TODAY I’M GR8FUL 4: My Noise Box
(I’ve been contemplating recently how important it is to “count your blessings”—regularly pondering those things—both little and big—you are grateful for in life—in order to maintain a positive attitude, reduce anxiety, and learn more and more to trust God. I’ve decided that one way to encourage myself to do the counting is to share my thoughts about some of those blessings with others via this series of entries in my BrightStarr blog, “TODAY I’M GR8FUL 4:”. I hope it inspires readers to count their own blessings, small and great, and share them with others also.)
I first invited a Noise Box into my life in about 1969, before the birth of my daughter Ramona (who is turning 42 this year.) And there has been one … or more… in my life ever since.
Perhaps you are wondering what a Noise Box is—good question! Let me explain it by asking some other questions:
- Have you ever stayed at a motel with “thin walls,” where every car door slamming in their parking lot woke you up, where the noises from the rowdies in the next room drove you crazy at 2 AM?
- Have you ever wanted to “sleep in” at home after a late night party, only to be jarred awake at 7 AM by a family member or two banging around in the kitchen?
- Have you ever been the parent of a fussy toddler, tried for an hour or more to get him to take a nap, and think you’ve succeeded because he got all quiet—only to tiptoe back into his bedroom for one last peek to make sure…and end up waking him back up because the door squeaks?
- Have you ever been trying to concentrate on some serious paperwork, only to have your train of thought derailed by canned laughter coming from the old sit-com someone is watching in the living room?
- Have you ever stayed overnight at the home of a friend or relative who lives in a “vintage” house—and tried to fall asleep with floors that creak, old steam radiators that hiss, walls that groan—and maybe squirrels in the attic?
If so, my friend—have I got a deal for you! Introducing the Noise Box!
Actually, when I first saw one described, in the Home Health section of a Sears Catalog back in the late 1960s, it was labeled a “Marpac SleepMate.” I can’t remember now why it even caught my eye. But as soon as I received my order for one in the mail and tried it out, I immediately dubbed it my Noise Box, and that is what everyone in my family has called it ever since.
No, I don’t still have that same one I bought back in the ‘60s. Several generations of the gadget have found a home in our home—and in our travel luggage. But they do last a long, long time. I did have that original one for over 20 years—and was relieved to find they still made them when I needed to replace it.
So if others don’t call it a Noise Box, what do they call it, and what IS it?
The official name of an object like this is a “white noise machine.” Which begs the question—so what is “white noise”? The HowStuffWorks website puts it this way:
White noise is a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. If you took all of the imaginable tones that a human can hear and combined them together, you would have white noise.
The adjective “white” is used to describe this type of noise because of the way white light works. White light is light that is made up of all of the different colors (frequencies) of light combined together (a prism or a rainbow separates white light back into its component colors). In the same way, white noise is a combination of all of the different frequencies of sound. You can think of white noise as 20,000 tones all playing at the same time.
Because white noise contains all frequencies, it is frequently used to mask other sounds. If you are in a hotel and voices from the room next-door are leaking into your room, you might turn on a fan to drown out the voices. The fan produces a good approximation of white noise. Why does that work? Why does white noise drown out voices?
Here is one way to think about it. Let’s say two people are talking at the same time. Your brain can normally “pick out” one of the two voices and actually listen to it and understand it. If three people are talking simultaneously, your brain can probably still pick out one voice. However, if 1,000 people are talking simultaneously, there is no way that your brain can pick out one voice. It turns out that 1,000 people talking together sounds a lot like white noise. So when you turn on a fan to create white noise, you are essentially creating a source of 1,000 voices. The voice next-door makes it 1,001 voices, and your brain can’t pick it out any more.
That pretty much explains what I have experienced with my “Noise Box.” When you turn it on, it makes a sound that is much like a fan or air conditioner—or static on a radio. You can adjust the volume of the sound, and, to a certain extent, the basic tone. Other than that … it just makes noise. The difference between using the box and using a big fan or an air conditioner to make the same effect is that the box is very small—six inches across, 3 inches high, puts out no wind or cold air, fits on your nightstand, or next to you on your desk for daytime use, and can be tucked in a small suitcase. And it uses much less electricity than any of those larger items.
When I first got my Noise Box, the literature that came with it explained a bit more. It noted that the sound it makes isn’t really loud enough to totally “drown out” other sounds. That’s not its purpose. To do that it would have to be as loud as an aircraft engine. What it does, especially after you use it a few days, is to draw the attention of your ears and mind to the sound it is putting out. Which ends up muffling your perception of all other sounds. They don’t “stand out” any more and startle or distract you. I guess I came up with the name Noise Box because on the one hand it’s a box that makes a distinctive noise itself, and on the other hand it is a box that “fixes” the noise problems from other sound sources.
If you are sleeping in a totally quiet room, and a loud sound occurs somewhere else in the house early in the morning, your ears and mind will detect it immediately and it will likely startle you awake because it “stands out” so much from the basic sound level in your room. But if your ears have become adjusted to a Noise Box on a nightstand next to your bed, your brain will be “tuned in” to that, and the unexpected sound somewhere in the house will just blend in with it.
If you are working at your desk in your office at home, with the Noise Box right next to your elbow, your ears and mind tune in to it, and minor noises such as someone doing housework in the nearby areas of the house just essentially disappear.
