The popularity of nighttime sound machines is a testament to the fact that noise has a profound effect on how well we sleep. The right noises can help you settle down and drift off, while the wrong ones will jar you awake, as anyone who has ever shared a bedroom with a snorer can attest.

Here's what you may want to try if you're having trouble falling or staying asleep:

1. White Noise

It's simply background noise in the form of a soothing hum. It's monotonous, which helps calm your brain and lets you drift off. The steady sound acts to block or "neutralize" louder and more random noises that might wake us. Many companies sell alarm clocks or other gadgets that manufacture white noise in different forms. But you might find that all you need is an electric fan or air conditioner to drown out background sounds and get the sleep you crave.

2. Ocean Sounds

Travel ads abound with images of vacationers lounging on the beach, eyes closed. But it's not just a cliché—research shows that the sound of the sea does, in fact, promote sleep. A 1992 study of 60 hospital patients recovering from coronary artery bypass graft surgery found that those who were exposed to ocean sounds played on a white-noise machine for three nights in a row slept more deeply and restfully than those who didn't hear the sounds.

3. Familiar Noises

Rural and suburban folks may find it hard to fathom, but studies have shown that common urban noises such as street traffic and police sirens actually act as soothing sleep aids to city dwellers who've grown used to them. Presumably, for these folks, the twittering of birds at dawn would be a jarring disruption. You may find the rhythmic ticking of your alarm clock, the purring of your cat, or the soft breathing of your spouse so familiar that they put you to sleep.

4. Earplugs

Sometimes the best sound is no sound at all. If you're a sensitive sleeper and have a noisy bed partner, late-night TV watchers in the next room, or find that thunder keeps you awake, a simple pair of foam earplugs may do the trick. When you find a pair that blocks your partner's snoring yet still lets you hear the crying baby, that's the sweet spot.




National Sleep Foundation. "The Sleep Environment."

Williamson JW (1992). The Effects of Ocean Sounds on Sleep After Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery. American Journal of Critical Care, Jul; 1(1):91-7