Whether your sleep problems are caused by distracting nighttime noises or anxious thoughts (or both!), or you’ve been struggling with more general insomnia for a while, a sound machine could provide the relaxation you need—and fortunately, you’ve got a ton of product choices. After all, you’re hardly alone in having trouble falling asleep, although it can feel that way when you’re lying in bed alone at 2:00 a.m. Keep scrolling for the 411 on sound machines, the difference between sound machines and white noise machines, and which device to choose that's right for you.
Are all sound machines also white noise machines?
Most sound machines offer white noise (along with other variations of sounds), which many find comforting when trying to sleep or relax. "White noise is a consistent noise that is completely even across all frequencies that one can hear," clinical psychologist and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, Shelby Harris, PsyD., previously told us.
White noise is a popular choice for sleepless nights (although many also prefer sound machines for other soothing noises—we'll get to that in a second). “White noise...creates a sound well-suited for masking distractions. ... It's not better than other types of sound in any particular area; it just has more variations in frequency at one time,” says Robert Pagano, cofounder at Sleepline, a website that reviews sleep products.
The best sound machines and white noise machines for all needs
If your bedroom fan or white noise app just isn’t cutting it, these sound machines could hold the solution for your sleep struggles.
Best white noise machines
The SNOOZ plays the sound of a fan but has a lot more features than that fan in the corner of your room (and can be used comfortably in cold weather!). It has 10 volume settings and can be controlled by the optional SNOOZ app. “I like the SNOOZ white noise machine because of its small size,” says Pagano. “It also has a better design than most competing brands, so it doesn’t look too ridiculous if you leave it out.”
Setting aside the mysterious brand name for now (I mean, roosters wake you up), this white noise machine is a great choice for a basic, budget sound machine. Its six sleep sounds are Rain, Brook, Ocean, Thunder, White Noise, and Summer Night, and you can choose 15-, 30-, and 60-minute timers. It’s got over 17,000 5-star ratings, with reviews that say things like, “I love this. It’s perfect size and look. Don’t laugh…I have this in my powder room which has an awful echo making private bathroom activities not so private. I needed something to drown out the ‘sounds.’ I love that this white noise maker is battery operated, has great audio quality, and even has a timer! I love the brook sound the best!”
If you want something with a ton of choices for sounds that can help you fall asleep, this sound machine’s for you, with 16 (!) options that include Rain, Stream, Ocean, Chimes, Calm, two fan sounds, and two white noise sounds. It’s marketed for babies, but nothing about the design screams “nursery,” so you can consider it equal-opportunity bedtime aid.
This white noise machine is a version of the original SNOOZ model featured above, but it was created in collaboration with Tuft & Needle, who wanted to use their sleep expertise to create something new. It has an improved cover fit and construction, an updated design, and an exclusive app. This shade of pale gray that T&N calls “fog” is also exclusive to this SNOOZ version.
Best portable sound machines
This sound machine with a sleek design offers six looping sounds: White Noise, Fan, Ocean, Rain, Stream, and Summer Night (just add an S and you’d be listening to Grease). It has a USB charging port and a sleep timer option with 15-, 30-, and 60-minute periods—plus a five-year warranty.
One promising reviewer says, “A few years ago, my naturopath suggested I get a white noise machine to help with my trouble sleeping at night. (I lived in a beautiful historic apartment building at the time with poorly insulated walls, aka, I could hear everything and I mean everything that went on in my neighbors bedrooms at nights). I was lucky to find the Pure Enrichment White Noise machine online on Amazon. I am a really sensitive person and that includes being sensitive to noises and luckily I who do really well with white noise to block out other noises when I sleep. Using it every night helped improve my sleep tremendously.”
Sure, this sound machine isn’t the most stylish out there, but it does have hundreds of 5-star reviews. It produces 10 fan sounds and 10 kinds of ambient noise, including white, pink, and brown noise. Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health educator and founder of Insomnia Coach, says that this sort of sound may be more effective than white noise. “Pink noise emphasizes lower frequencies and occurs more frequently in nature,” he tells us. “So, pink noise is thought to sound more ‘natural’ than white noise.”
This affordable sound machine has six selections: White Noise, Thunder, Ocean, Rain, Summer Night, and Brook. It’s designed to be a good size and shape for travel, and it’s available in the pictured white as well as a pretty cobalt blue. The sleep timer offers three options: 15, 30, and 60 minutes.
One reviewer raves, “I suffer from insomnia and this has made an incredible difference in the amount of time it takes me to fall asleep (it was about an hour and after a week of use I’m down to about 20 minutes). I also don’t wake up as many times during the night. I love how the volume is adjustable and how the machine offers more than just white noise.”
Best sound machines for sleep
While the Hatch Restore sound machine is pricier than most, it incorporates a wake-up alarm that simulates the sunrise, a smart light, and an alarm clock. It even has a guided meditation feature! If white noise isn’t your thing, you can also choose Nature, Stream, Night, Rain, Wind, Ocean, or Bird.
Somehow this sound machine looks both retro and modern. It also has a unique feature: You can mix the various sounds (Fan, Rain, Ocean, Thunder, Summer Night, Campfire, Morning Birds, and Soothing Flute) to create your own special sleep soundtrack! In need of a nightlight? This machine has seven colors to choose from.
This thing has a ton of features, including 10 environmental and white-noise sounds, an alarm clock (with dual alarms), 11 light therapy patterns (for both night and day), LED color blending, and a speakerphone—and the iHome Zenergy app lets you control light, sound, and sleep settings. It can also stream audio from Bluetooth devices, charge your phone, and (for those of you who actually listen to the radio) play six FM station presets. Beware, it’s a popular one, and is bound to sell out quickly.
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