What Are the Benefits of Sound Therapy for Sleep?

Synthia L. Rose

The two main benefits of using sound therapy for sleep are a higher tolerance for nighttime noises and the masking or replacing of nighttime noise with more rhythmic, soothing sounds that minimize sleep disturbance. Without sound therapy, individuals suffering from hearing conditions such as hyperacusis and tinnitus often develop insomnia. This therapy, however, is not just for those with auditory ailments; sound therapy can be helpful for those who are restless at bedtime and need help falling asleep. Through the use of noise generators (NG) or sound machines, sound therapy for sleep delivers gentle audio in the form of music, vibrations, and sounds of nature to one or both ears just before sleep and during the first hours of sleep. Special ear implants can also be used for sound therapy.

Cochlear implants are designed for those suffering from major to severe levels of hearing loss.
Cochlear implants are designed for those suffering from major to severe levels of hearing loss.

Noise generators, also called sound machines, are the most popular devices for achieving the benefit of noise masking. These small, tabletop sound therapy devices replace real life environmental sounds and muffle ear ringing with either white noise — noise that maintains a consistent amplitude — or pink noise, sounds with varying amplitude and an emphasis on bass. Examples of white noise and pink noise used in sound therapy for sleep include meditative music, the sound of chirping crickets, raindrop recordings and sounds of ocean waves. Crackling fireplace sounds and soft thunder are among the other eclectic noises available with noise generators.

Noise generators often play soothing sounds from nature, like the sound of a running stream.
Noise generators often play soothing sounds from nature, like the sound of a running stream.

These devices can be used with or without earphones and usually have a timer that turns the device off once the user has gone to sleep. Noise masking benefits of this sound therapy for sleep can be experienced immediately. Users, however, report that it takes a few weeks or months of consistent sound machine use to reap the second benefit of reduced hypersensitivity to environmental nighttime sounds.

Hypersensitivity to sound, formally known as hyperacusis can make any noise seem amplified and irritating, particularly at night. Individuals suffering from this condition often cannot go to sleep without relying on sleeping aids. Likewise, in cases of tinnitus, a condition where people endure an incessant ringing noise in one or both ears, people find it impossible to sleep because they are too distracted and frustrated. Many patients suffer both these conditions at the same time. While hyperacusis and tinnitus currently elude cures, otolaryngologists have found the benefits delivered through sound therapy for sleep to be as or more effective than using sedatives.

After sound machines, cochlear implants are the next most effective option for experiencing the benefits of sound therapy for sleep. These implants, which send the brain electrical sound signals, can restore the ability to hear gentle, atmospheric noise for those who have become accustomed to focusing on harsh noises or ear ringing. The ambient sound enjoyed through cochlear implants often comes with a drawback. Cochlear implants, although effective in relieving tinnitus, may damage hairs in the ears and promote deafness. For this reason, implants for sound therapy are recommended for people who have already suffered significant hearing loss and suffer from extreme cases of tinnitus.

Many sound machines can play natural sounds like ocean waves.
Many sound machines can play natural sounds like ocean waves.

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Discussion Comments


@Drentel - I too once worked the graveyard shift. I liked the quiet of working third in the hotel where I worked. Well, it was quiet during the week, not so much on some weekends.

Anyway, like most third shift workers, sleep was my biggest issue, too. Some days i went to bed immediately after work, Some days I stayed up until the afternoon. Either way, I found that I could sleep much better when I had some type of white noise to fall asleep to. I mostly used a portable fan, which made just enough noise to drown out all the other noises in my apartment and the surrounding apartments in the building.

Sometimes I would fall asleep to the radio, but at some point I would wake and the music sounded like it was blasting much louder than when I fell asleep, or the DJ talking would be screaming at me.

Noise is the perfect way to ruin a good night's sleep for me. When I was younger, I worked third shift for a while. A lot of people complained about third shift because they felt they were missing out on so much by having to go to work at 10 or 11 o'clock at night. This part of working at night didn't bother me in the least.

What did bother me was getting off work in the morning and going home to bed and then not being able to sleep. I would be exhausted when I left work, and I would go to bed shortly after I got home. As long as the house was quiet I could sleep like a log, but the smallest disturbance or sound would wake me. I had a wife and a couple of small kids at the time, so there were plenty of small and not so small noises and disturbances.

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