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What Is Pink Noise & How Does It Compare to White Noise?

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Pink noise - Dr. Axe

If you struggle with insomnia or have a hard time falling asleep, have you considered using relaxing sounds like pink noise to help you get not only more rest, but better rest?

Many times we can’t get to sleep or stay asleep because of sounds that cause us to wake up. This is where white noise and its variations come in to help save the day.

White noise is meant to hide sound changes and keep your sonic (sound) environment in steady state.

You may already be a fan of white noise, but what about pink noise? This is one of the lesser known sleep sounds that research shows may also be a major sleep aid.

Let’s see how a white noise generator compares to a pink noise machine and the research to back up the use of pink noise for sleep.

What Is Pink Noise?

White noise can include sounds we hear on a daily basis, such as a humming air conditioner or a circulating fan. It can also be produced by a white noise machine or a white noise app.

White noise is most often used for sleep because it’s a consistent ambient sound that can help mask disturbing sounds, such as a dog barking or door slamming.

White and pink are two colors of noise that contain all of the frequencies (between 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz) that humans can hear. The human ear typically perceives pink noise as “even” or “flat” and white noise as “static.”

If you compare pink noise vs. white noise, white noise has a consistent strength across various frequencies. Meanwhile, pink noise contains all frequencies of the audible spectrum but with an intensity that decreases with increases in frequency.

While white noise has a consistent strength across various frequencies, pink noise has more variation.

Examples of pure pink noise in nature include:

  • Leaves rustling on a tree in the wind
  • Waves lapping on the shoreline
  • Steady falling rain

Does It Help You Sleep Better? Potential Benefits

Some research suggests that pink noise boosts brain activity associated with deeper sleep.

A study published in 2016 in Sleep Medicine demonstrated potential benefits of pink noise on deep sleep and memory. Another study published in 2017 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscienc found that it not only increased the amount of deep sleep, but also improved memory in subjects between the ages of 60–84.

Experts seem to agree that additional research is warranted to figure out whether these benefits can occur in real-life sleep scenarios. It’s also unclear how pink noise compares to white noise or other colors of noise.

According to sleep medicine expert Michelle Drerup, PsyD., both pink and white noise can help with sleep, and it really can be a matter of personal preference. In other words, if you find a sound relaxing and sleep-promoting, no matter the “color,” then it can be a good choice for you.

Drerup also points out how pink noise and other sleep sounds are very “Pavlovian,” meaning “you can become conditioned to anything you use to fall asleep,” she says.

Pink Noise vs. White Noise vs. Brown Noise vs. Black Noise

White noise is probably the best known noise color, but there are actually several others, including pink, brown and black. Let’s take a closer look at the color spectrum of noise:

  • White noise: Similar to the way white light contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum at equal intensity, white noise contains equal intensity at different frequencies, which gives it a constant or flat spectral density.
  • Pink noise: This color of noise is similar to white noise, but its intensity has more variation. Specifically, its power decreases with frequency increases. The lower frequencies in pink noise are louder and have more power than the higher frequencies, but it has equal power per octave (which often makes the human ear perceive pink noise as more flat than white noise).
  • Brown noise: This color of noise lowers high frequencies even more than pink noise. It’s often described as harsher as well. For example, while nature’s pink noise includes lapping waves, nature’s brown noise is a roaring river current. Like white and pink noises, brown noises can also be used to boost relaxation and focus.
  • Black noise: Black noise is basically silence with a little bit of random noise thrown in. It can also be defined as “technical silence” or noise that has a frequency spectrum of predominantly zero power level over all frequencies except for a few narrow bands or spikes.

How to Start with Pink Noise

If you want to give it a try, you can invest in a pink noise generator or use a pink noise app.  There are also other sources you can find online.

If you use an app on your phone, it’s up to you if you’d rather have your phone on speaker on use headphones. You can also experiment with how loud you have the pink noise generator or app.

Some people do better with a louder volume, while others prefer a softer level.

You may want to try a few different apps or variations to see which you prefer. Once you make your choice, you should turn on the pink noise as you’re getting into bed and let it play throughout the night.

Some people also choose to use it to help them fall asleep and then turn it off during the night.

Other Tips for Better Sleep

A pink noise generator isn’t the only thing that can help you get a better night’s rest.

Other natural ways to encourage better sleep include:

  • Eating sleep-promoting foods, such as ones that contain calcium, magnesium and/or tryptophan
  • Consider an herbal supplement known to help with sleep troubles, such as valerian root or passion flower
  • Avoid having caffeine too close to bedtime, and limit consumption after 12 p.m.
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Try other natural sleep aids, such as St. John’s wort

Conclusion

  • Pink noise is a “color” of noise often used to improve sleep.
  • Examples of pink noise in nature include waves lapping on the beach or tree leaves rustling in the wind.
  • What is pink noise used for? One of the top pink noise benefits appears to be deeper, better sleep. It can also be used to promote general relaxation and concentration.
  • You can start using sleep sounds today by purchasing a pink noise generator or using an app.
  • Studies have yet to compare white noise vs. pink noise so it’s hard to say if one is better at promoting sleep. It’s really just a matter of personal preference.
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