As covered in "Why Americans Can't Sleep," more than half of people in Consumer Reports' new sleep survey of more than 4,000 U.S. adults who report that they have tried a white-noise machine say the device helps them sleep.

And sleep experts agree. “They can be helpful for some individuals who live in noisy environments because an abrupt change in sound level can interfere with sleep," says Nathanial Watson, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "And they can be soothing for people who are sensitive to changes in their environment."

A white-noise machine—which both blocks out distractions and provides soothing sounds—can be pricey, though, and is not especially portable. But you can enjoy the white-noise benefit with a free smartphone app. We tested whether those high-tech versions work as well.


What We Tested

We compared two apps with two white-noise machines that were favorites among our panelists in a previous test—the Brookstone Tranquil Moments Advanced Sleep Sounds, $170, and Marpac Dohm DS, $50. In our tests, neither the myNoise app (available for Apple iOS devices) nor the White Noise Free Sleep Sounds app (Android and iOS devices) precisely matched the sounds produced by the machines, such as ocean tides, soft rain, and purring cats, but they sounded very similar.

The apps, however, have many more sounds to choose from (some sounds are sold separately) than a typical white-noise machine, and you have the option of recording your own personalized sounds. Plus the apps are as portable as your smartphone is, which makes them a good choice for travelers.

If you like your white-noise machine sounds to be at high volume, the apps have the advantage because you can connect your smartphone directly to external speakers (wirelessly or wired). The apps offer a sleep timer and an alarm clock, just like many machines do.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.