White, pink, blue or brown noise: which is best for your sleep?
Many people have a love-hate relationship with noise at night, especially if you live in the city or have family members keeping you up at night. Loud changes in sound are jarring and can interrupt sleep. However, noise machines provide sleepers with stable color noise that helps block out these unwanted sounds.
You’re probably thinking about white noise right now. White noise is the best known, and the machines that produce it have been on the market for decades. But that’s not the only noise that can help you sleep. Let’s take a look at the types of noise, what they sound like, and which one is best for sleeping.
What is a sound wave, anyway?
OK, let’s dig into some science. You can deconstruct sound waves into two components:
- Frequency, which refers to the rate at which the wave vibrates per second and is measured in Hertz (distant memories of high school science still coming back?). One Hertz means one vibration per second.
- Amplitudealso called power, which refers to the size of the waves. This is usually measured in decibels, a measure of loudness or loudness of sound.
All the different colors of sound vibrate at different frequencies, and their names are vaguely analogous to the colors of light. For example, white noise emits all frequencies audible to the human ear, just as white light contains all colors of light visible to the human eye.
Do not confuse sound colors with ambient noise, which refers to the background noise present in a given environment; for example, the rumble of a train mingled with the chatter of passengers, or the rustle of leaves in the wind mingled with birdsong.
The colors of sound are continuous, unchanging signals at a particular frequency and amplitude.
Why use noise to sleep?
We’ve talked about what sound waves are, now let’s see why they can help you sleep.
- It muffles other sounds: Generally, it’s not the sound itself that wakes us up or keeps us from falling asleep in the first place. On the contrary, sudden changes in sound wake us up – think of a slamming door, a barking dog or a lightning bolt. This is where sleep sounds come in. By filling our bedrooms with constant sound, we can drown out these outside distractions and create a more calming environment.
- It helps you relax and focus on sleep: For many people, the reason they can’t fall asleep at night is because they can’t “turn off” their mind. With daily worries, anxiety, and an endless to-do list, it can be hard to relax enough to fall asleep at night. Sleeping with noises, like brown noise, will help you focus on the sound and make it easier for you to fall asleep.
What color noises are good for sleeping?
white noise for sleep
A legacy of the sounds of sleep, white noise has rocked people for ages. Since white noise encompasses all frequencies a person can hear (around 20,000 hertz to 20,000 hertz), it has the potential to block out all outside sound.
The consistency of white noise creates a proven masking effect, which can help people fall asleep faster. White noise sounds like the static you hear when you accidentally tune cable TV to an unused channel.
White noise is ideal for: Those who have insomnia or ADHD.
Try it: Because it’s the most popular of all colors, virtually every sleep sound app includes it. You can also find tons of products that use white noise, like this Marpac white noise machine with over 10,000 five-star reviews.
pink noise for sleep
Pink noise has recently become the darling of all sleep sounds, likely due to the fact that recent research has shown that pink noise can increase time spent in deep sleep and improve memory.
Pink noise is a mix of high and low frequencies, like the sound of falling rain or gentle ocean waves, which makes it soft and soothing. It also has more power in the lower frequency bands than white noise, and those powerful bass tones make it less harsh on the human ear.
Because it includes both high and low frequencies, it also has sound blocking benefits that can help drown out distracting noises that keep you from falling asleep. For example, if you live in an apartment complex where people come and go all night, pink noise can help you drown out the sounds of running engines or footsteps.
Pink noise is great for: People who are light sleepers.
Try it: Meet Honeywell’s DreamWeaver Sleep Fan, a small bedside fan that emits pink noise with the oscillation and cooling of a fan.
brown noise to sleep
Think of brown noise as a deeper version of pink noise, with even more bass and focused low-frequency energy. It sounds muted compared to white noise, but somehow louder, comparable to the harsh ocean surf during a storm or the rumble of a brass instrument humming a low note.
Unlike other sounds, brown noise is not named after the actual brown color. Instead, brown noise gets its name from its similarity to Brownian motion, the random, rapid motion of particles in a liquid.
Brown noise is great for: People who live in noisy places or have trouble clearing their minds at night.
Try it: The LectroFan Classic has 10 noise variations, encompassing white, pink, and brown. You can also find brown noise on most sleep sound apps.
blue noise for sleep
Blue noise energy is mostly concentrated at the high frequency end, with very few deep tones to balance it out. As such, blue noise sounds like the hiss of a bent water hose. If you are not sensitive to high-pitched sounds, blue noise masks outside noise very well.
It’s harsh at high volumes, but sound engineers often use blue noise for dithering, a process where they intentionally add noise to a production, like a song remix, in order to smooth out the sound.
Blue noise is best for: Those who cannot hear high-pitched sounds very well.
Try it: Because blue noise is harsher than other colors, few manufacturers include it in basic sleep devices. If you’re really into blue noise, you’ll probably have to shell out more for a higher-end device that lets you mix and customize sounds at different frequencies, like the Sound Oasis Deluxe Sleep and Tinnitus Sound Therapy System S-6000. There is, however, an iPhone app, White Noise for iOS, which has a blue noise track.
Which noise color is best for sleeping?
The truth is, we don’t know which colored noise is best for sleeping. No one knows for sure, because no scientist has conducted research explicitly comparing different colors of sound in a controlled environment. To find out which type of noise best helps you sleep, test them all with an app.
I like White Noise Lite for iOS. I’ve had the lite version on my phone for years, using it whenever I need a little help dozing off. It has all the different sound colors explained in this article, as well as other familiar sounds, such as air conditioner, oscillating fan, light rain, and thunderstorm. You can even mix tracks to create the perfect cocktail of sleep sounds for you.
Once you find a sound you love that has always helped you fall asleep, consider buying a sleep sound machine, like the LectroFan High Fidelity White Noise Machine, which has 20 sounds to choose from. Dedicated machines often offer higher definition sound and can reach higher volumes than a telephone.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.
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