The sound of silence: how many crazy gadgets are required to achieve an environment that is optimal for sleeping?

Original author: Penelope Green
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On winter nights, an application for generating white noise, running on my smartphone, produces the sound of an air conditioner: a rattling metallic sound, similar to mechanical noise, heard in the depths of the ventilation system of a huge office building. (The app can also offer sounds such as rinsing in a dishwasher, a room full of people, and a vacuum cleaner).

But this noise, nevertheless, lulls me to silence the noise in my apartment (uneven snoring of my roommate, the clank of the radiator of steam heating, the bustle of a cat pursuing something visible only to her alone).

Perhaps this sound calms me down, recalling the situation from the past, perhaps from my Manhattan childhood, although it may be worth getting into the past much further. Some somnologists point out that babies, whose hearing is accustomed to the mother’s circulatory system and squandering the womb, sleep better when a device that imitates these familiar sounds helps them.

My application is only one note in the powerful chorus of white noise generators, the rapidly growing industry of mechanical and digital devices. Applications and websites, playlists on Sonos and Spotify, are constantly expanding, as if trying to block increasing speeds and the number of accidents on the information superhigh-speed highway.

Car cabin? Oil tanker? Automatic laundry? These ballads are found in the vast sound landscape created by Stephan Pidgeon, a Belgian electrical engineer, available on , opened in 2013. Now a month the site is gaining a million views. This is practically a charity that works through donations. “I have enough stress,” said Pigeon.

On Reddit and other forums, they talk about various hacks associated with white noise, which can be made by people who are lightly sleeping, working in shifts or experiencing problems with tinnitus. In one of the popular threads, Christopher Suarez, a maintenance technician from California, whose wife suffers from insomnia, advises cutting the fan blades with a clerical knife.

The first homemade white noise making machine was created in 1962, it was thought up by a traveling salesman, whose wife got used to air conditioners in the motels in which they often slept, and therefore could not fall asleep at home.

But the concept of white noise was determined by engineers in the 1920s, Pijion said, and used it as a test signal, because, as he says, “the sum of all frequencies heard by a person in equal proportion, combined into one sound. It is called so because it is an analogue of light - it becomes white if you add up all the visible frequencies in one beam. ”

That salesman, Jim Bakoulter, in his garage, installed a turntable and fan blade in a dog bowl insulated with foam, and invented Marpac Sleep-Mate, now called Dohm (and sold for $ 40-45). The popularity of this gadget grew thanks to the word of mouth, and as a result, it became a favorite device not only for sleeping people, but also for psychotherapists, lawyers and doctors, and other people who sometimes have to hide confidential conversations.

Fans of pure sound adore this device, because its mechanical buzz is close to the true random and does not contain repetitive fragments, like many digital versions.

Blocking bullfrogs

Fred Meyer is an experienced music producer and drummer working as an audio engineer and audio quality inspector. His rumor is considered golden - he is an expert, able to hear mistakes in the recording of music, films and television. He also suffers from ringing in his ears - and for years this disease has helped him to experience devices like Dohm (now this device is in the bedroom of his 6-year-old daughter Ruby).

He wrote by e-mail that white noise is “one of the first things we hear at the very beginning of our existence, being in utero (I'm not talking about the Nirvana album now). This is roughly what we hear when putting a conch to the ear. A sink is a mechanical filter that focuses and amplifies ambient noise. ”

Sleep is inherently dangerous, said Rafael Pelayo, a professor of psychiatry and behaviorism at the Stanford Center for Somnology and Medicine. Therefore, he said, we have these internal settings for sorting sounds in a dream in order to distinguish the threats or crying of a baby from less threatening sounds.

“How can a mother feed her child if she doesn’t have the built-in ability to wake up in her brain?” - Said Pelayo. - The thalamus must decide whether to inform the bark about this noise. In a dream, there is such a concept as the threshold of awakening - an incentive that must be received in order to move from a state of deep sleep to wakefulness. This may be a loud sound from a garbage truck, or something quiet, for example, when your partner says, “Dear, I think, there is a robber in the house.” The idea of ​​a noise generator is to increase the background noise so that you cannot hear noises that are not worth your attention: a snoring partner or a hotel elevator. ”

Dr. Pelayo is on the board of directors at Adaptive Sound Technologies, which produces Lectrofan.($ 50 at Amazon), the digital version of old analog machines for generating noise, which does not give duplicate fragments - but he stressed that Stanford does not approve of these products.

There is no evidence that cars making white noise somehow alter brain waves, said Param Dedya, director of sleep medicine at Canyon Ranch. “But we can show that your reaction to a loud sound changes in the presence of a noise-producing machine. This is called auditory disguise. ”

Dr. Dedya describes its effect as a kind of sound bubble, "the force field of sound, which only a much louder sound can penetrate." Dadya placed Dohm devices in the bedrooms of the Canyon Ranch resort and at home, as his pool attracts an army of bullfrogs after dark. And their nightly chorus is driving him crazy.

