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Good Question: Why does noise help us sleep?

Good Question: Why does noise help us sleep?
Good Question: Why does noise help us sleep? 02:33

MINNEAPOLIS -- For some, it's a sound machine, for others, it's a really loud fan. Many of us need white noise to put us asleep.  So WCCO is digging into this Good Question: Why does noise help us sleep?

It seems like it should be the most simple thing we do, but we all know, sleeping can get complicated.

Trisha Poonai of Prior Lake says she is, "A light sleeper now that I had a baby recently."

Two coworkers with two different sleeping styles. Her coworker, Chris Davidson of Minneapolis says, "I'm usually good on eight hours."

Something they do have in common -- they both say they like to sleep with a fan or sound machine going.

They are not alone. In a small study, 80 percent of newborns who had white noise fell asleep within five minutes.

A more recent study shows white noise makes people fall asleep 38-percent faster.

Dr. Andrew Stiehm is a sleep specialist with Allina Health.


"My wife is one of those people. She likes some background noise, I prefer silence, and I think patients are the same way. There is no single answer for every person," Stiehm said. 

So why dies noise makes some of us sleep?

"The noise in the background helps to quiet some of the arousal stimuli out there to get the brain ready to be turned off," he said. "So if there's that one big noise popping in the background, but you've got white noises, it doesn't stand out."

WCCO also asked him if it's possible to get addicted to white noise.

"You get addicted to the routine, so children and adults, it's all about the routine. So if you get used to white noise, you're going to want white noise."

Research is now being done on sleep and "pink noise." It's a lower pitched, more flat sound like steady rain.

Dr. Stiehm says his advice to anyone: Give background noise a try, if you don't like it, no harm, but it could make you sleep better.

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