Feeling Right as Rain: Which Sounds Are Best for Sleep?

Bokeh made by lights on a rainy day

Key Points

  • Rain sounds for sleep soothe the brain into a relaxed state, helping induce drowsiness.

  • The best rain sounds for sleep have a rhythmic and consistent pattern.

  • White, pink, or brown noises are other popular sounds to help with sleep.

For many people, trying to fall asleep seems impossible. Some people try sleep yoga to fall asleep. Some people need sleeping medications. Some people curl up with a good book. There are many options to choose from, but one, in particular, stands the test of time. Many people rely on playing rain sounds for sleeping

Think about it! Babies get rocked to sleep with a lullaby; preschools play soft classical music at nap time; and some adults even listen to audiobooks to fall asleep. However, a new option has emerged: playing rain sounds for sleeping

Most agree that there's something about the sound of rain on the roof that's very relaxing. If you are having trouble falling asleep, consider playing the same relaxing rain sounds as you drift off to the land of slumber. 

Rain and Rest

The soothing sound of rain as you are winding down for bed seems like the most peaceful thing in the world. Have you ever wondered why is rain so relaxing? 

For starters, humans enjoy the pattering sound of rain because the sound is non-threatening. It might sound silly to categorize rain as a non-threatening sound. However, the monotony and uninterrupted cascade of droplets hitting the windows of your house steadies the brain's threat-activated vigilance system, making it easier to relax. Thus, rain sounds are effective for sleeping because they help your brain chill out.

A woman sleeps soundly in her bed at night

On a scientific level, the sound of rain causes the brain to send alpha waves. Alpha waves are a normal part of the sleep-wake cycle; they generate the feeling of drowsiness and are essentially the segue from wakefulness to sleep. 

Once alpha waves are active in the brain, you'll probably start to feel sleepy and calm and have an easier time falling asleep.

Does Rain Put You To Sleep?

The short answer is yes! When you play rain sounds in order to fall asleep, besides triggering the all-important alpha wave production, you slow your heart rate and breathing. As your body's automatic functions slow down, you feel calmer and more tired. 

Playing rain sounds while you sleep also covers up any outside sounds that might disturb sleep, like those loud, pesky neighbors next door. Nature sounds, in general, are very relaxing, and many folks enjoy rain sounds, waterfalls, crashing ocean waves, and even snowfall as sleep soundtracks.

When It Rains, It Pours

Not all rain sounds are equal. Different options exist, from a light drizzle to rainforest rain to intense rainstorms – yes, storms! 

Many of these rain sounds for sleeping are freely accessible on platforms like YouTube and Spotify. There are many 8-10 hour videos of just a dark screen and rain sounds; these are great because they won't suddenly stop and potentially disrupt your sleep. 

There are also downloadable sounds and even podcasts on music streaming platforms featuring nothing but sleep sounds. You can also purchase relatively inexpensive (~$20) white noise machines with various pre-programmed options from which to choose.

Looking out a window on a rainy afternoon

You might feel overwhelmed sorting through all the options, so here’s a breakdown of the best rain sounds for your next night’s sleep:

Regular Old Rain

Of course, a classic and steady rain sound is one of the most popular sounds for sleep, but it is also one of the most popular sounds on the internet. 

Neuropsychologist and Forbes Health Advisory Board member Dr. Judy Ho explains, "Our brains are attracted to patterns and routines. Rhythmic patterns, like soft and steady rainfall, signal relaxation." Brains always assess the environment for a threat, so the constant sound of consistent rainfall helps turn off those alarm signals, enabling the listener to relax and let sleep take over. 

Find one of these soft, rhythmic sounds on any music or streaming platform by searching for "steady rain sounds" or simply "rain sounds for sleeping." A popular — and free — option comes up when you search "12 hours of gentle night rain" on YouTube. The 12-hour video features a dark screen perfect for nighttime, and there is no danger of an ad interrupting your relaxing rain sounds.

Thunder and Rain

Another popular rain sound appears when you search for "thunder and rain sounds." For many, the sound of thunder is also very rhythmic and helps foster a relaxed state in the brain.

Your brain constantly craves stimuli, so a gentle thunderstorm with rain in the background helps scratch that itch without triggering a fight-or-flight response. On YouTube, one of the most beloved rain sounds, which has over 129 million views, is called "Thunder and Rain Sound for Sleep." The video also features an entirely black screen with no ad interruptions. 

This popular video goes on for 10 hours, so go ahead and play it the whole night without worrying that it will shut off.

A white noise machine sits on a nightstand in a bedroom

Strong Thunder and Heavy Rain

Some people love the sound of thunder. If you are one of these people, searching for "heavy rainstorm and strong thunder sounds" may do the trick. 

