Best white noise machines for sleep: Expert advice to use when shopping

An expert discusses how white noise machines can help support sleep hygiene.

March 19, 2024, 11:43 AM

White noise machines are hardly new, but their popularity remains steady as folks with issues falling asleep continue seeking out safe, easy ways to doze off each night.

To help you understand a bit more about their purpose and utility, we spoke with Dr. Hyun “Monica” Kim, PhD, a scientist, researcher and assistant professor of medical psychology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Kim is “most passionate about helping people live a full life by managing mood and sleep difficulties,” and focuses on research, clinical work and psychoeducation to discover ways to help patients with these issues.

In her opinion, white noise machines are a great tool for some folks who have difficulties sleeping thanks to two main mechanisms of their functionality – stimulus control and noise masking – and why those might help you.

How do white noise machines work?

Kim explains the stimulus control mechanism as teaching yourself to respond to the external stimuli of various sounds.

“When people turn on the white noise machine,” she explains, “it could set the stage for promoting all these sleep related physiologic changes. It’s like telling the body 'time to go to bed.’”

The second mechanism is the masking effect, which Kim simply describes as “masking environmental sounds and noises.”

One place that uses white noise machines to this effect is hospital intensive care units, where their use as non-pharmacological sleep aid helps patients rest by “blocking outside sounds from the hallway” and other “important but very disruptive sounds associated with hospital function," according to Kim. One small study published in the Journal of Caring Science by the National Library of Medicine in 2016 found that white noise machines used in a critical care units could be effective for "masking environmental noises, improving sleep, and maintaining sleep."

“This gives us evidence that yes, maybe white noise machines may be very beneficial, explains Kim, “and they could be powerful when somebody's having difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep because of environmental factors.”

Potential drawbacks to white noise machines

The most obvious risk with white noise machines is hearing damage, which can easily be mitigated by avoiding use at a very high level for prolonged periods of time.

“But just to be on the safer side, I do advise against, you know, using it in a very high intensity way,” suggests Kim, adding that you should never have the machine on very loud settings near your ears.

And like any sleep aid, white noise machines can be habit-forming.

“If someone is noticing that they are becoming more dependent on using the white noise machine for their sleep, [that can] lead them to having more anxiety and more rigid bedtime rituals, so I advise them to look for a healthier way to fall asleep.”

She also warns that the machines are not a treatment for insomnia, all of which require a proper diagnosis and possibly medical or therapeutic intervention.

Is a white noise machine right for you?

While we have used the phrase “white noise machine” throughout, many machines offer different “colors” of noise such as brown, pink and green. If your goal is to fall asleep more quickly or stay asleep, a machine that offers a range of noise settings could be a great way to explore which sounds work best at lulling you off into dreamland each night.

However if you experience a chronic issue such as insomnia or waking frequently throughout the night, Kim encourages a consultation with a sleep specialist to ensure the problem is properly handled.

Below is a selection of several popular options to help you find the most effective machine for your needs and budget.

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Best overall white noise machine

Tuft & Needle

White Noise Machine

Its attractive, neutral appearance blends into the decor of any bedroom setup, but there are many reasons Tuft & Needle’s white noise machine is our favorite. For one, a real internal fan creates genuine ambient noise versus other models that only have pre-recorded noises. You can choose between using the on-device volume and tone controls, or you can connect to the optional app that lets you change settings without having the fumble around in the dark. It’s also easy to program and comes with dark mode for when you want absolutely zero light on in your room. One reviewer raves, “It’s like the audiophile version of white noise machines.”

  • $110
  • Tuft & Needle

Best budget white noise machines

41% off

Magicteam Sound Machine White Noise

One of Amazon’s top-selling white noise machines is this under-$30 version that has everything you need to doze off peacefully: 20 non-looping sounds including white, pink, brown and blue noises offer a wide range of patterns that best support your preferences. 32 volume levels offer a wide range suitable for adults and children, and the memory function automatically restores your previous sound and volume to anticipate your needs night after night. Multiple auto-off settings allow you to keep the machine going as long as you find necessary throughout your sleep cycle, plus it’s teeny-tiny (just 2.64 by 2.64 by 2.83 inches), making it super easy to carry when traveling.

  • $17.49
  • $29.99
  • Amazon
16% off

Homedics SoundSleep White Noise Sound Machine

This unit from Homedics is also ultra-affordable and a favorite among Amazon shoppers. Three colors are available for those who want to maintain a cohesive bedroom aesthetic, and six digitally-recorded sounds offer a natural backdrop to your nighttime routine: white noise, thunder, ocean, rain, summer night and brook. The timer can be set to 15 minutes, 30 minutes or one hour, making it best for someone who is looking only for assistance in falling asleep rather than a full night of soothing sounds.

  • $19.98
  • $23.99
  • Amazon

Best white noise machines for kids & babies

When shopping for a white noise machine for your child, keep in mind the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidance that states excessive exposure to loud noises may be detrimental to their safety. Read more about that here.


Frida Baby 3-in-1 Sound Machine, Air Purifier + Nightlight with 3 Fan Speeds and Easy-Change Filter

While the Frida Baby 3-in-1 Sound Machine only offers two white noise options, the multi-functionality is impressive. In addition to the soothing sounds that promise to help your baby fall asleep quickly, a HEPA filter removes smoke, odors and other pollutants that could potentially have a negative effect on your little one. There’s also an adjustable fan with three speeds and an automatic timer, and four night light colors offer a comforting glow.

  • $59.97
  • Amazon
14% off

Hatch Rest Baby Sound Machine with Night Light

Amazon’s top-selling model for kids is the Hatch Rest Baby Sound Machine, which has nearly 40,000 ratings with an overall 4.7-star score. It’s wifi-enabled, has a dimmable clock, comes with a smart night light featuring endless custom hues and, thanks to the connected app, you can control it from anywhere. The Hatch+ library (membership sold separately) also offers up content like sleep stories, modern lullabies and more, all of which can grow with your child. Another genius feature? You can create time-to-rise and time-for-bed routines, thus helping your child learn the importance of good sleep hygiene and a healthy routine.

  • $59.99
  • $69.99
  • Amazon

Best travel white noise options

13% off

Yogasleep Hushh Portable White Noise Sound Machine For Baby

Perfect for clipping on your bag or a car seat, this portable white noise machine was created to mask disruptive noises so your baby can sleep better anywhere, anytime. Three soothing sounds and a gentle amber night light will lull your little one – or you – into a serene state, and the USB charging means you don’t have to worry about batteries or an outlet while running around.

  • $25.99
  • $29.99
  • Amazon

White Noise Deep Sleep Sounds

For travel moments when you need white noise but privately, try an app that offers relaxing nature sounds with names like “gentle stream” or “thunder close” and let your headphones (hyperlink to AirPods piece?) sail you off into dreamland whether you’re on a plane, sharing a room or otherwise unable to get the desperately needed shut-eye you crave on your adventures.

  • $0
  • + In-app purchases available
  • Apple

More white noise machines we recommend

7% off

Dekala Arches Sunrise Alarm Clock with 15W Fast Wireless Charging

You can create your own wake-up mode with this sleek machine, and the endless color options here make this a fun and aesthetically pleasing way to encourage good sleep hygiene and ambience.

  • $129.99
  • $139.99
  • Amazon
Uncommon Goods

White Noise Synthesizer

True music nerds will go nuts for this novel machine. Using the control knobs, you can DJ your own custom sleep mix using eight unique sounds like thunderstorm, ocean or coffee shop. It make a fantastic gift for musician or artist friends who enjoy infusing every part of their day with a bit of creativity.

  • $84
  • Uncommon Goods