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Sound for sleep: a friend or foe?



Sleeping in a calm environment is a luxury that few can afford these days. Peace and quiet are unimaginable in cities, while urban sprawl and all the conveniences that populated areas offer, make it close to impossible to find a proper place to move to in hope for a life in a healthier and more serene environment.


Although there is a growing number of studies providing evidence of severe ramifications noise has on sleep and health, certain sounds can indeed, help the sound sleep.


Here are some useful things to reflect on before turning in for the night.


Environmental noise


Environmental noise is the most dangerous type of noise pollution because it manifests its effects directly and indirectly (through sleep disturbances), negatively affecting the whole biological system.


Its adverse influences are notable in the form of a stress response, development of sleep disturbances, and subjective feelings of weariness and annoyance. The noise amounts to health decline and poor cognitive performance.


A nighttime noise is a common cause of sleep disorders. It has a deleterious impact on both physical and mental health. The research shows that even short-term exposure to environmental noise during the night can have long-term cardiometabolic consequences. It makes a fertile ground for numerous medical conditions since it evokes hormonal and metabolic imbalances in the body and contributes to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes among many more.


The studies show that the brain reacts to sound even if asleep and independently of the source (traffic, air, people, church bells) or the environment (home, hospital, laboratory).



In the 2011 publication, “The burden of disease from environmental noise,” The World Health Organization reminds the global public that sleep deprivation (both acute and chronic) and sleep fragmentation interfere with waking psychomotor performance, signal detection performance, and creativity; prompt risk-taking behavior; and increase the risks of accidents.


People who sleep in a noisy environment, experience daytime fatigue, agitation, mood swings, and a drop in overall well-being. The noise reduces REM sleep (essential, restorative kind of sleep), causes sleep fragmentation (brief awakenings throughout the night followed by a difficulty to fall back to sleep) and, consequently impacts the duration and quality of sleep. Inadequate rest induces attention lapses, memory failures, vigilance decrement, and impairs reasoning and problem–solving skills.



The Colors of Sound Sleep


Sound and colors are, in fact, related. Noise levels and frequencies are graphically charted in a range of colors and create a spectral density that helps differentiate noises according to each color. This technique is commonly used in the fields of acoustics and electrical engineering.


While you, as a listener, may not always be able to distinguish sounds from the spectrum, your brain certainly does.


White noise


Tehran University of Medical Sciences carried out an experiment to determine the effects of white noise on 62 patients admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. The group that was exposed to white sound showed remarkable changes in sleep quality. The researches state that white noise improves sleep by blocking environmental noise and promoting relaxation.


The study conducted at Brown University Medical School yielded similar results.


Hospitals are generally loud places, and doctors around the globe report that the noise is disruptive to patients’sleep and that it severely compromises the quality and duration of patients’ shut-eye while in recovery.


The findings suggest that white noise can help mask the environmental noise, boost the quality of slumber, and assist in maintaining sleep. White sound initiates and facilitates sleep and is suitable and, therefore, recommended for all environments and all age groups.



Pink noise


A study carried out at Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, found that pink noise enhances deep-sleep (also known as slow wave sleep) quality and memory consolidation in the elderly. Older adults struggle with notable but natural, age-associated cognitive impairment as well as age-related sleep changes. However, sound therapy is a mild, “non-invasive intervention,” a convenient and beneficial solution in maintaining memory integrity and improving sleep architecture.


The participants were 60- to 84-year-olds who were played pink noise during their deep sleep phase. After a night of listening to pink sound during their slow wave sleep, the subjects scored 3 times higher on memory tests the following morning.

Scientific evidence shows that pink noise increases the quality of sleep and bolsters sleep stability.


Sleep stability means pinning your bedtime to the same time every night, even on weekends, and waking up at the same time every morning, even on weekends. The key is to settle into a groove or a cycle that your body understands and responds to. Once you do this, it’s really quite amazing. You’ll sleep better, feel better, have more energy, and worry less,” says Henry Nicholls, the author of Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest.


While controlling the outside environment is out of reach, taking responsibility for maximizing the indoor sleep environment is a feasible solution, helpful to ameliorate harmful effects of noise pollution and advantageous to any kind of outcome you want to attain: restore restful sleep, upgrade your health, or elevate performance by replenishing your energy, invigorating focus, and boosting your mental well-being.

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