You’ve heard of white noise, but there are many different colors of noise—each with its own unique sound properties. Pink noise, for example, has been shown to improve sleep quality and even enhance memory retention. Similarly, brown noise has been used in therapy for its calming and relaxing effects. The health benefits of these different colored noises are still being studied, but emerging research suggests that they may have therapeutic properties. Ahead, learn about different colors of noise and how to use them to make your life more enjoyable.
Colors Of Noise
From music to noise pollution, sound is all around us. It’s important to understand the basics of sound in order to grasp the benefits of different types of noise, such as the soothing effect of pink noise for sleep. Sounds are waves (vibrations) that travel through a medium, such as air or water, until they reach our eardrums. The colors of sounds refer to the frequencies they produce.
Higher frequency waves have higher pitched sounds and are known to encourage alertness and focus. Lower frequency waves have more bass, or low-pitched sounds, and are linked to relaxing brain states. Sound therapy is becoming increasingly popular, potentially helping with sleep, anxiety, memory loss, focus, mood, and motivation. Here are some examples:
White noise is the auditory equivalent of white light—the sum of all the audible frequencies of sound. White noise uses the same amount of energy across all frequencies, giving it a static, continuous sound (the hiss of an untuned radio or television). This flat noise creates a blanket of sound around you that absorbs sound waves that may be disruptive, a process called sound or noise masking.
If you live in the city, by traffic, music or chatter, white noise can help to drown out those distractions. White noise is a common tool used for helping babies and adults sleep through disrupting noise and has been shown to improve cognitive functioning.
Pink noise is smoother and more refined than white noise, comprised mostly of louder mid-to-lower frequencies. It is prevalent in nature sounds, like wind, falling rain, ocean waves, and rustling leaves. Pink noise has become the medicinal darling of the noise spectrum, with studies finding that steady pink noise can have a significant effect on reducing brain wave complexity, improving sleep quality, memory and stress.
Pink sound waves are thought to mimic brain waves during deep sleep when our body does most of its long-term memory consolidation. Health professionals have found that most people prefer pink noise when it comes to sleeping and many are swapping out their white noise machines with more fashionable pink ones.
Pink noise is also a preferred choice for improved alertness and concentration. Pink noise is often used as a tool to treat hearing disorder and tinnitus (a ringing in the ears).
Brown noise is all about that bass. Also known as red noise, brown noise is even deeper in noise frequency than pink, consisting of low-frequency bass tones. These low rumbling frequencies often match sounds you may hear in nature, such as rolling thunder or a waterfall.
Brown noise can help babies sleep, as it mimics the sounds inside a mother’s womb. It can be useful for masking other lower, bass tones such as a passing train, thunder, or a bass speaker from a loud neighbor.
Studies have shown that employees’ concentration levels improved while listening to brown noise in a workplace. It may improve sleep and reduce anxiety symptoms by enhancing relaxation.
Gray noise is a lot like pink in that it sounds the same at every frequency, but varies in sound to every listener. Gray noise is a popular choice to help people relax and is often used to treat tinnitus or hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to everyday sounds).
Green noise lies in the center of the frequency spectrum, imitating the noise we perceive in nature, like the ocean or a stream. There is growing research of green noise to help improve sleep because it removes the harsher high frequencies of white noise.
Possible Health Benefits
Sleep: Electronics emit blue light and electromagnetic radiation, which can impact alertness, hormone and melatonin production, and sleep cycles. You can help mitigate these effects and screen fatigue by enlisting the help of sound. Sleep therapists frequently recommend white, brown, and pink noise to help patients get sufficient sleep, which is linked to improved health, reduced stress, and a happier mood. Colored noise may not work to improve sleep for everyone and may take experimenting with different colors and volume levels to find something that works.
Concentration: When it comes to concentration, focus and productivity, stick with white, pink, and brown noise (fans or flowing water). People with ADHD may benefit from the extra stimulation brown noise provides when studying or trying to focus. Many office spaces have found increased work production with white or pink noise, particularly in open office space where there is a lot of chatter and distracting background noise.
Anxiety Relief: People with high anxiety have found that white, pink, and brown noise reduces their reactivity to environmental sounds and calms the body.
Easy Access To Colors Of Noise
If you have ever had trouble sleeping, you may have considered getting a noise machine to help. However, with the advancement of technology and the accessibility of the internet, there are now easier and cheaper options available. Instead of investing in a noisy and bulky machine, you can simply search for pink noise or other ambient sounds on YouTube. (See links above.) Not only is this a more convenient option, but it also gives you access to a wide variety of sounds that you may not find on a typical noise machine.
Safety Note: Safe volume level is considered to be 45 decibels (only about 10% of an iPhone’s headphone output). Do not exceed 70 dB (approximately one third of an iPhone’s headphone output) as it may damage your hearing. For additional reference: a refrigerator hums at 40 dB and normal conversation is around 60 dB.) If you already have existing hearing loss or are at risk, consult your doctor before incorporating colors of noises into your routine.
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- Research suggests that plants thrive with sound vibrations that are gentler and emulate sounds found in nature, such as the dawn chorus of birds chirping, bees buzzing, and the wind. Plants prefer jazz and classical music, while they shy away from harder music, such as rock and metal.
- Cows increase milk production when they listen to slow, easy relaxing music.
- Music and calming noise can relax chickens, resulting in increased egg production and heavier eggs.
- Low frequencies, such as brown or pink, can help mask bothersome noises that may wake or cause your dog stress. Dogs have more acute hearing, so keep volume low.
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