A dripping faucet, a wobbly ceiling fan, a snoring partner; it doesn’t take a lot to frazzle your nerves when you’re trying to sleep. If you seek silence for your slumber, the solution may surprise you.
When it’s too quiet our brains pick up on the slightest sound and zero in on it because there is nothing else to focus on. You may have noticed certain sounds that are present all day, but only stick out once your attention finds them; and once that happens, you’ll have a difficult time unhearing them. Unless of course, there is something else occupying those sound frequencies.
Audiology research has discovered that the human ear can only process a given number of sound frequencies at once. So, using a sound machine, for example, causes other noises to fade into the background and become less noticeable, preventing them from disturbing your sleep.
This is how noise colors work.
You’ve most likely heard of white noise, the common static-like sound added to alarm clocks and sleep aids like white noise machines. However, there’s more than one color of noise, and their distinctions could be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a maddening one.
(Noise color is determined by the frequencies present.)
White noise is comprised of random and equal amounts of frequencies from the entire sound spectrum. White noise has a higher frequency, and we perceive it to sound louder than it is. This is why it is so effective at masking almost every external sound. Users often compare it to radio static, hissing steam, or light rain.
Pink noise is a popular alternative as some listeners find white noise to be harsh or too high-pitched. Pink noise also uses the entire spectrum but addresses the white noise issue by emphasizing specific, lower frequencies to create a deeper, gentler sound. Some users compare pink noise to running water, heavy rain, or strong wind through leaves.
Brown noise takes this concept to the next level, further dampening noise at higher frequencies to produce an even deeper, richer sound. Brown noise is often compared to rushing water, a low roar or deep hum, like that of a clothes dryer or train passing. The deeper qualities of the noise are great for relaxing and falling asleep.
There is no correct answer as to which color noise helps you sleep better; the only determining factor is which you like best. It might even be a combination of noise colors that puts you at ease. Either way, sleep is a personal experience, and if you set yourself up to succeed, you’ll be sleeping like a baby no matter the soundscape you find yourself in.