Why do you hear noises in your white noise machine?


Every night, like millions of people, I turn on a noise machine to help me sleep. My noise comes in many colors: white, pink, green and brown. However, I have noticed something strange. After about 30 minutes of the noise echoing in my head, I started hearing things. Sometimes it's music, like a full orchestral score. Other times people are talking beyond the range where I hear actual words. Sometimes it feels like my husband is playing a video game.

So I do what most people do when some random noise keeps them up at night. I try to find it. I turn off the white noise and listen carefully. Do I need my husband to turn off the TV? Should I message neighbors to see if they're okay? Is there, in fact, an entire orchestra playing on the street below my window?

And yes, that never happens.

The first time I Googled this random noise I got nervous. Apparently hearing things that aren't there is referred to in the psychological profession as auditory pareidolia, or auditory hallucinations, and it's a hallmark of schizophrenia — and some experts say it requires psychological testing. it occurs.

“Since this phenomenon is more likely to occur in people with psychotic disorders, individuals should be evaluated by a mental health professional if they are hearing these hallucinations,” advises Ruth Reisman, an audiologist who specializes in rehabilitation with auditory technology. Let's concentrate. She also notes that research is divided on the topic, with some studies saying that noise causes hallucinations and some saying that it does not.

But regardless, surely my therapist, whom I have been seeing regularly for nearly a decade, would have picked up on any schizophrenic tendencies I might have. I am many things, but schizophrenic is not one of them. I'm just…hearing strange noises in unintelligible voices.

Luckily for me and anyone else struggling with this particular affliction, this is a perfectly common reason why you might hear random sounds in white noise (or any other continuous noise). It's still called auditory pareidolia, but it's on the pattern-matching end of the spectrum rather than the psychosis end. Simply put, your brain is trying to figure out what it's hearing, so it's filling in the gaps of the noise you're hearing with a normal sound.

“When you listen, your brain is a pattern-matching machine,” says Neil Bauman, CEO of the Center for Hearing Loss Help. “Everything I say, all my words, all the sounds, are in your brain, in your database. And as each sound comes in, your brain looks at its database to see if it has a similar pattern of sounds. If it does, it says, oh, I recognize that word.

Even if it's a word you don't know – for example, something in ancient Greek – you'll still recognize some letters and some sounds, and your brain will fill in the blanks to repeat the pattern you've heard before. Know from.

Any app or machine you hear that produces white, brown, pink, green, or other colored noise is based on an algorithm or code. It's not actually random – so you'll get what seems like random noise for a while, and then the sounds will repeat. On the surface, it probably doesn't seem that way. But your brain recognizes the pattern and tries to understand it, which leads to sounds that don't really exist.