Your Best Night’s Sleep is a Shade of Noise Away

Updated: Feb 23



What is white, pink, and brown noise? What is the difference between these sonic hues and what is so good about them when it comes to sleep?


Do you ever complain of having a poor night’s sleep? Oftentimes, well-meaning loved ones can provide you with a myriad of ideas on how to rectify your situation. Suggestions abound from how cool the room is, how dark it is when you sleep or do you have a phone with notifications going off near you? Perhaps it’s not quiet enough, or it is too quiet? Actually, that might be the key – how noisy is your room and is it the right kind of noise?


White noise is quite ubiquitous in this day in age. It’s quite common for most parents to use a white noise machine in their baby’s room. This is especially true if they have a house full of noisy kids unaware that it is the baby’s naptime. Let’s explore the sonic hues within this world of white noise to see how they differ from one another and what benefits they provide. Perhaps the right hue of white noise is the answer to your best night’s sleep.


What is White Noise?


If you tune your grandmother’s AM/FM radio between stations, you might hear the familiar “shhh” sound of white noise. White noise is simply an unused frequency. The reason it’s called “white” is similar to why they call white light–white. They each contain all the “colors” of light. Or in this instance, all the colors or wavelengths of sound that are audible to the human ear at an equal intensity.


The reason why white noise may be helpful when it comes to sleep is not so much the noise that it emits, but mostly for the blanket of sound it provides should there be a sharp or sudden noise that could potentially jolt you out of sleep. The white noise will provide a good background to bring down the intensity of any sudden noises and keep you in your sleep rhythm.


But What about Pink and Brown Noise?


Both pink and brown noises are sonic hues within the world of white noise, however, they each provide a different frequency that can be even better than what your grandmother’s radio dial provides. For instance, the soothing and rhythmic sounds of rainfall or wind are examples of pink noise. This pink hue of white noise reduces the higher frequencies and is often found to be much more soothing than white noise. Many people find pink noise to be much more calming than white noise because human ears can be particularly sensitive to the higher frequencies within white noise.


Brown (or red) noise takes things a step further providing a more dramatic effect. Brown noise reduces those higher frequencies, even more than pink, producing a low rumbling sound. Perfect examples of brown noise are that of a strong river current, a strong wind, thunder, or a waterfall. Those that find pink noise soothing, may find brown or red noise even more so.


What Are the Benefits of These Sonic Hues?


A 2017 study in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience in pink noise found positive links to sleeping with this hue all night to include: deeper sleep, improving your memory, and potentially showing improvement in memory long term. Senior author in the study, Dr. Phyllis Zee - professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says, “The effect here, at least for memory, is quite related to the ability of the sound stimulus to enhance slow-wave sleep.”


Why is slow-wave sleep important? According to SleepAssociation.org, slow-wave sleep plays a major role in memory consolidation and brain restoration. It is crucial in cognitive functioning and of utmost importance to your overall health.

More research is needed to conclude what the benefits of brown noise are positively linked to, but potential benefits point to:

  1. Sleep Improvement

  2. Deeper relaxation

  3. May help improve focus


Which Noise is Best for Me?


The choice between white noises is a personal preference and it is best to try each and see which has a more positive effect on you. The key is to experiment with the different colors using an app or a sound machine that provides at least these three white noise capabilities (white, pink, and brown) in a non-looping format. A non-looping sound machine will play continuously all night long without any interruptions. There are a plethora of sound machines, various apps, and even YouTube videos to play these differing sounds from.


Here are some important factors to keep in mind when choosing the right sound machine.


Does the machine:

  • Provide pink and/or brown noise?

  • Allow you to adjust the volume?

  • Provide Bluetooth capabilities for your headphones or earbuds

  • Provide an alarm or sleep timer?

  • Provide a non-looping, uninterrupted format?


Is Noise the Best Solution?


While these noise machines are the solution so sleeping difficulty for many people, it’s also important to consider other factors that may be at play. Before deciding on noise as your sleep-savior, ensure you’ve tried other more traditional methods to get the best sleep possible. It may seem obvious, but a noise machine may not be much help if you’re sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress.


The noise machine is a great option, but it may also be time to pick up a new mattress, cut out the blue light, or revamp your nighttime routine as well.


Certainly, a pink or brown noise machine in your room may be the x-factor to your best sleep ever. However, keep in mind that good sleep habits, in general, will add to the best sleep for all the nights to come.