The temperature in your bedroom is perfect. Your blackout curtains have been drawn shut. And you've just finished a cup of chamomile tea and novel that made you laugh out loud and forget about whatever was bothering you earlier in the day.
You're just about ready to drift off, and suddenly the air conditioner kicks on. Or a car alarm screeches through the night air. Or your partner sneezes. Suddenly, you're wide-awake again. Your brain responds to noises when you're awake and asleep. But if the interruptions wake you up, that can keep you from getting the restful shuteye that you need.
When ambient noise is disrupting your sleep, white (or pink) noise can help to smooth out the rough edges. Imagine sitting next to a person who is loudly chewing gum in a library. Then imagine sitting next to that same person in a crowded bar. It's the same chomping gum, but underneath the drone of a crowded place, you can't even hear it anymore. White noise, whether it's from a sound machine, a simple fan, or crowd noise helps to mask noise-related disruptions by creating a constant ambient sound that makes a "peak" noise, like a door slamming, less of a contrast. And that makes you less likely to be startled awake.
Just like different people respond differently to sounds while they sleep, the right type of white noise for you is a matter of personal preference. Some sound machines and apps allow you to choose from a menu of options like rain, waves crashing, or even a hair dryer. And while it wouldn't be safe to run an actual hair dryer all night long, a fan or air purifier with a gentle humming noise can be a simple solution that you may already have on hand. Try it tonight. You might find that a little white noise is the secret to your best sleep.