In this post, we will look at the most suitable white noise machine for sleeping, and how to use it for maximum effect and fewest side effects. I have also summarized research findings regarding white noise and sleep.
Many years ago, I stumbled across my first sleep-aid sound conditioner by chance. At that time, my bedroom window was facing a small, but pretty noisy street. During winter, I used a small ceramic heater that had a fan to distribute the warm air. As it got warmer in spring, I was ready to put the heater back in storage.
I noticed, however, that it was a lot easier to fall asleep with the little heater running, so I even put up with a slightly overheated room just to get my fan noise.
Later I used a normal room fan. It wasn’t loud enough for me though.
A friend had the solution: I punched a few holes in a plastic bag and covered the fan with the bag. Voila – I had a loud white noise machine.
I am aware that this isn’t a safe way of doing things: So don’t try this at home. Don’t cover your fan with a plastic bag.
At that time I didn’t know, but there are a lot better solutions readily available… Continue reading →
In this post, I want to provide an overview and detailed review of noise blocking earmuffs.
Regular readers of my Blog know that I am into blocking noise to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance and sleep. Many studies show a large positive impact of noise reduction on all kinds of mental tasks, including studying, reading comprehension, writing, serial memory, proof reading, mental math, and so on.
As a student and as a professional, you can improve your performance on almost any task by controlling the noise you are exposed to while working. In addition, by removing disturbing noise from your environment, you can reduce stress levels, improve general well-being, and prevent permanent hearing impairment.
Earmuffs are also becoming increasingly popular with people who are hypersensitive to noise, and sufferers from hyperacusis, misophonia, autism and ADHD.
I have found noise cancelling earmuffs to be among the most effective tools for studying. And it’s not only me: Search Google Images for memory championships and you will see participants wearing industrial earmuffs.
This review looks at general noise blocking effectiveness of different earmuffs and comfort and suitability for different types of noises, including low frequency noise and human speech. I focus on enhancing cognitive performance and general well-being rather than hearing protection in industrial settings and on the shooting range. That being said, you will find an in-depth comparison of manufacturers’ attenuation data.
In my quest to find the most effective, most comfortable and most fashionable earmuffs, I have purchased and used quite a number of different models. In this review I am going to look at the following:
Overall noise blocking effectiveness
Low-frequency and human speech blocking effectiveness
Manufacturing quality and durability
Earmuffs for sleeping
The models in this review include:
3M Peltor X5A
3M Peltor X4A
3M Peltor Optime 105
3M Peltor Optime 98
3M Peltor Optime 95
Howard Leight Leightning L3 (with some references to the Leighting L2 and Leightning L1)
My personal earmuffs ranking
Before I delve into the details about which earmuffs are best for which application, here is my overall ranking. Please note that this ranking is personal and does not only account for noise reduction, but also general usability, comfort, weight, build quality, and price. Continue reading →
A couple of months ago, a friend let me try his Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling headphones in a coffee shop. They were playing some fast-paced music with a pronounced thumping bass through the store’s sound system. To my astonishment, with the QC35 on, the annoying bass almost completely disappeared. It was as if someone had removed the sub-woofer from the sound system. I was pleasantly surprised.
Low-frequency noise annoys me and stresses me out, so over the years I have looked at many options to remove rumbling machines, humming air conditioners, traffic noise, and sudden impulse noise from my environment.
I have also done a few experiments that showed me how greatly a noise-free environment can improve cognitive performance. So you can imagine these Bose headphones got my attention. Continue reading →
It depends on you, the kind of white noise you are using, the task you are working on, where you work, and even the time of day. This post looks at some of the intricacies and helps you to decide whether, when, and how to use white noise for your work and studying.
Speech and varying-state noise (e.g., typical office noise) are distracting and can significantly impair mental performance:
Experiments have shown that cognitive abilities important for both studying and cognitive work are negatively affected by noise: This includes serial memory (remembering the order of things), reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, proof-reading, and writing.
Most of these studies have included silence as a control condition. Some experiments have also included white noise for comparison. The results for white noise were ambiguous: White noise was mostly but not always benign.
My take is, compared to silence, it didn’t affect the average (!) participant’s performance negatively, but it also didn’t boost it.
However, people respond differently to white noise. Some people and tasks thrive on it, while others are slightly negatively affected. Read on to find out who benefits. Continue reading →
In my previous post, I explored how day-time noise impairs our cognitive performance and what we can do about it. But there is another big elephant in the room – our night-time sleep. Sleep or the lack of it has a big impact on our ability to perform at our best, both physically and mentally.
Less or disrupted slow-wave sleep, for example, entails poor memory and poor wound healing.
Among the worst offenders interrupting our night-time sleep is the all too familiar sound of SNORING. Snoring can be loud – very loud indeed. A loud snorer can reach more than 90 decibels of peak sound pressure level. That is about as loud as a lawn mower.
Intrigued by the capabilities of some of the newer devices to block out noise and sophisticated white noise apps, I decided to run an experiment to answer this question: What is the best way to block out snoring noise?
Test equipment and candidates
An iPad equipped with a sound level meter (Noisee for iOS).
Two different white noise apps: myNoise for iOS and White Noise by Tmsoft for iOS and Android.
Earplugs of different sizes by Hearos, 3M, and Mack with a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 29-33 (an NRR of 33 is about as good as you can get).
Good-quality earbuds (a good fit is vital for sound quality and noise isolation).
The best earmuffs I could find, with a noise reduction rating of 31 (3M Peltor X5A).
DIY noise isolating earbuds and sleep headphones.
The best noise cancelling headphones I could find (Bose Quiet Comfort QC35).
Noise affects you as a professional, office worker, teacher, and student. It impairs your ability to read and write effectively, remember what you have learned, and do math. Everyday noise can cause a performance loss of 50 percent or more. This is easily the difference between an A and an F. Luckily there are some smart ways to block out and mask noise so it doesn’t disrupt you.
A good 18 months ago, I was sitting on my balcony watching an online lecture on my computer. My balcony is facing a small aisle, but the traffic noise from a nearby road is still very noticeable. I was wearing decent earbuds, so the noise wasn’t bothering me – or so I thought.
Just out of curiosity, I put on a pair of earmuffs, which I had purchased earlier to block out noises that often startle me during my early-afternoon naps.
Well, they did a hell of a job with the traffic noise: I was sitting there, and all the honking, squeaking and rumbling had receded into the background. It wasn’t completely quiet, but everything was so faint. That’s very nice indeed, I thought.
Why not try continuing the lecture with my earbuds underneath the earmuffs?
The first thing I noticed was that the voice of the lecturer was now way too loud. Annoyingly loud.
I had to turn down the volume from 10 to 3 to make it comfortable again. I also noticed that I could hear the finer nuances of the lecturer’s voice. I could even understand other students’ questions. These students weren’t equipped with microphones as this was a normal computer science lecture recorded at MIT in a big lecture hall (part of MIT’s Open Courseware program).
Wow – it was so much easier to follow the lecture and take in the whole experience. One of the great advantages of watching a recorded lecture is that you can stop it and re-listen to parts you couldn’t comprehend the first time. After putting on the earmuffs, this became almost completely unnecessary. Not only was I able to listen at a much lower volume and make out previously unheard details, I was also comprehending faster!
Bolstered by that experience, I experienced with earmuffs in other learning and reading situations as well