Using white noise sleep apps could actually be bad for you - the science explained

Researchers have found that using white noise apps to aid sleep could actually hinder a good night's rest.

People struggling to drift off often turn to apps to provide an ambient soundtrack, whether that be white noise, the sound of distant thunder, or the buzz of a kitchen appliance.

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The idea is that a constant thrum provides a soothing tone, and can help mask environmental sounds that would otherwise be distracting.

But scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have concluded that the science behind this method is flimsy at best, and could actually be detrimental to a sleeper's health.

White noise could ‘negatively affect sleep and hearing’

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reviewed nearly 40 studies that investigated noise as a sleep aid.

The results - published in Sleep Medicine Reviews - said the "quality of evidence" for continuous noise improving sleep is "very low", contradicting its widespread use.

"Additional research with objective sleep measures and detailed descriptions of noise exposure is needed before promoting continuous noise as a sleep aid," they said, "especially since it may also negatively affect sleep and hearing."

How is white noise bad for your health?

Speaking to the Guardian, Professor Mathias Basner said he doesn’t feel there is any evidence that such sleep apps work, and that he would not recommend their use.

"If these apps or devices could only do good things, I wouldn’t really care," he said.

"But because there may be negative consequences, I would just be careful."

Basner added that using white noise means that, as the ear needs to continue translating those sounds into nerve signals, the auditory system stays switched on.

"It is an active process, which generates metabolites, some of which have been shown to be harmful to the inner ear,” he explained.

What that means, is that the system doesn’t get any time to rest.

"You probably want to have a period where the auditory system can wind down, regenerate and prepare for the next wake period,” said Basner.