Sleeping in a noisy environment can be extremely difficult. For example, people who live in apartments, students in dorm rooms and anyone in a busy urban environment. And since it’s usually noisier during the day, conditions can be worse for those who work evening or overnight shifts and are forced to sleep during daytime hours.

Air cleanerThis is the case for a light sleeper in my own family. She works evenings and goes to bed late and tries to sleep until 10:00 a.m. To mask typical daytime noises, she’s been using a small bedroom air cleaner. The whirling fan’s sound covers up the noise of people talking, walking and closing doors. It was doing the job quite well — until last week when the air cleaner’s motor finally gave out after daily use of more than ten years.

We shopped for a replacement. I looked for something simple: a device that would create “white noise” and not cost too much.

This proved to be more challenging than I thought it would. I learned that:

  • Air cleaners are often advertised as “whisper quiet” — which is, of course, not what we were looking for.
  • Many inexpensive white noise generators are built into alarm clocks and operate for 10-30 minutes in order to help you fall asleep. However, we were looking for something that would create white noise for eight straight hours.
  • There is a big variation is what “white noise” sounds like — and that would require an actual sound test. This wasn’t always possible at the store.
  • The pricing varied widely — from $20 to $80.

Then it struck me: playing white noise through a speaker is a very simple application. I decided to make my own device out of electronic components I had “in stock” at home:

  • A six-year old iPod Mini with A/C adapter that was sitting in a drawer. The click wheel was a little wobbly, but it still plays MP3 sounds.
  • Computer speakers with A/C adapter. Any cheap speakers will suffice — we’re only playing noise!

If you don’t have these items on hand, they can be easily purchased on eBay for under $20.

Now all I had to do was come up with an MP3 file of “white noise.” This reminded me of a shopping trip on a few years back in a local BJs store. After shopping for a few minutes I looked down at what I’d already put in my cart: a case of bottled water and four cans of compressed air. Hmmm… I’m buying water and air. That’s nuts!

I experienced the same revelation when searching for white noise. There’s actually a White Noise album in the iTunes Store, composed of four 30-minutes tracks: White Noise for Babys (sic), White Noise for Deep Sleep, White Noise for Relaxation and White Noise Blow Dryer. All for $9.99. Ten bucks for noise?? And the noises weren’t that good, either! No thanks!

As you may have guessed, a Google search revealed no shortage of free MP3 white noise files available for download. But then I thought, if I can make a white noise generator, I surely can make the white noise itself.

I chose Audacity, a free software digital audio editor, available for Windows 98+, Mac OS X and Linux systems. It has the capability to generate a variety of “noises” for any duration you desire.

Generate > Noise

After a bit of trial and error, I finalized on a left channel of pink noise and a right channel of brown noise. It produced a sound similar to the now non-functioning air cleaner fan.

Audacity white noise

My final custom noise file was one hour in length, which could be looped indefinitely throughout the night — or day. I also made another “drift off to sleep” variation that slowly fades out after 20 minutes.

White Noise Sample

So if you’re troubled by a challenging sleep environment, try this simple DIY White Noise System. It’s less than an hour’s labor and costs under 20 bucks.

Sweet dreams!

DIY White Noise Machine


Footnote:

There are many different “colors” of noise — including white, pink and brown — each with their own unique characteristics. There’s an excellent in-depth description about the color of noise on Wikipedia.

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