"Pink Noise" Might Be the Answer to Better Sleep—Here's What You Need to Know

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It's no secret that getting a good night's sleep is important to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. But for many of us, falling asleep is no easy task, so we often turn to white noise to help us relax and drift off. Unfortunately, white noise might not help us stay asleep. Enter pink noise, which has the ability to enhance sleep and bolster the brain’s memory and concentration. Not familiar with it? Here's everything you need to know about pink noise.

The Difference Between White Noise and Pink Noise

You’ve probably heard of white noise (think the monotonous drone of an air-conditioning unit). White noise is a combination of different sounds that create one consistent sound that, according to Popular Science, “comes out evenly across all hearable frequencies.” It’s called white noise because when various colored lights combine, they shine white. Because white noise is good at cutting through the hustle and bustle, it’s used for the signals in emergency vehicles.

Its ability to mask all other noise has historically made it a handy sleep aid. Those household annoying noises—that faulty dripping tap or ticking clock—are drowned out by other sounds during the day. But when things quiet down at nighttime, those same noises become pronounced and seriously irritating… That’s where white noise comes to the rescue. So if white noise is the answer to drowning out sleep-stalling sounds, why do we need pink noise?

Pink noise, according to Time, is “a mix of high and low frequencies that sounds more balanced and natural than its better-known cousin, white noise.” (It gets its name because the light of the same frequency appears pink.) Where white noise is a constant drone, pink noise is far more pleasant to listen to—think heavy rain or rustling leaves. Plus, the benefits come into play once you’ve actually drifted off to sleep.

The Benefits of Pink Noise

Various studies have identified that pink noise can help people achieve deeper sleep. One study followed 13 elderly adults over two nights and found that their “deep sleep patterns increased when pink noise was played intermittently throughout the night.”

Another study found that playing pink noise while people slept prolonged a portion of sleep known as slow-wave sleep, which has been linked to our brain’s memory function. After a night of sleeping in a room with pink noise playing, subjects remembered 22-word pairings versus just 13 after a night with no pink noise. Memory-boosting indeed. And it doesn’t just help with sleep quality and memory. Pink noise was also found to boost concentration when played in offices.

So there you have it. Instead of queuing up your air conditioner unit before bed, try listening to gentle rain, flowing water, or something similar. It's just as relaxing (if not more so) and will keep you asleep throughout the night. Once you wake up, the concentration and memory benefits will abound. Try downloading a sleep app that has both pink and white noise options.

Choosing Between White and Pink Noise

Light sleepers gravitate towards white noise because it masks the sounds that might wake you up throughout the night. If you have especially sensitive hearing, however, white noise might be too harsh for you. With that in mind, the gentler sounds of pink noise are a perfect alternative. "Pink noise sounds more balanced and is more soothing to the human ear," Ursula Kominski, a brand manager for fans at Helen of Troy, told Real Simple.

Other Noise Colors

Believe it or not, there is an entire spectrum of noise colors out there. According to WebMD, the others include:

Brown noise (also known as red noise) gives off a deeper sound similar to a heavy rainstorm, Research has shown that it can help relieve ringing in the ears, as well as boost thinking skills.

Blue noise is sharper than white or pink noise, with its power rising as the frequency increases.

Violet noise (also known as purple noise) releases a higher-pitched sound and is often used to treat tinnitus.

Grey noise is similar to white noise, but produces noise at higher and lower frequencies.

Article Sources
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  1. Lecher C. Why Does White Noise Help People Sleep? Popular Science. Published March 18, 2019.

  2. MacMillan A. The Sound of 'Pink Noise' Improves Sleep and Memory. Time. Published March 8, 2017.

  3. Papalambros NA, Santostasi G, Malkani RG, et al. Acoustic Enhancement of Sleep Slow Oscillations and Concomitant Memory Improvement in Older Adults. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:109. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00109

  4. Ngo HV, Martinetz T, Born J, Mölle M. Auditory closed-loop stimulation of the sleep slow oscillation enhances memory. Neuron. 2013;78(3):545-53. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.03.006

  5. Rugg M. How does background noise affect our concentration? Scientific American. Published January 1, 2010.

  6. Phillips L Forget White Noise—Pink Noise Could Be the Key to Better, Deeper Sleep Real Simple. Published October 23, 2022.
  7. Mayer Robinson K White Noise, Pink Noise, and Brown Noise: What's the Difference? WebMD. Published July 12, 2022.

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