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Cut through the white noise

From LA to Chicago to New York, noise is a big reason why 1 in 3 American adults don’t get enough sleep, thanks to noisy neighbors, ambulances, fire engines or garbage trucks at 3 a.m.

Psychologist Matthew Eben learned all about noisy nights a few years ago when he bought an apartment in Queens, New York. “It was incredibly loud,” he said. Not only was her bedroom a half-block from the Long Island Railroad, but “there was a bus that went up a hill in front of the apartment and an ambulance that liked to park on the street,” she said. “It was torture.”

A desperate man who didn’t want to move, he turned to a white noise machine, which emitted even more noise: “It’s the sound of a fan, it’s the sound of an air conditioner,” he said. “So, if you have a constant noise that’s a little bit louder than this intrusion, you won’t be woken up by the intrusion.”

The paradox of struggling with too much noise intrigued Eben, a sleep specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian. His research confirmed the potential benefits of white noise. “What we found in our study was, (subjects) in general, slept more with the white noise maker than they did with it, and they also fell asleep a little faster,” Eben said.

In his office, Spencer samples various devices, which emit everything from basic white noise (like a fan) to so-called “pink noise,” which uses lower frequencies, and which some research suggests can help memory. (“It sounds like the ocean,” Spencer said.)


A white noise machine.

CBS News

And then there were a bunch of other random sounds, from tropical forests and raindrops to sounds like a beating heart. “I won’t use it,” Eben laughed.

But white noise is often just what the doctor ordered—a lullaby for adults.

Happy dreams.

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The story was created by Amiel Weissfogel. Editor: Carol Ross.

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