White Noise

As mentioned earlier in another blog, sleep has always been an issue for me, though more of a problem at sometimes than others. However, there is one tool that has certainly helped me at times when trying to get to sleep at night. The tool is white noise.

White noise has always been soothing for me from even back when I was a child. It can be soothing during the day. Back when we lived on Shippensburg Road, there was a long hallway that led from the living room back to my bedroom. There was a ceiling fan part way back that was used on hot days in the late spring and summer. The fan was a whole house fan that actually went through the attic. The air could be felt through the whole main floor of the house. In those days we didn’t have central air, so the only tools we had were fans, and a lone air conditioner in my parents’ bedroom. I absolutely loved the ceiling fan. It produced the most awesome of sounds. There has been none like it to date. I would like to go back the hallway while it was on to listen it. I would get excited when I would hear that my parents were going to turn it on. There was a downside. We didn’t use it that much because of my asthma. It brought in allergens from outside, which made its use a rarity. Never the less the sound was relaxing to me!

Air Conditioning was the first white noise that actually helped me sleep. We started out with one air conditioner, and it was in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. On hot summer evenings, the whole family would sleep in their room with the AC on. Determining whether or not the AC was warranted was simple. Dave had a light switch in his bedroom which included a thermometer. Besides the numbers for the temperatures, it also showed a picture of an example of what clothes a person would wear at that temperature. Before bedtime in the evening, we would check his thermometer to see if it was hot enough in Dave’s room to use the air conditioner. If it was then Dave would sleep on a mattress in Mom and Dad’s room and I on a trundle bed. Assuming that I got to bed after Dave was sleeping on these nights, I would do two things while trying to get to sleep. I would lie on the trundle bed and listen to the air conditioner as it produced a relaxing sound. It made a steady pleasant sound. From time to time, it got slightly quieter, and then became louder again. This was the hallmark of the sound of an air conditioner, compared to a fan. Another thing that helped me relax that I did in these days was enjoy my old alphabet animal sheets on the trundle bed that I used to use in my bedroom before getting the cat sheets.

Eventually, my maternal grandparents replaced their air conditioner unit, and gave me their old one. Now I finally had a unit in my own room that Dave and I would use. Most summer evenings now I would run the unit. It helped cool the room, but it also helped relax me which made the difficult task of sleeping easier. I remember that my unit had three categories of strength. There was a high range (6-8), the medium range (4-5) and the save energy range (1-3). I preferred to use the highest settings, though four and five were okay. I didn’t trust one through three. I did what I could to keep running the unit.

You may wonder what happened in the winter? Well, in the winter I slept without the air conditioner and any white noise what so ever. It became a problem after the kitchen was redecorated. The kitchen had walls that showed a lot of small pictures, in outdated colors. The walls now were painted white, new cherry furniture was added, etc. I even remember the joke while it was getting painted. The walls were in the process of getting painted, and the outlet cover needed to come off. It left a small section of wall that wasn’t painted. My dad told me that the small section was a picture. Anyway, a chiming clock was bought for this room. It “played a song” on the hour to let the owner know every time the hour changed. The premise was good, but there was a problem. Batteries don’t last forever. When the battery would go, the clock would chime its music out of tune. I thought this sounded creepy. In the middle of the night, particularly during the winter, I would hear these out of tune chimes, and they would scare me. These out of tune chimes were known as “the clock sounding funny.” One specific time I can think of was a day where I woke up for a little bit around 6:00 in the morning. Dad was getting up early at that time to go to work so I thought it would be safe. When the clock struck six, the sound the clock produced sounded so bad and scary, I had to put my hands over my ears until it was done. It also had me feeling unsettled. Though it was possible to hear the clock produce these sounds with the AC on, it made it a lot harder, so it was easier to sleep in the summer than in the winter. The silver lining about the clock despite its problems, the tune was nice while the batteries had plenty of juice, and there was a cabinet in the clock that had two cat plates and two small cat figurines in it. There was a third cat plate in the series that I had for my bedroom. These plates came from a store in Maryland.

Sometimes white noise just made the task at hand more pleasant. Running a normal fan produced white noise that made tasks such as studying for tests in higher elementary school more pleasant. Elementary school had many good things for me compared to other levels. I have always enjoyed learning. The thing that got on my nerves was studying for tests, as this took a long time. Needless to say, I usually did well, making it well worth it, but what child would want to spend his whole evening studying? Anyway, I remember one time when we were sitting on the sunporch studying for a health test. Health was my least favorite subject to begin with, as at an elementary level it talked about the human body which I thought the pictures of it looked gross. So, with the time required to learn the material, and the subject matter, I dreaded the evening before the test. One thing was helpful to me. The test being during the spring, it was hot on the porch requiring the use of a small fan. The fan besides cooling off, produced a soothing noise that helped me as Mom and I were studying for this test which was about bones.

As time went on other techniques were used specifically to try to help me get to sleep at a decent time at night. In 1993, we went to Myrtle Beach for a vacation in late August. Mom found a cassette, Peaceful Ocean Surf, that she bought. At the time many white noise cassettes were produced, but many also featured music to go along with the sounds of nature. This one, was simply the sounds of the beach. Waves would rush in and out. Seagulls could be heard, and occasionally a boat would toot its horn in the distance. Mom listened to it first and described it like above. Peaceful Ocean Surf seemed all well and good. I used this cassette at the beginning of seventh grade to try to fall asleep. My observations are thus: the tape was relaxing in general with one exception. Somewhere in the middle of both sides there was an animal that came on that sounded kind of like a cat meowing, followed by what sounded like musical instruments. It wasn’t creepy but kept me on edge about when it was coming. Let’s say it was more jolting than anything. After that section I could relax again for the rest of the duration of the side. On the second side it was the same thing. The cassette did help me during the beginning of seventh grade when I was trying to get my daily school life figured out. Eventually I didn’t need it anymore.

For Christmas of 1995, another attempt was made. For Christmas, I received a Sleep Machine that played continually until turned off, one of three choices. There was tropical rain, ocean surf and the sound of riding on a train. I particularly liked the rain and the ocean, though didn’t use the ocean as much as there was a slight pause between some of the waves constituting complete silence. By this time, we were living at our current house which had central air, thus no air conditioning sound. The rain was constant, and everyone knows that on a rainy morning, nobody feels like getting up. The sound of rain, somehow makes a person feel sleepy. I used the sleep machine for a number of years. Eventually my brother, Dave, also got one with a few extra sound options, and my mom used a portable one. The portable one was actually used as recently as the Shippensburg University days.

The final apparatus that I had a chance to use to produce white noise was actually my air purifier. In the spring of 1999, I was having some trouble with my asthma. The doctor had suggested getting a HEPA air filter for my bedroom. I’m not sure what the full story goes, but I do know that during the week of May 19th, in the evening I was in the basement helping my dad get the basement ready so that a company could install a system that would keep the basement from flooding when the electric went out during a storm. Apparently, something in the basement stirred up my asthma, and it was suggested that I go up to my room and run the purifier. The purifier did help. I noticed another effect of it. The sound it produced was a white noise. It helped me sleep on nights when my brain wasn’t on overdrive.

So, the point of this blog is to demonstrate that white noise can both relax me, and help me sleep at night. It isn’t a perfect fix as an overactive mind at bedtime can still keep me awake in spite of all attempts to help me sleep, but my biggest successes with the difficult process of sleeping come from white noise. Another important fact is that music doesn’t help me sleep, as it causes me to focus on it, thus keeping me awake! My real shot at falling asleep in this case is after the music is done. It doesn’t matter whether its music with lyrics or video game music, it works the same way. I have tried both.

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