Using Sound for Alertness Vs Sleep Featured

Sound can invigorate you or send you to sleep.

Don’t believe us? Then just close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine the sounds of a rolling surf on the beach, or the steady pitter-patter of a rain storm and you’ll probably be lulled to sleep in no time. In fact, these sounds are so effective that they are now electronically simulated in “white noise” machines that many people use in their bedrooms. 

Unfortunately, the same electronic “white noise” is produced in less desirable places, such as industrial control rooms, production areas, and even in our cars and trucks, by the equipment that people are meant to watch alertly through the night. 

“White noise,” the sound culprit in making us tired, is characterized by a constant frequency and amplitude (volume). Just think of the dull, monotonous drone of computer equipment, or the cooling fans on the monitors of a control room, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, these “white noise” sounds can be problematic when working a night shift.

The good news is that there also sounds that promote alertness. For example, irregular or variable sounds, such as a radio, a conversation, or a honking-horn, stimulate alertness. In fact, research has shown that improvements can be made to alertness by increasing the amount of audio activity in a room. However, if the sound’s amplitude (volume) is too high or its frequency too fast, it can be annoying and/or distracting and reduce performance.

Music, it turns out, typically falls within the variable frequency and amplitude fluctuation range known as “pink noise.” This sound range is stimulating to the brain, thereby reducing errors and improving response time. Music with a beat, talk-radio programs, and social conversations are particularly helpful in maintaining alertness during monotonous tasks such as driving or monitoring computers.In general, it’s a good idea to make sound work for you.

If your workplace is dominated by “white noise” it might be a good to see if you can take steps to introduce alertness promoting sounds to the environment. For example, some workplaces allow music, if there’s a kill switch.On the other hand, when you’re home and trying to sleep, you should think about using “white noise” to drone out distracting noises and help you fall asleep. Fans or noise machines are great tools for helping you sleep during the day.

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