For some people who find themselves tossing and turning at night, the answer is as simple as finding the right background noise to lull you to sleep. You’ve probably already heard of white noise, but what about pink and brown noise? What’s the difference between the three, and which is better for sleep?
Below, we outline everything that we learned in the course of our thorough, science-based research into the question.
Ambient Noise Explained
White, pink, and brown noise all provide a constant background sound. You may hear these noises referred to as background noise or ambient noise, but why is this helpful for sleep?
Our brains are always processing sensory stimuli, even when we’re asleep, which is why sounds from snoring, conversations, or cars passing by can jolt us awake. However, we’re not awakened by the sound itself; instead, the sudden difference in noise is what disturbs our slumber.
Ambient noise provides a consistent sound environment and masks other jolting sounds for peaceful sleep.
White Noise vs. Pink Noise vs. Brown Noise: How Are They Different?
Not all ambient noise is created equal, and finding the right color for you can take some trial and error. Here’s what you need to know about each one.
What Is White Noise?
White noise is a kind of sound with equal intensity across all frequencies the human ear can hear. The result is a steady humming that blocks out distracting sounds. White noise can sometimes be high-pitched, which some people may find too intense for sleep.
Examples of White Noise
- The whirring of a fan
- Static from the TV or radio
What Is Pink Noise?
In pink noise, higher frequencies are diminished and lower frequencies are louder. A lot of people find pink noise quite soothing, as it’s more flat and even than white noise.
Examples of Pink Noise
- Rustling leaves
- Steady rain
- Crashing waves
What Is Brown Noise?
Brown noise is deeper and stronger thanks to higher energy at lower frequencies. It has no high frequency sounds, unlike pink and white noise. Though using brown noise for sleep is less common, plenty of people find it excellent for studying or working.
Examples of Brown Noise
- Low roaring
Which Is Better for Sleep?
Now let’s compare pink, white, and brown noise’s effectiveness at inducing sleep. Keep in mind that not every color will work for you, so you may have to give them each a try to find the one that works best.
Brown Noise vs. White Noise for Sleep
There is a lack of conclusive research to support the claim that brown noise is effective for sleeping. Some anecdotal evidence points to it possibly being useful in inducing sleep and helping with relaxation, but many people find it a bit too intense at night. Give it a try, but don’t be surprised if it’s not your cup of tea.
On the other hand, white noise drowns out startling sounds that can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. It’s often recommended for those who have trouble falling asleep, especially people with sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Where brown noise does seem to have the upper hand is in concentration. If you need to study or work, it may help improve your productivity. Brown noise might also help reduce anxiety, especially in high-stress environments.
Pink Noise vs. White Noise for Sleep
Your best bets for sleep are pink noise and white noise. Likely, someone has already suggested the latter to you, as the benefits of white noise for sleep are widely known. (It may also be responsible for things like improved memory and deeper concentration). But what does pink noise do?
Pink noise isn’t as deep as white noise, but it still masks jarring noises that can startle you out of a peaceful slumber. Plus, a 2012 study showed that it reduces brain waves, which can help you fall asleep faster. It may also help you sleep more deeply.
What about those who suffer from tinnitus? White noise is suitable for these people, but some with sensitive hearing prefer pink noise. White noise has higher frequency sounds, which can sound more intense and make falling asleep more difficult.
How to Boost the Effectiveness of Ambient Noise
Whether you prefer white, pink, or brown noise, here are some things you can do to boost its effectiveness.
- Limit food intake. Eating large meals before bed can disrupt your sleep. Limit food intake a few hours before bedtime. If you find yourself hungry late at night, try to keep snacks light (think fruit or toast).
- Limit naps. Too-long naps can throw off your sleep schedule, too. The ideal nap length is thirty minutes or less, so be sure to set a timer if you plan to snooze during the day.
- Follow a bedtime routine. Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, and institute a relaxing nighttime routine. Activities like reading, stretching, or meditating all help prepare your body for a restful night’s sleep.
- Dim the lights. Artificial lights before bedtime are a no-no: they stimulate your brain and suppress melatonin. Dim or turn off lamps (night-lights are a fantastic option), and put down your smartphone or other screens about an hour before you plan to go to sleep.
- Move your body. Moving your body requires you to exert physical energy, which can help you feel more ready to hit the sheets. Aim to get at least thirty minutes of exercise per day, but avoid strenuous activities in the evening, as this could negatively impact sleep.
The Bottom Line?
Discovering which type of noise works best for you may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort—especially when used in tandem with the above tips. However, if changing your habits isn’t working, you may want to talk to your doctor. In some cases, the help of a medical professional is the best way to get quality sleep.