What is a Sleep Machine?

Mary McMahon

A sleep machine is a device which is designed to promote sleep. People with sleep disorders may use a sleep machine to help themselves get to sleep or to encourage lengthier periods of sleep, and sleep machines can also be used in environments where getting to sleep is difficult, such as a home near a major roadway. Sleep machines are often available at drug stores, and they can also be ordered directly from manufacturers.

The lulling sound of a sleep machine may promote longer periods of restful sleep.
The lulling sound of a sleep machine may promote longer periods of restful sleep.

Sleep machines work by producing random noise which is played at low volume. The noise is designed to be as neutral as possible, so that it does not distract people who are trying to get to sleep. Some sleep machines produce the sound digitally, playing a recording of randomized sound, while others use a fan to push air through small holes in the casing of the sleep machine, producing a quiet whirring.

Sleep machines may be used to help people fall asleep.
Sleep machines may be used to help people fall asleep.

When a sleep machine is turned on, it hums quietly, producing a noise like falling water, gently hissing air, or a mild wind. Some people refer to sleep machines as “white noise machines,” referencing the white noise which is often produced by sleep machines. They are also known as sound conditioners, in a reference to the fact that the noise masks other sounds from the outside, creating a neutral and pleasant environment.

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Some people use humidifiers regularly because they produce a consistent hum similar to a sleep machine.
Some people use humidifiers regularly because they produce a consistent hum similar to a sleep machine.

For people who struggle with getting to sleep, a sleep machine's lulling sound can make it easier to fall asleep, and the gentle sound may also promote longer periods of sleep, allowing the body to enter the deep stages of sleep. A sleep machine can also be used to mask loud noises from the outside or the rest of the house, allowing someone to get to sleep even when conditions are noisy. The sound is quiet enough that it cannot usually be heard outside the room, and the use of a sleep machine to mask unwanted sound may be less cumbersome than wearing headphones or earplugs to bed.

The sound produced by a sleep machine should be unobtrusive and as random as possible. Sometimes, small variations in frequency can make a huge difference, and a sleep machine may become annoying to sensitive ears as a result. Relocating the sleep machine to a different area of the room or changing the surface under the sleep machine from hard to soft or vice versa can sometimes resolve this problem. Sleep machines are also usually adjustable, allowing people to alter the volume level and frequency of the noise to suit their needs.

Some sleep machines simulate the sound of running water.
Some sleep machines simulate the sound of running water.

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Discussion Comments


myharley - My sleep apnea machine literally changed me life. I knew I wasn't getting quality sleep, my snoring was getting worse, and I was tired all the time.

It got so bad that I was afraid to drive more than 30 minutes for fear of falling asleep while on the road.

I put it off for a long time, but am so glad I didn't wait any longer. These machines are different than the sound machines for sleep you can buy in a retail store.

They do drown out some noise, but also give you more oxygen while you are sleeping so you get deep, restful sleep.


We live in the country, so I am not distracted by city sounds, bright lights or noisy neighbors. I have a hard time sleeping when I am away from home.

I bought a sound sleep machine to help me when I am on the road. Any time I sleep in a strange place, especially a hotel room, I can never get to sleep.

I hear every little and big noise that is going on around me. My friend recommended I try a sleep machine. At first I wondered if it would help or not, but the first night I used it, I fell asleep quickly.

Now when I am packing to go somewhere, this is one of the first things I make sure gets packed.

I have been tempted to use it at home once in awhile because my husbands snoring seems to be getting louder all the time.

I have been encouraging him to go for a sleep study, but have not been able to get him to be seen yet. Has anybody had good results with a sleep apnea machine?


I have never bought a sleep machine, but a regular fan works for me as well. This is something I have used for many years - long before sleep machines became popular.

The first time I started using a fan to help me sleep was when I went to college. Living in the dorm is very noisy at any time of the day or night.

Being a light sleeper, I needed to find some way to drown out the noise outside in the hallway. Ever since then, I have relied on a fan to help me get to sleep and stay asleep longer.

The few times I have not had one to help me fall asleep, I really struggle.


@Perdido - You might want to try a good quality box fan. I have one in my room, and though I am also sensitive to frequency alterations, I can’t hear any coming from it.

The fan has three different speeds, and I keep it on the lowest one, which is still pretty powerful. It sounds like a constant ocean breeze, but with no fluctuations.

The fan pivots around two points on the side, so it can rotate in a full circle. In the summer, I point it toward my bed to keep me cool, but in the winter, I point it downward. This way, I still get the lulling effect without the cooling action.


I am very sensitive to sound, and I can hear frequencies that my friends and family cannot pick up. I had hoped I would be able to use a sleep machine, but unfortunately, I could hear every little pitch, and it kept me awake.

Does anyone know of anything I could use to create a soothing atmosphere that doesn’t emit high pitch frequencies or changes in sound? I need something that produces one constant degree of noise, or I will wake up. I even tried listening to a CD of the ocean, but the waves get loud and then quiet when they break, and this change kept me from falling asleep.


@shell4life - A sleep machine saved me from lack of sleep because of household noise, also. My neighbor has roosters and peacocks, both of which are noisy birds. His roosters crow sometimes at 4 a.m., and the peacocks squawk whenever they feel like it.

I was at my wit’s end, and though I didn’t have a lot of faith in it, I tried my friend’s sleep machine. It sounded like a breeze was flowing through the room. To me, there is nothing more comforting than a warm breeze, and since I often fall asleep in a lawn chair on windy days, the sound hypnotized me into dreamland.

I went out and bought one just like it the next day. I can’t hear my neighbors birds anymore, and it is such a joy to be able to sleep past 4 a.m.!


I used to use a ceiling fan to help lull me to sleep, but as the fan got older, it started to creak, and that kept me awake. So, I tried a sleep machine, and it is much more effective.

There is something so comforting about background noise. It creates an environment in my bedroom that totally separates it from the rest of the house.

My dogs sleep in the living room, and sometimes they snore and thump around in the night. With the sleep machine on, I can’t even hear them. They used to wake me up often, but now, they only wake me when they scratch on the door and whine to be let out.


Another option instead of a single-purpose white noise sleep machine is an iPod dock. You can load various white noise tracks onto your iPod (or other mp3 player) and plug it into the dock and it can play as long as you want. Good for babies, grown-ups, or anyone!

White noise machines are great if one person snores, as my husband does; we use the iPod dock to drown out the sound a little bit!


Sleep sound machines are *great* for babies. With my son, we just put a fan in his room - nice low-tech option for white noise that you probably already have around. Different ones sound different.

Another advantage of a fan for newborns is that it can reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by creating more airflow in the room. The latest word on SIDS is that it seems to be connected to too much carbon dioxide held near baby's face, and baby is too small and too asleep to turn their head away from it. Even as babies get older, though, the white noise can help minimize household sounds, especially during nap time or if you have a baby and an older child sharing a room.

With my daughter, though, someone gave us this fancy baby noise machine. It plays all different noise options and also lights up. Even in just ten years, seems like the baby stuff has multiplied!

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