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Sleep and the Subtle Power of Ambient Noise

man covering ears with pillow for ambient noise

man covering ears with pillow for ambient noise

One of the reasons we maintain this blog is to help our customers understand how to get a good night's sleep. While there are many factors involved, today we will focus on one specific area: that of ambient noise.

Ambient noise is the total noise level of a particular area. In other words, we're not talking here about bumps in the night, neighbors yelling, or someone firing up a lawn mower outside your bedroom window. We're talking about all the background sounds that your brain regularly tunes out: clocks ticking, air conditioners running, fans whirring, and the refrigerator humming.

These sounds are a reality of our daily lives.

Is ambient noise a factor under our control? Does it help sleep or harm it? Could it be affecting us in ways we don't realize?

We'll address all these questions below.


None of us live in a total vacuum. Although we desire our sleeping spaces to be quiet (at least, ideally speaking), we never sleep in a complete sound void.

Some sleep environments will always be more basically noisy than others. Someone who lives with a family in a busy apartment complex will naturally deal with more ambient noise than someone who lives alone in a country farmhouse.

What's interesting, though, is that a noisier environment doesn't always lead to lower overall sleep quality. The reasons behind this are various, but two primary ones are worth noting. First, all of our brains process and tolerate sound on remarkably individual levels. Second, even constant high levels of ambient noise aren't necessarily problematic when it comes to sleep.


While it's true that quiet environments are generally more advantageous for those desiring a good night's sleep, high levels of ambient noise are not necessarily problematic.

Unless noises are deafening, problematic sounds have less to do with frequency or volume than they do with the emotional associations the sleeper has with them.

Interestingly, whether or not a sound bothers your sleep depends in part on that sound's personal meaning: researchers have seen that people are more likely to wake when a sound is relevant or emotionally charged. This is why, for example, a parent could sleep soundly through her partner's snores but wakefully when her baby fusses. (Sleep Foundation)

Our brains have the incredible ability to interpret safe, ordinary sounds from strange or dangerous ones, even when we're sleeping. That's a powerful subconscious ability for which we should all be thankful. It's also the reason why, for the most part, ambient sounds are not problematic when it comes to getting a good night's sleep.

On the contrary—for some, they serve as a powerful tool to aid sleep.


Remember, individual brains always react to ambient noise during sleep on different levels. That said, there is significant evidence to indicate that ambient noise serves as a powerful sleep aid for many.

Interestingly, people who cannot sleep because it's "too quiet" or who sleep in environments with variable noise levels will invest in white noise machines to help their brains maintain equilibrium during sleep. Students who live in dorm rooms, night-shift workers who sleep during the day, travelers dealing with jet lag, infants who are easily startled out of sleep, and those suffering from tinnitus are all folks who can benefit from white noise machines.  

A Few Caveats

While we do suggest that those who struggle with falling and staying asleep consider trying white noise machines, we would like to offer a few caveats.

First, we are not doctors. Our blog seeks to share tips and tricks to getting better sleep, not to cure people of illnesses, diseases, or chronic conditions. If you suffer from extreme sleeplessness that is affecting your health, it's more important that you consult with a medical professional than go out and buy a white noise machine.

Second, bear in mind that some forms of ambient noise are harmful. Anything from the frequency of the sound to the length of time that you hear it could negatively impact your overall health. The key, as you experiment with white noise to aid your sleep, is to be aware of your own body's natural responses and check with your doctor if you notice harmful results.

Third, there is some room for nuance in this conversation. Like almost any topic that comes up, you will find people with wide ranges of varying opinions, many of whom will cite science and studies to back themselves up. For example, in this article, we mention using white noise to help babies sleep better. Naturally, there are many pros and cons to doing so, with good people lining up on both sides of that debate.

Fourth, new research in this field is emerging all the time. As scientists investigate and clinical trials reach their fruition, further information continues to grow the field of study regarding noise and sleep. We can't wait to see what we discover next!

We Can Help

Knowing how to get a good night's sleep and following through on that knowledge are two very different matters.

When it comes to leveraging the power of ambient noise to increase your sleep levels, all we can do is inform; however, when it comes to ensuring that you have a comfortable mattress on which to enjoy your newly restful sleep, we can both inform and assist.

We know mattresses. We love people. Our favorite thing to do is to help the people we love to find the best possible mattress matches.

If you would like to hear more about our lines of premium mattresses, or if you would like to chat about anything in this article, feel free to contact us. Better still, stop by one of our showrooms. We'd love to meet you, hear about your specific needs, and connect you with the perfect mattress. Our staff is knowledgeable, competent, and just the right level of friendly.

We look forward to assisting you.