Have trouble sleeping? A white noise machine might be the answer

Noelle Ike, CNN Underscored
Updated Thu August 29, 2019

Story highlights

  • A white noise machine could be the answer to getting better quality sleep.
  • See our top-rated picks for babies, overall sleep, portability and more.

It's something we do every day, yet many of us can't seem to get it quite right. That's right, we're talking about sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night -- less than the recommended amount. On top of that, somewhere between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, from sleep apnea to insomnia, that can make it hard to get the rest you need.

Not sleeping enough can put you at increased risk of developing serious health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. And of course, there are the more direct consequences -- like not being as attentive at work, being prone to moodiness or just not having the energy to accomplish daily tasks.

Luckily, there are steps we can take to try to get a full night of shut-eye. From keeping your room and bed cool to avoiding heavy meals at night, we've covered a range of techniques and products to help you sleep better.

A popular product to help with quality and quantity of sleep is a white noise machine. They're often used to help people who are sensitive to sound fall asleep more easily. But they can also be helpful when trying to focus your mind in on a calming noise rather than on what's going on around you while you doze off.

If you're someone who can't fall asleep without a fan running, or consider yourself a light sleeper, investing in a white noise machine might be a wise decision.

What is white noise?

White noise is created when multiple sounds of equal intensity but with different frequencies are combined. These sounds mask other background sounds that can distract you from relaxing or falling asleep.

Since it's not necessarily the volume of sounds that can wake us up while we sleep, but rather the suddenness of them, the constant white noise helps to cover up any distracting sounds. This is especially beneficial if you're a light sleeper and is a common technique used to help babies fall asleep.

To illustrate this idea, imagine two people are having a conversation -- you can easily hear and understand what they're saying. But if you listen to 1,000 people having a conversation at once, it sounds like an indistinguishable mass of sound. A white noise machine basically aims to create the effect of 1,000 people having a conversation so that noises like snoring or traffic outside the window disappear into the hum of the white noise.

What should I look for in a white noise machine?

Two main things to consider when purchasing a white noise machine are price and functionality. Most options will include, in addition to white noise, other sounds like brown and pink noise, which have slightly different frequencies that some people may find more soothing or relaxing. Some of the more high-end models feature additional sleep benefits, like a timer, a night light or aromatherapy. You'll also want to consider size. While some white noise machines are designed for travel and meant to be used with headphones, others are designed to live on a bedside table.

Our top picks under $30:

If you're looking for a portable white noise machine with a variety of sounds and Bluetooth capabilities, the LectroFan Micro Wireless Sleep Sound Machine ($22.31; amazon.com) is a great option. It comes with four white noise variations, five different fan sounds and a soothing ocean sound. Its compact swivel design enables you to project the sound in any direction, and you have the option of plugging in headphones. It even doubles as a speaker and microphone. Simply connect your smartphone to the white noise machine via Bluetooth, and you can even listen to music or make conference calls.

The Marpac Rohm White Noise Sound Machine ($29.95; amazon.com) is another great portable option. If you're looking for a more simple, straightforward product, this delivers just that. It comes with three sound options -- bright white noise, deep white noise and a gentle surf. The battery is rechargeable and a USB cable is included. Plus, it comes with a one-year warranty.

If you're a frequent traveler, or use white noise to help you focus in public areas, the Pictek Mini Travel Sound Machine ($19.99; amazon.com) could be a great option. While it only works when plugged in to headphones, there's no lack of sound features. It comes with 12 different nonlooping sounds, from white noise to waves and running water. There are different timer options, so you can opt to let it run all night or stop after 30 or 60 minutes.

The Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine ($19.99; amazon.com) is a more traditional white noise machine and also an Amazon's Choice product, making it a great option if you're looking for a standard white noise machine at a lower price point. It comes with white noise in addition to five other natural sounds like brook, ocean and summer night.

Our top picks over $30:

If you're looking for a white noise machine with some additional features, the LectroFan Evo White Noise Sound Machine ($59.95; amazon.com) is the top-rated sound machine on Amazon, boasting a 4.5-star rating with over 5,600 reviews. It's still small and compact, but comes with over 20 sounds, including white, pink and brown noise variations. One reviewer wrote, "I'm happy to say that the Lectrofan has lived up to its reputation as an excellent sound blocking machine. I just turn up the volume until I don't hear the offending sounds anymore and the timer shuts off the machine when I am fast asleep. I'm a sound-sensitive light sleeper and this is the best noise blocker that I've ever used!"

Another great option is the Sound+Sleep High Fidelity Sleep Sound Machine ($77.99; amazon.com), which features adaptive sound technology -- meaning it can instantly adjust audio volume based on your environment. It comes with 30 different nonrepeating sound environments, plus an optional sleep timer that gently reduces volume after 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes.

The Dreamegg White Noise Sound Machine ($34.99; amazon.com) not only features a whole range of white noise and nature sounds, but also has a built-in night light. This has made it a super popular white noise machine option for children and babies who have trouble falling asleep. One reviewer wrote, "This thing worked like a charm, so much that it migrated down to my daughter's room. She's always been a fussy sleeper... With this, she's out like a light, and sleeps so well she doesn't give me grief about getting up for school!"

If you're interested in a product that aims to provide a whole range of relaxing features, the ArtNaturals Sound Machine & Essential Oil Diffuser ($29.95; amazon.com) might be what you're looking for. This white noise machine offers a range of different noise options in addition to an essential oil diffuser and colored lights.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.