Are Nature Sounds More Relaxing Than White Noise?

The shades are drawn closed, the temperature in the bedroom is cool, no lights permeate the room, all is calm and relaxed. From across my bedroom on my computer desk the soft call of Loons begins. The sound of the water lapping against the lakeside shore. The Loons continue to call and I drift off to sleep.

Now this works for me quite well but not for everyone. Some people claim that white noise is more effective. But what do the sleep experts have to say.

According to researchers, “Naturalistic environments have been demonstrated to promote relaxation and well-being. We assess opposing theoretical accounts for these effects through investigation of autonomic arousal and alterations of activation and functional connectivity within the default mode network (DMN) of the brain while participants listened to sounds from artificial and natural environments.

“The positive effects of exposure to naturalistic environmental stimuli extend to health benefits, including improvements in the patient experience of general anesthesia, enhanced postoperative recovery, and reduced pain and anxiety in hospice care.”

In the current study, researchers compared two theories by examining the impact of different sounds on the brain and body. One theory says that nature helps us focus and relax because it gives us a break from paying attention to all the sights, sounds, smells and other stimuli that fill artificial environments.

In psych-speak, nature imposes a lighter “attentional load” on us. A second theory, however, says the outdoors are less stressful because we’re evolutionarily conditioned to process stimuli found in nature.

People who participated in the study were given types of sounds to listen to. The sound bites lasted 5 minutes and 25 seconds. Those who were exposed to nature sounds showed an increase in parasympathetic activity in the brain, according to the MRI scans. This is the side of the nervous system that helps us relax and ultimately fall asleep.

So if white noise isn’t helping you get the sleep you need, try getting a nature CD to listen to at bedtime, whether it is the call of Loons, the gentle sound of waves against the shore, or a breeze in the pine trees, the research backs nature for falling asleep.

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