While many folks shop online to find a white noise machine, which can range from $20 to more than $100, there may be no need. You’re probably already in possession of one ― you may even be holding it in your hand right now.
iPhones running on iOS 15 or later all have a white noise feature built-in, so long as it’s an iPhone X or later and the software is up to date. (For reference, iPhone X models were first available in 2017, so more recent iPhones — iPhone 11, 12, 13, 14 and the models across each lineup — will have this feature.)
But first: What do these white noise devices actually do?
“The key feature of the sound devices is the constant sound in contrast to changing sounds like with music, radio and television,” said Dr. David Neubauer, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Our brains pay attention to changing sound, but a comfortable constant sound can help lull us to sleep.”
Different sounds in your home may also block out environmental noise, but the constant sounds emitted from these machines help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Here’s how to use your iPhone’s white noise sounds.
The setting is not labeled as “white noise,” but is instead called “background sounds” on your iPhone.
To get to this feature, go to Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Background Sounds.
Once here, toggle on background sounds and you’ll be greeted with a relaxing sound to help you sleep or focus.
You can choose from a range of sounds: rain, stream, ocean, balanced noise, bright noise and dark noise. You can also adjust the sound’s volume.
That’s all you have to do to select your preferred background sound and volume level.
Keep in mind that you won’t be able to set a timer for this background sound to turn off after a set number of hours, but you can turn on a setting that will stop the background sounds when your phone is locked.
Here’s a video for a visual, step-by-step explanation for turning on your phone’s white noise feature.
You can add a shortcut to reach this feature quickly.
If you want to use this feature frequently but don’t want to follow the steps above every time, you can set up an accessibility shortcut.
By creating an accessibility shortcut for background sounds, you’ll be able to turn on and off your preferred background sound by triple clicking your iPhone’s side power button.
To set up an accessibility shortcut, go to Settings > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut and select Background Sounds. From there, you’ll be able to use the triple-tap trick to turn on the white noise.
Background sound for sleep can be helpful for several reasons.
There’s a reason why many people — from parents of infants to folks who live in busy neighborhoods — swear by these white noise sounds.
“I think there are two ways that sound devices are helpful. Most obviously they can block out other sudden noises that might awaken us during complete silence at night,” Neubauer said.
These noises can include honking horns, barking dogs or loud neighbors — all things that have probably woken you up at one point in your life.
The devices also “create a sound cocoon that might provide a sense of security,” Neubauer said. “Sometimes absolute silence can have people listening intently and inhibiting drifting off to sleep.”
In other words, you won’t find yourself listening for bumps in the night as your sound machine blocks noise and lulls you to sleep, but you will still be able to hear important noises like a home alarm.
These machines often emit calming sounds like rainfall or the buzz of a fan, or calming static noises that are officially known as brown noise or pink noise. (While “white noise” is often used as a blanket term, true white noise can be pretty harsh — these alternatives are much more conducive to sleep, Neubauer said.)
While a recent systematic review of sound devices did not find proof of their benefits, Neubauer said that is because there isn’t much serious research on the topic. He said sound devices are still worth trying ― he uses them himself.
And, if you have a recent iPhone, you can try out sleeping with relaxing background sounds without even purchasing a sound machine.