumers should do when shopping for a white noise machine is “understand your noise environment when you’re sleeping. If it’s noisy, it’s more likely that a white noise machine will help. If it’s not noisy, then pink noise or some nature sounds may be beneficial.”
When it comes to actually picking a machine out, Peterson says that the more control a white noise machine offers, the better. With his company’s flagship mechanical white noise machine, “you can tone and tune the sound machine in different ways to help mask the environment that you’re sleeping in.” He says that rather than including the ability to tune, electronic white noise machines “provide six or eight different tracks” that they think most people will find effective. The benefits of electronic options — increased portability and the ability to play a variety of soothing sounds — are only worth it if one of those tracks works for the sleeper in question.
Pricewise, high-quality simple white noise machines for home use cost around $50, travel-sized versions a bit less, and smart devices that integrate other sleep aid tech a whole lot more.
Yogasleep Dohm Classic
First manufactured in 1962, and still made in the USA, this mechanical marvel is the quintessential white noise machine, and it’s still the best option for those who want a machine that does one thing very well.
The Dohm, also known as Sleep-Mate’s simple functionality is user-friendly, with the unique addition of a cap and collar that can be rotated to vary how much sound is released and where from. “Based on your own experiences and preferences, you might prefer certain frequencies to have more power on them than others,” Peterson says of his company’s flagship product. “It allows people to tune that very finely to what fits their ear the best.”
The quality and simplicity of the Dohm Classic means its price falls squarely in the middle of the average range for white noise machines. Dohm also has pricier models that feature a night light or app control.
LectroFan High Fidelity White Noise Machine
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Like the Dohm, simplicity is the lodestar of this hexagonal machine. Its simple control panel allows for precise volume adjustment and cycling through 20 different sounds.
The key with their library, ten different kinds of fans and ten different “colors” of noise, is that they are non-looping and there’s no break in the sound when the track ends and starts over again. Lehrer says that white noise machines are “used to mask other sounds so that the brain perceives them as not as intrusive. It raises the threshold for sound disturbance.” A break in the audio can amount to a mask-off moment and a disturbance to one’s sleep.
The $45 price tag is just short of the Dohm’s, making the LectroFan a worthy alternative for those who prefer a machine that can make more kinds of sounds.
Yogasleep Travel Mini Sound Machine with Night Light
A peaceful bedroom at home does no good on the road, where paper-thin hotel walls and noisy highway traffic can easily disrupt slumber. This pocket-sized, rechargeable white noise machine is much easier to pack and comes with Dohm’s standard mechanical output alongside five other sound options.
It runs on a USB-C rechargeable battery with eight hours of battery life, more than enough to fall asleep in a hotel room or the in-laws’ guest room. Oh, and there’s also a night light that can light the way to the bathroom over unfamiliar terrain.
A smaller device means a smaller price ($28) that is right in line with comparable, travel-sized machines.
BEST SLEEP DEVICE
Hatch Restore 2
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The Hatch Restore 2 is a white noise machine, but it’s also a night light, a smart speaker, a bedside lamp, a sunrise alarm, and a digital sleep coach. It’s a great fit for those who want to optimize as many facets of their sleep routine as possible.
A nightlight-white noise machine combo is a natural fit, as both are non-pharmaceutical sleep aids. Peterson points out that “introducing amber lights into the bedroom environment can help relax individuals as they’re getting ready for sleep,” and lessen sleep latency at the same time. The Hatch comes with many shades of light and intensity levels along with the ability to customize the tone and volume of the sounds. There’s even a subscription service, Hatch+, that offers an audio library of sleep sounds, customizable routines, and curated sleep guidance. This device’s elaborate features will reach a point of diminishing returns for many folks, but for those looking for the most expensive and customizable option, it’ll deliver.
It also comes with a price to match — $200 — even before one considers the potential $5 monthly (or $50 yearly) charge for Hatch+ which, to be clear, is not necessary to use the basic functions.
Snooz Breez Smart Bedroom Fan & Sound Machine
Many white noise machines are either producing or replicating the low, continuous hum of a fan that’s excellent for masking. This device goes a step further and integrates a sound machine into an actual fan, a combo that works surprisingly well.
Lehrer says that “the big three, as far as environmental setup [are] quiet, dark, and cool.” Sound machines cover the first, and blackout curtains or masks cover the second, but this fan is the only white noise machine we found that can help with the third. It’s actually two fans — one for white noise, one for cooling — in an app-controllable package that allows for target temperature setting and scheduling routines.
As with the Hatch, the marriage of a white noise machine to another kind of device, all wrapped in a “smart” package, is a recipe for a $200 price tag. Those who sleep hot, and thus value the cooling qualities the powerful (380 cubic feet per minute) fan provides, will be more likely to find that price worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions About White Noise Machines
What is white noise?
The common (and marketing-promoted) understanding of “white noise” as a general hissing sound is more expansive than the scientific definition of a sound that combines all bandwidths of the audio spectrum at equal frequencies.
A “white noise” machine off Amazon might actually be creating pink noise, for instance, but will still be sold as and generally understood to be a white noise machine. And that’s what’s important, as Peterson says that scientifically-defined white noise is often not the noise folks prefer when trying to fall asleep.
Who needs a white noise machine?
A white noise machine is meant to solve a problem, so those who don’t have trouble falling asleep or waking up feeling rested don’t need one. Beyond that, people who prefer silent sleep environments won’t see many benefits either. Those trying desperately and failing to fall asleep soundly in large, noisy cities or country homes that are a bit too quiet should test one out.
How do white noise machines work?
Mechanical white noise machines have a fan designed to create a consistent humming noise at particular frequencies. Electronic white noise machines are essentially speakers that play white noise from sound files, and they typically include several options to appeal to different preferences.
What else can I do to create a good sleeping environment?
Per Lehrer, a good sleeping environment is quiet, dark, and cool. Thinking of one’s bedroom on those dimensions and seeking to improve each where lacking is a great start for getting better sleep.
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