Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Louise Carter
Many people seek complete darkness and silence to sleep, but these conditions aren’t ideal for everybody. It’s relatively common to struggle to sleep when it’s too quiet, especially if you’re usually surrounded by noise at bedtime.
If you spend all day surrounded by audio stimulation, the brain may find it difficult to shut down in the evening. The sudden transition from constant noise to complete silence will feel jarring and unnerving. This is especially common in major cities, where noise is a part of life.
Spend more time throughout the day in silence to coach your mind into accepting an absence of sound. Listen to less music, and consider wearing earplugs to adapt to the quiet.
Some who experience audio trauma, most notably the constant low, tinny, buzzing sound associated with tinnitus, find it difficult to sleep in silence once these symptoms pass. Noise has become a constant companion, so the sound is missed once the problem is cleared.
If you find it impossible to sleep in silence, white, pink, or brown noise will be the next best thing. These sound frequencies will block out unexpected environmental noises and eventually become so ingrained in your psyche that you fail to notice them.
Is it Better to Sleep in Silence or with Noise?
Some people need complete silence to gain a restful night’s sleep, while others find it easier to doze off with background noise. Developing a preference is recommended, as achieving a full night’s sleep is vital.
If you can sleep in silence, this is considered preferable. The American Psychological Association explains how noise increases levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol and elevates blood pressure, which can be detrimental to sleep.
Additionally, Brain Structure and Function claims that silence increases neurons in the brain. However, some people struggle to feel comfortable in complete quiet. If this applies to you, consider why your brain constantly seeks stimulation through sound, especially at bedtime.
Why Do I Not Like Sleeping in Silence?
Needing noise in the room when you sleep can be troublesome. If you share a bed with a partner, they may not appreciate audible stimuli while attempting to sleep. Equally, if you leave the TV or radio on while you rest, energy bills will rise, and electrical fire is a risk.
What does it mean if you can’t sleep in silence? Usually, one of the following explanations will be at play.
Expectation of Noise
Just as somebody who spends most of their day in silence will find sudden noise disturbing, people surrounded by noise all the time may find silence deafening and troubling. The fear of silence is known as sedatephobia.
If you live in a metropolitan area, you’ll likely be constantly exposed to noise. Even if you live in a quiet town or village but have a busy home filled with raised voices and foot traffic, an empty house can feel strange and alien.
If you’re used to being surrounded by noise, especially at bedtime, it can be challenging to relax in silence. No matter how natural or inoffensive, every slight noise will likely sound like nails on a chalkboard.
If silence leaves you feeling uneasy, seek out a familiar form of audio stimulus that won’t necessarily impede your ability to sleep. White noise machines or smartphone apps can play a range of noises that can make your surroundings sound more familiar.
Distracting Background Noise
It isn’t easy to achieve complete silence in the bedroom, especially in a populated area. You may close your windows and switch off loud appliances in the home, but additional sound can always penetrate your personal space.
If you’re dozing off and you hear a roommate or family member clattering pots and pans in the kitchen, this sudden noise will likely jolt you awake again. The same applies to external noise like car horns and sirens or noise made by neighbors through shared walls.
Some people find these sudden, unexpected sounds more frustrating and disturbing to sleep than a constant din. Sensitivity to noise, even if not particularly loud, is known as hyperacusis and can lead to significant distress and anxiety.
Silence will make these noises seem louder than they are. If you’re plunged into absolute quiet, you may tense up, waiting for the next explosion of unwanted sound. This anxiety will likely keep you awake.
If you find yourself easily distracted by unexpected noise and can’t control the volume of your surroundings, consider blocking external sounds through white, pink, or brown noise. This will mask other clamors and be the next best thing to silence.
Desire for Stimulation
Few of us are ever away from noisy distractions in the modern world.
TV sets, music, radio talk shows, and more are a constant soundtrack to our lives. If you spend all day consuming audible media, suddenly switching off all devices can feel strange.
If you ask, “Why can’t I sleep without music?” this is likely the answer.
Your brain is so used to hearing sounds that it can’t grow comfortable without a distraction. You may even become anxious in the absence of noise.
Increase your exposure to silence to train your mind to accept it slowly and steadily. If you usually listen to music while performing everyday tasks like washing the dishes or folding laundry, try to complete these duties in silence while alone with your thoughts.
If you build a tolerance to silence in your everyday life, you’re less likely to struggle with an absence of noise when you try to sleep. You may eventually start actively looking forward to short periods without audio in your ears.
Noise trauma is damage to the inner ear, which could be provoked by one thunderous sound. The Journal of Otolaryngology suggests that a sound above 130 decibels can result in instant acoustic trauma.
Noise trauma can also develop slowly due to consistent exposure, like the commotion of working on a building site without ear protection or regularly attending loud music concerts.
The most prominent warning symptom of noise trauma is tinnitus. This creates a constant buzzing or ringing sound in the inner ear, which will become increasingly pronounced in silence.
Tinnitus isn’t always permanent, assuming the damage to the ear is not too severe, and the sound may even be missed when it passes. If you wonder, “Why can’t I sleep without noise trauma?” you may have grown used to this constant noise.
Artificial Noise That Encourages Sleep
While sleep experts may claim that silence is golden when attempting to rest, some measure of noise may help you gain a restful night of sleep.
Listening to music is the most basic way to bring noise into your sleep routine.
The Journal of Advanced Nursing confirms that relaxing classical music can bolster sleep quality. Using headphones in bed can be harmful, so play this music aloud at a reasonable volume.
If you prefer more consistent and less stimulating audio to the brain, consider getting a noise machine. White, pink, or brown noise can create a relaxing environment that encourages sleep in those who can’t stand complete silence.
White noise is an audible sound that maintains the same volume and intensity.
Perhaps the best example of white noise is the static issued by an unturned radio. Some people find this comforting, while others consider it grating.
White noise machines are available online. Alternatively, you can create white noise in your bedroom in the following ways:
- Set up and switch on a tower fan (don’t place it too close to your head.)
- Switch on your air conditioner and listen to the humming sound it creates.
- Tuning your TV or radio to a station that is not broadcasting.
White noise is best used by people with tinnitus who need a different sound to block the ringing in their ears or anybody looking to mask unexpected external clamor with a regular, reliable noise.
Some white noise machines offer different sound settings, such as wind, rain, or crashing waves, which are more akin to pink noise. Pink noise is more ambient and relaxing.
The volume will vary between a low volume and a louder crescendo.
Pink noise is the best remedy for anybody who struggles to sleep in silence but has no health concerns that play into this. The Journal of Experimental Biology claims that pink noise reduces brain activity, encouraging sleep and preventing unplanned waking.
Brown noise, sometimes called red noise, is a slightly more intense alternative to pink noise.
If pink noise could resemble a gentle rain shower and leaves rustling in a breeze, brown noise is closer to a thunderstorm and strong, gusty winds.
If you find rumbling, bass-heavy sounds comforting, brown noise is the best selection to calm your mind and relax into sleep. However, brown noise can get considerably louder than white or pink noise, so it’s not ideal for light sleepers.
If you can find a way to sleep in silence, you will enjoy the reward of superior rest in the longer term. Training your mind to accept silence and find a lack of noise relaxing may take effort.
Until then, take advantage of non-intrusive noise to aid sleep overnight.