Lack of sleep can make it difficult to focus at work or school. It can also negatively impact your mental and physical health over time.
Often, white noise is recommended for sleep troubles, but it’s not the only noise that can help. Other sonic hues, like pink noise, may also improve your sleep.
Most people are familiar with white noise, that static sound of an air conditioner that lulls us to sleep by drowning out any background noise. White noise has been a popular choice for sound machines to help babies sleep for the past decade or so.
Given how common sleep-related issues like insomnia are, it’s no wonder that the use of sound machines and sleep apps is on the rise. With a number of options available — including white, pink and brown noise— what “colour” noise is best for sleeping?
WHAT IS PINK NOISE?
The colour of noise is determined by the energy of the sound signal. Specifically, it depends on how energy is distributed over various frequencies, or the speed of sound.
Pink noise consists of all frequencies we can hear, but the energy isn’t equally distributed across them. It’s more intense at lower frequencies, which creates a deep sound.
Nature is full of pink noise, including:
- rustling leaves
- steady rain
To the human ear, pink noise sounds “flat” or “even.”
In recent years, pink noise has become the darling of the noise spectrum, dethroning white as the in-vogue option on sound generators for sleep or concentration. In 2013, a study published in the journal Neuron found that pink noise helped participants achieve deeper sleep.
A 2017 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience also found a positive link between pink noise and deep sleep. Deep sleep supports memory and helps you feel refreshed in the morning.
WHAT IS BROWN NOISE?
If you haven’t had much luck with white and pink noise, you may be wondering, “What is brown noise all about?” Brown noise has been described as sounding a bit “deeper ” than pink noise.
It has more “energy” but is also softer than white or pink noise. You might find it to be calming or focusing if you like doing work or drifting off to sleep with a decent amount of background noise.
White, pink and brown noises are all different forms of “sonic hues.” Brown noise is considered a layered sonic hue that has a sound like a low roar.
Examples in nature include the sound of a strong river current, strong wind, waterfall, thunder or heavy rainfall.
What does brown noise do to the brain that may allow it to help improve sleep? Experts tell us that sudden changes in noise, while we are sleeping, can wake us up or keep us up.
Noise colours are continuous and mute out changing/sudden noises in our homes that can startle us out of sleep. By listening to low-level background noise, your brain will be less alerted to changes in sounds compared to when it’s silent.
Like white and pink noises, brown noises can also be used to boost relaxation and focus. Continuous, soft noise can be used to help “quiet your mind” and tune out thoughts that may be running through your head.
Some report that brown noise serves as the perfect soft, monotonous soundtrack to life.
Can Brown noise make you poop? Perhaps if you listen to calming sounds while in the bathroom, then this may be one benefit tied to enhanced relaxation and reduced stress and muscle tension.
However, brown noise is not the same thing as what’s called the “brown note,” which is a hypothetical low-frequency sound that some people claim makes them go to the bathroom (although this hasn’t been proven).
MAY HELP IMPROVE FOCUS
Some people consider brown noise to be a great “work soundtrack.” It can mask distracting noises in your environment, such as people talking nearby, typing, chewing, etc.
Of course, if it helps you to get more sleep, this is another way it will improve mental performance.
To help you concentrate and get work done, play it at a volume that’s loud enough to drown out soft noises in your environment but not too distracting.
HOW TO USE PINK OR BROWN NOISE
The easiest way to take advantage of noise's calming effects is to get a noise generator, aka a sounds machine. Look for one that produces a range of colours (white, pink or brown) and is non-looping, so it plays continuously all night. You may want to look for one that plays nature sounds.
Additionally, you can use a sleep/sound machine app on your phone if you don’t want to purchase a device. You can even simply play YouTube videos of "natural pink noise" or "deep brown noise" from your computer or phone for free. Most of these videos are 10 hours long so you're probably sweet.
The downside to this approach is that it may turn off after a period of time or drain your phone/computer battery if playing all night.
The truth is, there isn’t one specific type of sound that is going to make everyone sleepy. It depends on personal preference. That means that you may need to experiment a bit to find out which type of sound you find most relaxing and sleep-promoting.
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