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Researchers Skeptical About White-Noise Sleep Apps

They might actually make things worse, concludes a new study
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2020 10:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Apps or devices that simulate white noise to help people sleep are popular these days, but a new study raises doubts about their effectiveness. In fact, they might even degrade the quality of sleep, warns one of the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. "I would just be careful," Mathias Basner, who worked on the study in Sleep Medicine Reviews, tells the Guardian. "I wouldn't broadly recommend them, because there is no evidence that they are actually working." Basner and his team didn't conduct their own research on the devices, but they reviewed more than three dozen studies on the subject. While some suggested that white noise—such as apps that simulate everything from TV static to crashing waves—helped people fall asleep quicker, the new assessment says the quality of evidence supporting that is weak, per Science Times.

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Worse, at least one of the studies found that the devices disrupted sleep. That makes sense to Basner, who worries that continued use of them puts a strain on a person's auditory network. "Whenever we're exposed to sounds and noise, the inner ear is translating that into nerve signals that are then interpreted by the brain," he explains. "It is an active process, which generates metabolites, some of which have been shown to be harmful to the inner ear." His advice would be to let the auditory system have a rest as well. The study itself concludes that more research is necessary before white noise can be recommended as a sleep aid, "especially since it may also negatively affect sleep and hearing." (For the first time, a major panel of sleep experts is weighing in on daylight saving time.)

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