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Can't sleep? These sounds will conk you out

"The exact reason why certain music can help you sleep isn't clear," says Dr. Praveen Jinnur, who works in sleep medicine at Essentia Health in Fargo. " It is likely related to the relaxing effect that a good song can have, or the fact that music my trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain." Special to Forum News Service

According to the National Sleep Foundation as many as 70 million Americans have some kind of sleeping disorder. Whether it's insomnia, sleep apnea, or snoring the result is a nation full of people sleepwalking through life and creating health hazards for themselves and others around them. It's estimated drowsy drivers cause at least 100,000 automobile crashes each year.

The sleep-deprived have greater incidences of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Groggy employees also cost employers billions of dollars in productivity and health care costs each year.

According to researchers, one of the best ways to tackle the sleep monster is with sound.

Sleep scientists say different types of sounds help you sleep longer and more deeply. But which sounds will conk you out the most effectively? Look at any sound machine or app and you'll see that the choices are varied.

Here is a rundown of some of the most popular sounds and why they work to put you to sleep.

Nature sounds

Mother nature has proven effective in gently lulling people to sleep with the sounds of falling rain, thunderstorms, or trickling creeks. The thought is that natural sounds are less likely to annoy us because the sounds are not necessarily repetitive. They fluctuate in both frequency and amplitude. Dr. Praveen Jinnur, who works in sleep medicine at Essentia Health in Fargo, says nature sounds can be effective because they drown out other more distracting sounds like household noises.

"Sounds of ocean waves, sounds of birds and wind chimes can provide a sense of calm and relaxation," he says, "Rhythmic drumming in some causes can also have a hypnotic effect inducing sleep," he says.

Memories play a role as well. Nature sounds often remind the self-conscious of simpler times and places away from the stress of daily life. You won't find highway noises and sirens on any sleep CD or app. Be advised however, if you're prone to frequent trips to the bathroom every night, the sounds of trickling rain or ocean waves might not be your friend.

Music

Some people swear the only way they can fall asleep is by listening to music. Others say listening to music is too distracting. For those who don't mind music at bedtime, research shows people fall asleep more easily to classical, soft folk or acoustic music rather than faster paced music with lyrics. But it's not always an exact science. Different things work for different people. Jinnur says people might have to try different types of music to determine what works best for them.

"The exact reason why certain music can help you sleep isn't clear," he says, " It is likely related to the relaxing effect that a good song can have, or the fact that music my trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain."

Even if you fall asleep listening to music, researchers suggest setting a timer which turns off the electronics so it won't unexpectedly wake you up later.

Voices

As counterintuitive as it sounds, listening to other people talk can put you to sleep. Remember Ben Stein's portrayal of the boring teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off?" Now imagine listening to that for several minutes. Or remember back to the most boring lecture class you had in college and recollect how you had to fight to not have your head hit your desk.

Clinical hypnotists understand the power in soothing, soft voices to help clients enter a deep state of relaxation. The same holds true for sleep. Scientists advise you to find a podcast that holds your attention enough to keep you interested but is not so riveting that you can't drift off.

White noise

White noise is defined as "a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together." It's a sound, but you can really define what it is. Because the brain can't define what it is, it's less likely that the person trying to fall asleep will get distracted.

One effective tool in falling asleep is a ceiling fan or a portable household fan. The whirling blades create a soothing, predictable cadence that helps some people fall asleep.

Silence

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons once sang, "Silence is Golden," and they might have been talking about the power of quiet in getting one to sleep. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows because silence is void of negative memories, people are not distracted they way they might be while listening to music or other sounds like voices or nature.

While sounds might assist individuals in falling asleep, it should not be the only tool. Jinnur says it's also very important to practice good sleep hygiene which includes keeping daytime naps to under 30 minutes, limiting intake of stimulants like nicotine and caffeine close to bedtime and getting adequate exercise.

"The benefits may not happen overnight and can take as many as 3-4 weeks to see improvement," Jinnur says.

Tracy Briggs

‘The Great Indoors’ with Tracy Briggs appears every Thursday in The Forum. For more information go to her blog at thegreatindoors.areavoices.com.

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