The sound of silence: who else can't sleep without the fan?

Journalist Serena Coady demonstrates the real way to sleep with a fan.
Journalist Serena Coady demonstrates the real way to sleep with a fan. Photo: Jamila Toderas

For the past few months, I’ve had interrupted sleep. Not just the kind where you wake up needing to pee or because you hear possums brazenly mating by your window, but the sleep paralysis kind.

And it takes a while to fall asleep too, which sucks, because it’s like waiting two hours for a bus that you’re not sure you want to catch, and when you get on the driver turns around and he’s got swirling purple anime eyes and a shark phallus for a mouth and he just screams: "Get in, we’re heading to hades."

It was only when I purchased a swanky new desk fan - in copper, or in my own premium terms, rose gold - that I realised what I had been missing.

Running the fan while I slept gave me the best rest I’d had in a while. It was the kind of blissful sleep in which you have absurd dreams and rise to find you have a new bedfellow: drool.

Many sleep with the fan obviously because the airflow creates a cooler, more comfortable environment and sometimes helps with systematically blocked noses. But there's also another reason, the noise.

"For a lot of people, it's the fact that the fan creates white noise, which blocks out other noises," Sleep Health Foundation chair and sleep psychologist, professor Dorothy Bruck said.

"White noise acts as a noise reduction and noise cancellation. So a fan can be good for those who are a little susceptible during their sleep to external noises."

White noise can provide relief for light sleepers as it creates a consistent sound buffer between silence and distinct noises like a car horn or dog bark that could disrupt sleep and engage the brain.

The less-engaging, repetitive sound of something like a fan helps the brain be less responsive to stimulation. So it's the consistent sound of the whooshing blades helping tune out the sound of a rogue housemate's bathroom run and the ghosts mercilessly Zorba dancing at the foot of my bed.


Studies have also shown that white noise can help newborns sleep better, with low-frequency noises like a hum, whistling wind or you guessed it, a fan, helping to create a consistent sound which drowns out extra stimulation.

Come to think of it, the humble fan has been a factor in my most blissfully zonked out sleep since I was young: after a scorching afternoon swimming out the front of our coast house, or napping with my cousins in Malaysia.

If a fan isn't your idea of white noise, there are also countless apps on the market like Sound Sleeper, White Noise Ambience Lite or Womb Sounds, if you wanna get fleshy.

But while it’s hot, and you’ve got the fan going anyway - or the hired help fanning you with a large leaf - test whether it's helping you rest, and maybe install six more fans for an eternal sleep.