Listening to any of the soothing sounds of nature positively affects anxiety symptoms. If you battle anxiety when falling asleep at night, you might want to try listening to a rain sound with more thunder mixed in. 

A tried and true option on YouTube comes up when you search for "epic thunder and rain." This sound has more thunder and is a much heavier rain pattern; it's less of a drizzle and more of a downpour.

A heavy rain sound with some extra thunder might be what you need if your mind refuses to stop reeling when you try to go to bed.

The Colors of Sleep Sounds

If rain sounds don't work for you, fear not: Many other options exist. A classic favorite is good old white noise. Some people opt for white noise while they study or meditate in addition to when they sleep. 

It doesn’t have to be all white noise, though. There are other color sounds out there! Besides white noise, there is pink noise, brown noise, and some people classify black noise as its own separate choice. However, like with the rain sounds, the different options can be a lot; who knew there is a difference between white and pink noise? 

Here are some of the basics of each sound:

White Noise

White noise, on a technical level, is a noise that contains all possible frequencies that are audible to humans at equal intensity. Some people liken it to the sound of the radio static between stations. 

White noise has long been studied in the medical field, hailed for its "masking" properties. Essentially, white noise contains all frequencies, creating one uniform sound perfect for blocking out all other sounds. 

Not only does white noise help you fall asleep, it allows you to stay asleep by keeping all other sounds at bay. Spotify and YouTube have some excellent white noise sounds for free! Just search for "white noise."

A man sleeps soundly in his bed at night

Pink Noise

Pink noise is similar to white noise in that it contains all audible frequencies, but pink noise has unequal intensities. Simply put, pink noise sounds a little bit lower in pitch than white noise. Some researchers liken this sound to a waterfall or strong river. 

Pink noise is beloved because it enhances deep sleep. The alpha waves mentioned earlier aren't the only brain waves during the sleep/wake cycle. Delta waves are the brain waves present during the deepest part of your sleep. Pink noise amplifies those delta waves and helps you get the best quality sleep possible. Amplifying the delta waves also means you are less likely to wake up in the middle of the night. 

Pink noise sounds are easy to find on YouTube and Spotify as well.

Brown Noise

Brown noise contains all audible frequencies but sounds even deeper in octave than pink noise.

People describe brown noise as being close to a rainstorm or a shower. Some people also find brown noise to be softer. Many enjoy brown noise more than white noise because its lower pitch is less harsh and cancels out high-pitched sounds better. 

Brown noise also induces relaxation, making falling asleep at night easier. It slows down your breathing and heart rates, creating a soothing effect.

A rainy afternoon outside a house

Facing the Music

You probably haven't fallen asleep to music since you were little, but playing soft music may lead to your adult life's best sleep.

Listening to music produces dopamine, which is nicknamed "the feel-good hormone." When you fall asleep with music playing, your brain produces dopamine, improving sleep quality. However, playing heavy metal or electronic dance music just before bed is not the best idea. Additionally, depressing music or anything with an overly morose message might just make you sad, not sleepy.

Songs with a slow, even beat, similar to the pattern of rain sounds, are your best bet. Songs with around 60 beats per minute are particularly effective because your heart rate slows to that same rate as you fall asleep. Most classical music or even some soft jazz music make great sleeping sounds.

If you try sleeping with music on, avoid sleeping with earbuds or headphones in your ears. If you often go to bed after a shower, sleeping with earbuds might trap that water in your ear and cause problems like an infection. Even if you don't shower at night, sleeping with earbuds or headphones may damage your ear canals when you turn over in your sleep.

Instead, try using a speaker or playing music from a nearby computer. Your ears will thank you later!

Woman sleeps soundly at night in her bed

The Final Note on Sleeping Sounds

Is one sleeping sound better than another?

It really comes down to personal preference. Some people don’t fall asleep without music or a podcast playing in their earbuds, while others struggle with any background noise whatsoever. However, generally speaking, the best sounds to play for falling asleep and staying asleep are rain sounds or plain old white noise. These two are the most strongly science-backed options, which may explain why they are the most popular.

Rain sounds work to relax your brain and body, helping you fall asleep easily, while white noise keeps outside noises to a minimum, helping you stay asleep. Several sounds have white noise playing in addition to the rain sounds, so if you're sensitive to disruptive noises, a rain and white noise combination sound is just the thing for you.

If you consistently have trouble falling asleep even after trying rain sounds, it might be a good idea to check in with your doctor, as there could be an underlying issue messing with your body's sleep rhythms.

Rain sounds are an easy, non-medical way to work through occasional insomnia. If you have a difficult time falling asleep every now and again, trying out some sleeping sounds definitely won't hurt. In fact, a new rain sound or white noise option could be your ticket to a more blissful, effortless night of sleep.

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