Those of us in search of a better night’s sleep might assume the best environment for this is one of silence. But could the solution actually lie in immersing ourselves in more noise? While that may sound counterintuitive, certain types of noise – such as the gentle humming of a boiler or the pitter-patter of rain – can in fact help us to drift off.
Over half of Brits (63%) are unhappy with the amount of sleep they get and only 8% of people state that they always wake up feeling refreshed.
To help put the nation’s sleep issues to bed, healthcare provider AXA PPP healthcare has been exploring techniques that could be worth a try, including, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) and lullabies. The latest of these is the science of ‘coloured noise’ and how background sounds could be the perfect backdrop to a more restful sleep.
Far from being a new phenomenon, the concept of coloured noise has been around much longer than you might think. Thomas Alva Edison began conducting experiments on sound frequencies and coloured noise in the late 1800s and scientists soon discovered the full spectrum of sound frequencies.
These are still relevant today – for example ‘pink noise’ has been scientifically proven to improve deep sleep, allowing for better memory formation and re-energisation of the brain. To explore concepts further, the healthcare experts have recorded three unique ambient sounds: at the peaceful Trwyn Llanbedrog beach in North Wales; one of London’s busiest overpasses; and Kielder Forest, the most tranquil place in the UK.
Dr ark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, helps patients on a regular basis understand why they struggle to fall and stay asleep and how they can help themselves to get a more restful and restorative sleep.
“Sleep is one of the most important parts of our daily lives, it is vital to our health and wellbeing. While you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds. Noise can interrupt your sleep, causing you to wake, move, shift between stages of sleep, or experience a change in heart rate and blood pressure. Sometimes this can be so brief that you don’t remember it the next morning. But some noises can actually help us get to sleep by making us less conscious of our immediate environment, which allows our minds to relax in a way that’s similar to the processes involved in meditation.” [Dr Mark Winwood]
White noise – constant ‘shhh’ sound
White noise works by reducing the difference between background sounds and a ‘peak’ sound, like a door slamming, giving you a better chance to sleep through it undisturbed. Typically, white noise is a constant ‘shhh’ sound, which is like a bright, mix of frequencies. These frequencies are often likened to the restful sound of waves hitting the shore. AXA PPP healthcare has associated it with the sounds heard on Trwyn Llanbedrog beach in North Wales – the UK’s favourite coastal sound, perhaps due its hypnotic quality.
Pink noise – turning up the bass on white noise
A busy London overpass has been matched with pink noise frequencies – which is similar to white noise but with the bass turned up. As well as the rumble of traffic, rainstorms have a pink noise frequency. The 24-hour activity of modern cities feels at odds with our need to sleep – but what if we could take that energy and use it to help us relax?
Brown noise – a deep, rolling rumble
Kielder Forest, the UK’s most tranquil location, may not seem to have many sounds at first, but the sound of the wind blowing through the trees can be likened to the frequency of brown noise. Brown noise is an even deeper version of pink noise; a deep, rolling rumble that can often go unnoticed.
One thing is for sure, the world is getting noisier with as many as 25% of adults losing sleep due to noise from their neighbours. For this reason, Tim Antos, founder of Kokoon, designed sleep-aiding headphones to help block out unwanted noise.
“From the moment we wake, our lives are filled with noise. Whether you’re trying to relax or just can’t sleep, audio is one of the best ways to help us naturally unwind and switch off. Sleep clinics prescribe thousands of audio based techniques daily and millions of us use audio to relax every single day.
“The best way of falling asleep varies for each person and depending what we have going on in our lives. At Kokoon, we wanted to open the door to trying different techniques, giving people the opportunity to learn what really works for them. The headphones incorporate electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors to detect electrical activity in your brain throughout your nightly sleeping ritual. By pairing our technology with AXA’s coloured noise recordings we hope to improve the sleep quality of many.”