One interesting sidelight I discovered early on, though—if the odd sound is something really important to you—like a baby crying or coughing—your mind will register it and pick it out. When my daughter was young, I could take a nap in the afternoon with my Noise Box and not pay any attention to the neighborhood children playing noisily right outside my bedroom window. The Noise Box muffled their sounds. But that night, if I was sleeping with that same Noise Box, I would still immediately wake up and respond if my daughter had a bad cold and started coughing and crying in the night in the next room.
The Noise Box particularly earns its keep when we are traveling, and staying either in a motel or a friend’s home. All the unfamiliar noises in the new environment are muffled, and we have basically brought our own familiar “surroundings” with us to lull us to sleep … and keep us asleep even when others get up early and start banging around. Hosts are always apologizing to us for either staying up late or getting up early, wondering if we were bothered by their actions. They are always relieved when I explain about my Noise Box, and assure them we heard nothing.
The Marpac SleepMate went on the market in 1962. I think it was the first such white noise machine made available at a reasonable price to the general public. But white noise machines had been used for some time before that in medical settings, particularly in newborn wards in hospitals, to soothe the babies.
As a matter of fact, hospital stays are another great time to have a Noise Box. Often the hospital hallways are noisy all day and night, making it close to impossible to fall asleep or stay asleep even if you have a private room. With a Noise Box, once again you are bringing your “home surroundings” along with you, and it makes it much easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. You still can’t keep that nurse from waking you up at 1 AM to give you the prescribed sleeping pill. J But in many other circumstances it helps.
Since the 1960s, and especially since the advent of digital sound equipment, many new versions of the white noise machine have come on the market, by a variety of manufacturers. They may go by the name “sound machine” or “sound conditioner.” Some have a variety of sounds to pick from, such as imitations of a babbling brook, a rain shower, crickets, or bird songs. Be forewarned … although those variety machines may be pleasant and entertaining, may be soothing and help you relax, they do NOT serve as a “white noise” machine. They will not “muffle” external irritating noises in the same way.
Some do, however, have as one of the choices you may pick from a “white noise” selection. I’ve tried a few of these machines, and in particular their white noise selection. I have not found them nearly as effective as the plain old Noise Box, still made by Marpac, I’ve had for years.
Although Marpac now manufactures the fourth generation of the item, they still look very little different than they did forty years ago, and sound almost identical. I bought one for Ramona when she was a baby. It solved all sorts of problems. I had to worry far less about “waking the baby” with regular household chores. She fell asleep more quickly at home, and when visiting family and friends whose homes had unfamiliar sounds, it muffled them so they didn’t trouble her when trying to nap or sleep at night. When Ramona got married, she took her Noise Box off with her as part of her dowry! She has since bought new ones for herself over the years, and her own children had their own Noise Boxes in their rooms growing up.
Marpac recently changed the name of the item from SleepMate to Marpac “Sound Conditioner.” I suppose they wanted to emphasize that it is useful in many situations other than just sleeping, and “conditions” the sound environment in any room when needed to make it more pleasant for certain purposes, much like an air conditioner conditions the air in a room.
The current best price for a Marpac dual-speed sound conditioner on the Net appears to be at Amazon.com, where they sell for $54.95. (I don’t recommend the single speed version! The sound is much wimpier.) In my mind, it’s worth every penny.
In the middle of a nighttime power outage last year during the hot Southern summer it dawned on me that not only would I be without power for air conditioning, making for a miserable night for sleeping—I was going to have a horrible time falling asleep since I had no Noise Box. And without power the house was going to be basically silent—yet more prone to squeaky floors and odd noises than ever! So at that point I bought a small, square Marpac battery-operated version of my Noise Box, which was also very compact for travel—and would work even for people who loved camping…but don’t love trying to go to sleep with random scary woodland night sounds.
If you should choose to try buying a white noise machine, be sure to give it a week or so to get used to it. Anyone who has spent their life going to bed in mostly silence … even though they may be awakened periodically by irritating sounds … will find having a “noise” going when they are trying to fall asleep a bit bothersome at first. But if you can push past the first few nights, you will be amazed at how much more easily you can fall asleep, and stay asleep through external sounds, with your very own Noise Box!
Although I treasure my computer, cellphone, and Internet connection the most among all my electronic possessions these days because they allow me to keep connected to widely-scattered friends and family, the Noise Box is definitely the very next on the list. I’d much sooner give up my TV, all radios, DVD players, and more, than to have to go without my Noise Box. I literally thank God for it. It greatly increases the quality of my life. At my age (the day I am writing this is Birthday 66) a good night’s sleep is harder and harder to get, because of late-night bathroom trips! But at least I can go to sleep at the beginning of the night quickly once I turn my Noise Box on, can fall asleep again quickly after a potty break, and can “sleep in” pretty well in the morning even when others in the house are stirring around before sunrise. I don’t hear a thing.
Some people yearn for “The Good Old Days,” whenever they think those were. Not me. I am personally convinced that THESE are the good old days. I have no desire to go back to the days of no air conditioning, no cell phones, no Internet… and no Noise Boxes. Yes, today I am very, very GR8FUL 4 My Noise Box.