ocean waves

The Science Behind Wave Sounds for Sleep

Water-theme sleep aids have gained popularity over the years because they can increase relaxation and, by extension, help you sleep better. But why is this so? Why do we react differently to, say, the sound of an alarm clock going off than wave sounds?

If you’ve always wanted to use wave sounds for sleep but aren’t sure if it works or why it works, this article is for you.

We’ll briefly explain how the brain interprets different sounds, particularly when you’re asleep. This way, you can better understand why and how nature sounds aid sleep.

The Impact of Sound on Sleep

The body experiences the most restorative process during slow-wave sleep. However, the sounds in your sleeping environment can either aid or disturb this restorative process.

Research shows that nocturnal environmental noise, such as disturbing sounds from vehicles, particularly in urban settings, disrupts sleep quality and triggers stress.

High-pitch sounds at night, like screaming, a ringing phone, or loud car honking, are usually too sudden and can jolt us from a deep sleep. It’s like going from absolute silence to peak noise delivery in an instant, which can be very alarming.

As you can imagine, the brain will most likely interpret such sudden changes in sound levels as threats, especially when it jars you out of sleep.

One way to prevent disturbing noise at night is to block out all sounds. But that’s usually not possible. A more feasible solution is to use white noise to mask unwanted noise disrupting our sleep quality and quantity. White noise can be particularly helpful if you are a light sleeper.

That said, if you’re looking to achieve deep sleep, you should consider having pink noise in the background while you sleep.

Pink noise is more balanced than white noise, helping most people catch more quality sleep. And that’s where wave sounds for sleep come into the picture.

The sound of ocean waves crashing is soft and calming, meaning it won’t disturb your sleep. And because gentle wave sounds and other pink noise sources have more power in the lower frequency than white noise, they are not harsh or intense, and the strong bass tones are soothing to the human ear, even while you sleep.

Why Wave Sounds Help You Sleep Better

shirtless man sleeping

Generally, there are two main reasons wave and ocean sounds do not disturb sleep but help people sleep better. This includes how the brain perceives nature sounds and the ability of wave sounds to block out startling noises.

The Brain’s Perception of Sound

Our brains perceive certain sounds as threats and others as non-threats. And depending on how the brain perceives a sound, it will respond very quickly or completely ignore it.

A recent study found that the brain considers loud noises, such as yelling, angry voices, threats, or starling sounds, and quickly becomes sensitive to them.

Interestingly, it only takes a few hundred milliseconds for the brain to respond to any sound it perceives as a threat.

In a swift response to threats, the amygdala ― the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses ― releases stress hormones into your body, preparing you to defend yourself or take flight.

That’s why you usually jolt out of sleep when you hear loud sounds, such as an alarm going off or someone screaming.

When there is a loud sound, the amygdala or threat-activated vigilance system of the brain assesses whether or not to trigger the fight-or-flight response. And this happens without your conscious effort. This way, the brain protects you from possible dangers, even when fast asleep.

On the flip side, the brain perceives natural sounds like gentle ocean waves, waterfalls, and falling rain as non-threat sounds, so the sounds do not trigger the threat-activated vigilance system of the brain.

Instead, slow, calming nature sounds tell the brain that all is well and there is no need to worry. Little wonder you can continue to sleep peacefully with whooshing water sleep sounds in the background.

Wave Sounds Block Other Potentially Startling Noises

Sometimes, getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult if you live in a busy neighborhood with lots of noise. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you can’t control every sound in your sleeping environment. And that’s true for urban dwellers as well as those in rural settings.

For example, loud car honks, blaring sirens, or the sound of a flushing toilet are noises you simply can’t control. Fortunately, wave sounds can block out startling noises that can disturb sleep.

Wave sounds for sleep are particularly effective at drowning other sounds if they are at a fairly high volume. This way, the sound can mask internal and external noises that the brain may perceive as threats.

Where to Find Wave Sounds

There is no shortage of relaxing sounds in audio and video formats for sound therapy on various streaming platforms.

Before you choose one, though, be sure that the sound will actually improve your sleep quality instead of interrupting your sleep.

For example, if you have an overactive bladder, it is best to avoid listening to gurgling or trickling water sounds when you go to bed. That’s because your body may react (unconsciously) to the sound by increasing the need to go to the bathroom.

You can find well-curated wave sounds for sleep by Nature Sound Retreat on major streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple, and Amazon. You can even search them out on YouTube.

Here are two excellent wave sounds you may want to try out today:

  • Just Waves: 2 uninterrupted hours of pure surf and ocean waves to help you relax and sleep better.
  • Relaxing Waves: An hour of calming waster sounds washing over sand set in the ambiance of tropical nature to quickly put you to sleep, even if you struggle with insomnia.

Bottom Line

Using wave sounds for sleep has proven benefits and works for people who have difficulty falling asleep as well as those looking to enjoy deep sleep.

Remember to maintain good sleep hygiene in addition to playing nature sounds in the background while you sleep.


  • Nature Sound Retreat

    We're the group of holistic healers with a passion for sound therapy, meditation, and the benefits that music and noise can offer our bodies and minds. With over 10 years of experience teaching others about inner peace and how to achieve it with ease, we hope to share that knowledge on Nature Sound Therapy for you to enjoy for yourself.

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