“My friend,” he said, “it sounds like someone is dying. Previously, I took the hose and washed them away from the pool, but they soon began to run away from me, and then return. Now I run my humidifier, and white noise works next to the bed. This is my sound bubble. We will not need medicine for all diseases, if we can calm ourselves down. This is a whole skill. If we could all calm ourselves down, it would be easier for us to deal with chaos. ”

And what is the noise? Dedya adheres to her definition, which was painted by the authors of the sleep study : “Noise is defined as unwanted sounds that have a negative psychological and physiological effect.”

The noise is terribly subjective. There are people who love the croaking of a bullfrog and are calmed by the snoring of their partner, because snoring means that the partner is near. Pidzheon admits that snoring is particularly difficult to disguise due to its proximity to your head and unpredictability (your ears are alarmed after every nap or loud exhalation).

“You need to convince yourself that the sound of snoring is beautiful,” he said. “Some people even asked me to place the sound of snoring on my site, because they used to sleep under the snoring of their halves, and when a partner disappears — leaves, gets divorced, or dies — they start to miss him.”

“Snoring was hidden in one of my generators,” he said. - This is a Berber tent. This is an attempt to tell a story. You are in the desert while on holiday, the day was warm, and you all sleep together in a tent while you cook. You hear a light breeze, a tent fluttering, a person snoring. I did not plan such a recording on purpose, but I am always ready for opportunities, and somehow I was on a hike, heard sounds and recorded them. I think that if you present a beautiful young sleeping berberka next to you, you will change your mind. ”

Worth trying.

Has the world become noisier?

Pidzheon, himself suffering from insomnia, cannot calm himself down with the help of his sound recordings, since he knows them too well and is disturbed by inconsistencies that are heard only to him. “Some kind of wave on the Irish Coast that breaks too loud, or a bird singing at the wrong time,” he said.

“My brain cannot stop working,” he added sadly. “I did not find a way to stop his chatter.”

Has the world become noisier? New York has definitely become. In 2016, the phone 311 for non-emergency calls received 420,000 complaints, more than two times more than in 2011. An analysis of the noise carried out by The New York Times showed that for the most part the complaints are illegal behavior - loud music and parties - followed by such noises as knocks and knocks.

Alan Firstein, an acoustics consultant and noise reduction expert who has been studying New York City for more than forty years, said that empirically there was more noise in the city, because there just became the most. More construction projects, more cars, more people, and, most importantly, more conflicts.

“The possessions of one person are usually located above the possessions of another,” said Firstein. “Real estate is getting more expensive, people pay a lot of money for housing, which is why they think they can do there what they want.”

Many apartment buildings and condominiums, he said, are making demands on the renovation of premises today, according to which the acoustic consultant must approve a renovation plan so that “rooms with audio systems, central air conditioning and plans to place a modern kitchen over someone’s bedroom” do not make unnecessary noise.

Fierstein can develop noise programs that are specifically configured to block clean sounds from external stimuli, such as the noise of buses or construction equipment that can be played on any audio system. He explained that clear sound is any sound of a certain constant height, and demonstrated such sound with the help of a telephone that squeaked.

“To block the noise, you don’t need to make a sound as loud or even louder” than disturbing you, he said. “We need to produce the sound of the same frequency. One of the reasons for our intolerance to sounds is the lack of control. We can't stand loud music from our neighbors, even if our favorite musician plays there. One of the advantages of noise masking is that we make these sounds of our own accord. ”

Recently, Firstein was called to resolve a dispute between neighbors, one of which was so annoyed by the sound of an air conditioner standing by another neighbor, that he placed eight cars generating white noise in his apartment, as a result of which the noise from them began to annoy his already air-conditioned neighbor.

Firstein was approached by a person who installed noise machines. In his report, he wrote that the air conditioner, built into the window, made the sounds of "audible clean tone", and may have been installed incorrectly, transmitting the vibration to the frame of the building. Perhaps, as a result, a person with noise machines will win the dispute, although the building management company has to say its word.

Suarez, whose idea with a rugged fan appeared on Reddit, suggests that often an increase in the amount of noise is only in our heads. The noise we use to mute extraneous sounds is “placebo,” he said. He noted the constant change of news and information in social networks, and pointed out that we are not sufficiently engaged in physical activity in order to waste our energy.

“Even if you turn off all notifications on your phone and get distracted from all devices,” he said, while in his van on the way to work, “you will still think: What is happening on Facebook? How is the Congress? In life, so much is happening and so few stories approach the denouement. When was the last time you heard the end of a story? ”

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