Noise colorsColors of Noise for Sleep

Colors of Noise: Discover the Best Option for Quality Sleep

I often toss and turn at night. If the breeze whispers through the curtains, I get up; if the car starts i’m wide awake. And, it seems, I’m not alone.

According to a 2022 survey conducted by Gallup and mattress retailer Casper, one-third of U.S. adults report their sleep the previous night as good or poor — versus good, very good, or excellent. That suggests about 85 million of us, based on the 2020 census, aren’t getting enough shut-eye.

On the Internet, noisy apps and machines are touted as the answer to this sleep deprivation, as well as a host of other health problems ranging from tinnitus to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Read on to learn whether white, pink, or brown noise is worth the hype.

Which color noise is best for sleep?

Despite how often their benefits are touted, there isn’t a lot of actual research on how noise colors affect things like sleep, anxiety, and focus. A 2021 views of 38 different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found little evidence that white noise improves sleep.

In fact, some of the studies in the review claim that listening to sounds continuously all night can be harmful. First, some people may find that the added noise simply disrupts their sleep.

Another concern is that sleep is an important time for the brain; it should work to repair the body and improve our immune system during this time. If it also has to analyze the soothing sounds of white or pink noise, will the brain be working overtime?

Benefits of soothing sounds for sleep

And yet hundreds of millions of TikTok videos claim that sonic nuances are beneficial to our sleep schedules and overall mental health. Could this be a classic case of the placebo effect?

Well, one possible way is white noise and other sounds i can to help you sleep is if you make them a major part of your nighttime routine. Whether or not that routine involves a noise machine, doing the same tasks before you hit the hay every night helps your brain they recognize when it’s time to rest.

After all, we are creatures of habit. Here are some other ways to incorporate white noise or its analogs into your schedule that you might find helpful.

What is white noise?

The way we perceive different types of noise depends on the frequency of their sound waves, or the number of repetitions of the sound waves per second. Higher frequencies sound higher to the human ear and lower frequencies sound lower.

Just as white light contains every color of the rainbow, white noise contains every frequency we can hear – from about 20 to 20,000 hertz. But because all these frequencies play in rapid, random succession, our brains combine them in a Frankenstein-like fashion that ends up mimicking television or radio static.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, white noise is the most researched of all the different colors. And various studies show that this is a great way to manage distractions.

White noise spectrum (Credit: Warrakkk/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Better focus

Our brains are better at detecting changes in our environment if there is a low level of distracting background information. You won’t do your best reading until, say, a fire alarm goes off.

Adding white noise to the mix can help mask weaker distracting sounds, making them seem less significant to your brain. A 2021 study published in Sleep medicine tested this technique in busy New York City and found that listening to white noise at night actually helped participants who struggled to fall asleep due to outside noise.

For the same reason, white noise has also been found to be helpful for those with tinnitus, ADHD and reading disabilities.

Of course, white noise isn’t perfect. Since our ears are naturally tuned to higher frequencies, many people find it too high for their taste. If this rings true for you, read on for some alternatives.

What is pink noise?

Pink noise spectrum (Credit: Warrakkk/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Pink noise is considered more balanced listening than white noise because it reduces the volume of the higher frequencies of the audio spectrum. Basically, this explains our natural sensitivity to these frequencies.

As a result, pink noise mimics the soothing sound of steady rain—or even the sounds of the womb.

In 2012, a team of researchers based in China analyzed the brain waves of 40 sleeping subjects while they listened to pink noise. Compared to those who slept without it, the researchers found evidence of deeper sleep, less complex brain waves, and fewer responses to potential sleep disturbances.

Other studies show that it can be helpful for relaxation and noise in the earsand various researchers have also experimented with using pink noise to help our brains better catalog memories during deep sleep—although more research is needed to confirm whether this is the case for all or even most people.

Read more: Research shows promising effects of music on brain power

What is brown noise?

Brown noise spectrum (Credit: Warrakkk/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Brown noise — technical name Brownian noise after the name of the Scottish botanist who discovered chaotic movements characteristic of Brownian motion — takes us a step beyond the pink nose. This model further cuts the higher frequencies to create a deeper, rumbling sound that mimics distant thunder, a waterfall, or the inside of an airplane cabin in flight.

Like white and pink noise, brown noise is useful for masking distracting sounds. However, choose brown noise if these sounds are a bit lower.

In a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychologybrown noise has also been shown to support the transition to REM sleep for some. Other studies further point to a positive effect on psychomotor, executive function, working memory and noise in the ears.

A common myth warns us of the shameful brown note, a sound frequency so low that it can cause spontaneous bowel movements as it rumbles through the human body. While this may sound like a convenient alternative to including more fiber in your diet, the brown note is actually nothing more than a myth.

What about other colors of noise?

White, pink, and brown noise are the most well-known and researched, but there are many other sonic nuances.

Violet noise

Violet noise, sometimes called differentiated white noise, reproduces high frequencies with greater volume than brown noise, but also produces a hissing sound.

Blue noise

Blue noise is reminiscent of a hissing garden hose and is useful for dithering – otherwise known as adding low levels of noise to audio to reduce distortion when converting to lower resolutions.

Green noise

Green noise concentrates on mid-range frequencies around 500 Hz, like the sounds you might hear in nature, earning it the nickname “the noise of the world.”

Orange noise

Perhaps the most unusual is orange noise, which uses all frequencies of the spectrum except those considered “tuned”.

Gray noise

Or if you’re into white noise, you can give gray noise a shot; it sounds a little smoother because it’s calibrated so that your ears hear each frequency at the same volume.

In the end, it’s better to choose the noise that you just like the most. And, of course, if you’re really not a fan of any kind of the above, try black noise — better known as silence!

Read more: Awkward silences: Maybe it’s time to stop avoiding them and start embracing them

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