Not sleeping well? Join the (very much sleep-deprived) club. According to a recent study, more than seven out of 10 Americans aren’t getting the quality, restorative sleep they need.

There’s no magic fix for everything keeping you up at night, but research suggests that listening to certain sounds before bed can help you relax and drift off to sleep more quickly. From babbling brooks to the gentle whirring of a fan, there are countless options for helping you slide seamlessly into sleep. Best of all, you can easily pair these sleep-inducing sounds with other natural sleep aids — like weighted blankets and lavender pillow sprays — to fast-track your slumber even more.

Also read: Get A Better Night’s Sleep With These Top Tips

How Sound Affects Our Sleep 

You might think of sleep as a time when your brain finally gets to “shut off” for the night, but this really couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the brain remains surprisingly active at night. One of its many important nightly duties? Scanning the environment for any useful information that will help keep us safe from predators.

Certain sounds, like the loud rumble of a vehicle or a partner’s raspy snoring, tend to jolt us awake because our brain interprets these unusual noises as potential threats. When the noise is particularly alarming, you may experience a sharp increase in adrenaline and cortisol, making you feel tense and alert.

Other sounds, like the chirping of crickets or the gentle pitter-patter of rain on a roof, are deemed non-threatening by the brain. Rather than triggering the brain’s threat-activated vigilance system, these soothing noises reinforce the idea that we’re safe, allowing us to fall into an easier sleep. 

Relaxing sleep sounds are particularly beneficial for light sleepers who wake up to every little bump in the night. Many people find that a steady stream of background noise can help mask unfamiliar noises that might otherwise send off alarm bells in the brain.

5 Soothing Sleep Sounds to Help You Drift Off

While there is no single best sleep sound that works for everyone, most experts recommend using sounds that provide a consistent listening experience from start to finish. Listening to sounds with sudden changes in volume and tone could startle your brain out of deep sleep, causing you to wake up. Your best bet is to play around with different bedtime sounds to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Nature Sounds

We all know that nature does a mind and body good. Research shows that spending as little as 10 minutes in the great outdoors can make us feel happier, calmer and more productive. But you don’t need to pitch a tent in the woods to reap Mother Nature’s calming benefits. Scientists say that listening to recordings of nature sounds, such as the steady rush of a waterfall or wind blowing through trees, can physically change our bodily systems, triggering a relaxation response in the body that helps us relax and fall asleep.

The next time you’re stressed out before bedtime, try playing these nature sounds while you prepare for sleep:

  • Crashing ocean waves
  • Rain and thunder
  • Forest sounds (woodland birdsong, wind in the trees, etc.)
  • Waterfalls

Guided Meditation

Does your anxious brain keep you up at night? Listening to a guided meditation can be a great way to relieve stress and transition to sleep. Meditation has long been used to achieve a sense of calmness and clarity, with some archeologists dating the practice back to as early as 5,000 BCE.

Before you begin your sleep meditation, remove all distractions from the bedroom. (If you share a bed or a room with another person, you may want to wear a sleep mask to block distracting light.) Get comfortable in bed and take deep breaths as you work through a sleep-based guided meditation, which you can find for free on YouTube. 

Meditation apps, such as Calm and Headspace, are also options worth considering. These wildly popular apps offer an array of sleep-focused meditations that can help soothe the mind and body into a peaceful slumber.

Lyric-Free Songs

The next time you’re having trouble sleeping, try listening to a calming playlist on Spotify. According to the Sleep Foundation, listening to soothing tunes before bedtime can aid relaxation by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest-and-digest response.

Sleep experts generally recommend steering clear of music with words and upbeat tempos, as these songs can give your brain an unnecessary workout at a time when it’s trying to rest. Instead, stick to lyric-free songs with slow tempos, like classical or piano pieces.

Bedtime Stories for Adults 

Bedtime stories for adults are all the rage these days, as evidenced by the millions of people streaming them each month from apps such as Calm, Audible and YouTube. Calm’s Sleep Stories are particularly popular, thanks to the uber-famous voices narrating them (Keanu Reeves, Zoe Kravitz and Harry Styles have all lent their voices to the app). Regardless of who’s doing the reading, the goal is ultimately the same: to distract you from the stresses of modern-day living and drift off to sleep.

Binaural Sounds

If bedtime stories don’t do it for you, the ethereal sounds of binaural beats may help lull you into a peaceful slumber. Often described as an “auditory illusion,” these otherworldly sounds aim to put the listener into a relaxed, meditative-like state. The illusion is created when you simultaneously listen to two pure tones — one in each ear — that have slightly different frequencies.

For instance, let’s say you’re listening to a 300-hertz tone in your left ear and a 285-hertz tone in your right ear. Your brain would process the sound as 15-hertz, which is the difference between the two tones. This low-frequency sound is thought to help slow your brain waves, putting you into a more relaxed state.

Strange as it might sound, there is some research to back up the power of binaural beats. For it to work, though, you need to use headphones, and the difference between the two tones can’t be greater than 30-hertz.

Ease Your Mind to Sleep with the Power of Sound

While a few lucky people can fall into a blissful sleep at what seems like the drop of a hat, most of us need to ease ourselves into the land of nod. Luckily, many sleep sounds can help you fall asleep fast and wake up refreshed. From soothing classical music to guided meditations, these tranquil sleep sounds are guaranteed to prepare your brain and body for sleep.

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