White noise is nothing new to us, but for those of us with fancy sound machines or who tune into noise machine apps on our phone, we may have come across several other, ehem, colors of sound. Brown noise? Pink noise? It’s all a background buzz, so what’s the difference?
The benefits of sleeping to broadband sound may be obvious. It can mask disturbances, like TV in the other room, snoring family members, traffic outside, or a noisy neighbor. It can also cue us into a restful state, as we are attuned to more intricate sounds throughout the day, and the sound of the noise machine is constant and soothing. It can help us to fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. So why the different “colors”?
While the colors themselves may seem arbitrary, they aren’t. Though we may not technically see these sounds, the sound frequencies are comparative to light frequencies. Just like white light contains within it all the colors of the spectrum in their varying wavelengths, white noise contains all wavelengths or frequency for the human ear.
Pink noise is essentially white noise, but the high frequencies are reduced. This makes it sound slightly lower pitched, and may be preferable to some people who are sensitive to high sounds. While white noise may be great for one person, it may be too sharp for others. Pink noise is a great medium.
Brown noise contains even lower amounts of high-frequency noise than pink. To some, it may sound rougher or more “jagged” than white or pink noise, and it more resembles the sound of a rushing river current. Some people claim that while this noise is great for sleep, it can help improve focus—part of that may be that it blocks outside noise distractions.
All three of these “shades” of noise work to increase latency in the brain, or cause brain waves to reach a lower potential, and while that sounds scary, it’s not. It doesn’t damage our brains, only temporarily disarms them, which is why it’s so useful for sleep. It not only blocks out disruptive sounds but also decreases our likelihood of thinking of all our stressful, unproductive thoughts as we try to drift off, like everything we said that day, who we offended five years ago, a painful memory, what we have to do tomorrow, and so on.
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