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A Brief Guide to Using Ocean Sounds for Sleep|Person working on laptop on beach|waves crashing on rocks|person sleeping in hammock|woman sleeping restfully in bed


Using Ocean Sounds for Sleep

As a species, humans are deeply drawn to water. When individuals need a break from the stress of everyday life, many choose to take a trip to the shore or spend a weekend by the lakeside. Simply gazing out at sea inspires feelings of awe, allowing people to step out of their busy minds and put everything into perspective.

It's no wonder that many people use ocean sounds to help soothe to promote sleep. From playlists to sound soothers, the sounds of the ocean are widely used to promote relaxation and help humans sleep better.

These sounds often include waves gently crashing on a beach or flowing over rocks. It’s not only the sounds of the ocean that help people relax—other water sounds do as well. The sound of rain falling, a gentle thunderstorm, or a babbling brook all help individuals sink deeper into a proper sleep.

Person working on laptop on beach

How Nature Helps Humans Relax

A study published in Scientific Reports in 2017 aimed to explain why listening to the sounds of nature is so relaxing. Researchers found that listening to soothing nature sounds can physically change both the mind and body systems, promoting relaxation.

Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School found that playing natural sounds—including wind in the trees and a gentle babbling brook—affected the systems of the body that control the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

It is widely known that spending time in nature can help ease feelings of stress and anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and increase a general sense of well-being. This is the basis of forest bathing and can be recreated in other natural settings as well. This study found that it is possible to recreate these beneficial effects of nature even if you aren’t spending time in the great outdoors.

The team of researchers collaborated with an audio-visual artist to conduct an experiment in which participants listened to sounds that were recorded from both natural and artificial environments. During this process, both brain activity and autonomic nervous system activity were monitored. The results showed that the brain reacted differently depending on whether participants were listening to natural or artificial sounds.

waves crashing on rocks

Physiological Effects of Nature Sounds

When listening to natural sounds, the brain showed an outward-directed focus. In contrast, the brain showed an inward-directed focus when listening to artificial sounds. This inward-directed focus was similar to that found in patients with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There was an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity when listening to nature sounds, which is associated with relaxation. The opposite was true when listening to artificial sounds.

The amount of change in nervous system activity was surprisingly dependent on the mental state of the participants. Those who were experiencing the highest levels of stress before starting the experiment showed the greatest levels of relaxation when listening to natural sounds. 1

This study helps pave the way for using environmental exposure in mental health settings, especially in cases when patients can’t be taken out into nature. This is also particularly interesting for those who are simply looking for a way to ease the stress of everyday life without having to plan a vacation every month.

person sleeping in hammock

Why Do Ocean Sounds Help Humans Sleep?

Ocean sounds, along with other gentle water sounds, fall into the category of "non-threatening noises." Certain sounds, such as a sudden alarm or a scream, are perceived by the brain as threats. Other sounds, particularly those found in nature, are easily tuned out and perceived as non-threatening.

If you’ve ever tried to sleep through a roommate blasting music or a fire alarm going off, you know how difficult it can be. These sounds constantly keep the mind and body on high-alert, preventing sleep. 2

Ocean sounds have a repetitive quality to them. Although the sound of waves crashing on the shore can vary in volume, the sound as a whole is soothing and meditative. Listening to calming, repetitive noises such as this can relax the mind and ease individuals into a state of deep sleep.

Even more than the volume of sounds, the sudden presence of noise is what instantly disrupts sleep. A study published in 2012 found that hospital alarms, even at low volumes, woke up patients more frequently than the sound of helicopters and regular traffic. 3

Choosing to listen to a playlist of ocean sounds or a sound soother while going to sleep can also help drown out other noises that may wake you up in the night. The sound of ocean waves can distract the brain from the busy sound of traffic, a low conversation, or a toilet being flushed in the night.

woman sleeping restfully in bed

Recipe for a Good Night's Sleep

Excessive screen time and artificial lighting are negatively affecting human sleep patterns. In order to really have a proper night of sleep, it's important to disconnect.

Try turning off all bright lights at least an hour before bedtime. Leave on a small desk lamp or some fairy lights for ambiance, and be sure to put your phone on airplane mode and out of sight.

Spend the next hour reading a book, writing in your journal, or simply meditating. If your day was particularly stressful, you may find it helpful to spend a bit of time in a warm bath before getting ready for bed.

When you feel that the stress of the day is beginning to melt away, put on a playlist of soothing ocean sounds. Let the sound of the waves gently carry you off to sleep.

Photo credits: Kite_rin/, AntonPetrus/, DashaPetrenko/, SydaProductions/

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