The science of sound can help you in many aspects of your life, from increasing concentration to creating the right atmosphere for a better night's rest. The trick is to know which kind of sound will do the trick and the easiest way to access it. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites and apps that do just that.
Noise generators for better sleep
Do you notice that you sleep better when the rain falls steadily outside or the wind blows gently through the trees? That's what researchers call pink noise, a combination of sounds that contain all of the frequencies that people can hear, with volume decreasing in high frequencies. This kind of pink noise "has significant effect on reducing brain wave complexity and inducing more stable sleep time to improve sleep quality of individuals," according to the Journal of Theoretical Biology study. In comparison, white noise keeps the volume consistent across all frequencies and most people don't find it as restful.
There are many apps that offer noise generation for better sleep, but be sure to only use the features that provide a steady, consistent sound, not intermittent noise.
The WhiteNoise app not only has white noise, it also has pink noise, brown noise (low frequency sound masking) and many more soothing sounds. Plus, it gives you great flexibility for painting your own soundscape, mixing up to five sounds at once. Among the 40 sounds are an oscillating fan, cat purring, crickets chirping, water flowing and many more. Pay a little extra to get a recorder and generator to create your own sounds.
Price: $0.99 on iTunes and free on Google Play
If none of the noises are exactly what you're looking for, Chroma Doze,
This highly-rated, Android-only app generates white noise based an algorithm that you can control. Tweak the sound wave curve to get just the right kind of noise to help you sleep. The app is free, has no ads and will run in the background on your phone.
Price: Free on Google Play
Similar to falling rain, the noise of an electric fan also helps many get a better night's sleep. Sleep Fan, a favorite here at Techlicious, generates that exact sound for you. You can play a fan sound at low, medium or high speed and also set a time for how long you want the noise to play. The iPhone app has tons of fans to choose from and even lets you record your own fan noise. The Android app is limited to four fans and doesn't have recording capabilities. Both apps will run in the background on your phone.
Sound for better focus and concentration
No matter how many times experts remind us to turn off the distractions when we're trying to get things done, most of us enjoy listening to music on the job. A little bit of whistle-while-you-work can boost flagging energy and bolster creativity — but too much of a good thing is a definite no-no.
What you need is the right noise for the job: ambient sound for creative focus, white noise for tight concentration or more relaxed soundscapes for calm efficiency or relaxation. If you've always suspected you do better and more rewarding work when you cart your laptop down to the local shop, research is on your side. When you're trying to coax creativity out of hiding, moderate levels of ambient noise can provide just enough of a distraction to free the rest of your brain for broader thought.
A study in The Journal of Consumer Research shows that background noise as mundane as the hum of a coffee shop in full swing or the muffled chatter of a television in the other room can enhance performance. Apply that knowledge with discretion: Higher noise levels are too distracting, and tasks that require concentration and focus on detail are better performed in a quiet environment.
If your surroundings are already littered with distracting sounds and conversations, you might need white noise to mask the chaos. Be careful about playing these sounds too loudly, too close to you or for too long. White noise used to keep babies drifting in a peaceful slumber could in fact damage their hearing if played at volumes of 85dB or higher (which is pretty loud, like a noisy restaurant). There is no evidence that volumes of 65 to 70 dB will cause harm.
Ready to download some sound apps to help tune up your life? Here are our favorite sources for ambient sound, white noise, meditation gongs and calming music — all are available through your web browser as well.
Here's the hottest spot to find that coffee shop ambience — what Coffitivity calls a "combination of calm and commotion" that inspires and supports creativity. Choose from several different vibes: "Morning Murmur" gives you the traditional hustle and bustle of the corner café; "Lunchtime Lounge" carries a little more energy; and "University Undertones" soothes you with the calmer sounds of a campus café.
This ambient sound generator plays to maximum advantage on a second monitor because it includes a color generator that helps set the mood. Research also backs the role of color in influencing productivity. Using a blue desktop background, for example, can enhance creative performance, while red helps you attack and focus on nitty-gritty details. Noisli lets you toggle and layer as many sounds as you like to create your own tapestry of sound. Choose among coffee shop chatter, three types of white noise and nature sounds including rain, thunderstorms, waves, crackling fire and more. Still distracted? There's also a text editor for distraction-free writing.
At myNoise, choose from sounds designed specifically for noise blocking, healthcare, sound therapy, meditation and tonal sound. Select from sounds in categories like Tonal Drones, Magic Gens and Brainwaves. Each sound is then further tagged for uses like meditation, healthcare and noise blocker. The site allows you to calibrate much of the sounds to your own computer and hearing.
Finally, if you are looking for an all-around effective noise generator, not just an app or sound file that mimics sounds, we highly recommend the Marpac DOHM-DS Natural White Noise Sound Machine ($49.99 on Amazon). It creates a soothing sound that helps block other sounds in your environment that may be distracting you.
[woman sleeping image via Shutterstock]