The Difference Between White, Pink, and Brown Noise | Well+Good (2024)

The low hum of an air conditioner, the din of falling rain, the whoosh of a fan—you might consider any of these sounds, colloquially, to be white noise, or a consistent and continuous sound that could help you drift off to sleep. But, while any of these sounds could certainly offer that mind-numbing benefit, they’re not all necessarily classified as “white” noise, technically speaking. In fact, many of the most soothing tones fall into other sound-color categories of pink or brown noise, as opposed to white noise (and its typical radio-static hiss).

To be scientific, the difference between white, pink, and brown noise has to do with the power or intensity of sound waves across different frequencies. You can envision white noise as a sound where the intensity of all the different waves across the spectrum of audible sound is equal: one constant “shh” sound that gets its sleepiness-inducing power from its sheer evenness. Though pink and brown noise similarly contain all the waves of audible sound—also the reason why these colorful noises are collectively called “broadband” sound—the energetic power of their different frequencies diminishes with each higher octave, by three decibels for pink noise and six for brown.

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The resulting amplification of lower tones in pink and brown noise could potentially make them even more calming to hear than white noise, which could come across as a bit shrill or harsh to some (more on that below). But, it’s worth noting that when it comes to sleep, the overall benefit of white, pink, or brown noise is always going to be a product of personal preference and environment, says Raj Dasgupta, MD, FAASM, sleep expert and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “For me, I do great with the washing machine running at night, whereas someone else might prefer a white-noise machine,” he says.

“Broadband sound reduces the difference in volume between the noise you’re hearing as you drift off and any jarring sound.” —Raj Dasgupta, MD, FAASM, sleep-medicine expert

One common denominator across these consistent sounds, though, is their ability to drown out any other noises that might otherwise interrupt sleep. “Broadband sound reduces the difference in volume between the noise you’re hearing as you drift off and any jarring sound, like the slamming of a door or a car driving by outside,” says Dr. Dasgupta. And by minimizing that potential change in sound, the background hum of white, pink, or brown noise could help prevent middle-of-the-night awakenings and, in turn, improve your sleep quality.

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Below, sleep experts break down the differences between white, pink, and brown noise, and share their potential benefits for clocking sufficient good-quality sleep.

Here's the difference between white, pink, and brown noise

White noise

Generally, white noise sounds like the hiss of a radio tuned to an unused frequency. Just as white light contains all the light frequencies in the visible range, white noise contains all the sound frequencies in the audible range, creating what sleep doctors call a “sonic wall.” That essentially means that the sound is even and consistent, which can help block out external noise that might negatively impact sleep, says clinical psychologist and sleep physician Shelby Harris, PsyD.

Some research backs that up: A small 2017 study found that broadband sound administration reduced sleep onset latency (aka the time it takes to fall asleep) by 38 percent compared to normal environmental noise. And another small 2021 study showed that white noise improved sleep quality and duration in folks who lived in New York City and noted experiencing sleep disturbances due to high levels of environmental noise.

But, at the same time, a 2021 literature review of studies on white noise found that while it may, in some instances, reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, it doesn’t always have consistently positive effects on sleep quality and could even prevent the auditory system from fully winding down. So, essentially, if you’re not aiming to drown out jarring background noises, then a white-noise machine might not always be the sleep panacea that its reputation suggests.

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Pink noise

With pink noise, you’re getting the hum of white noise but at a less shrill tone, as the intensity of its higher-frequency sound waves is lesser than that of the lower-frequency ones. Translation: Pink noise comes across more like the whoosh of consistent rainfall or a waterfall than it does radio static. “I describe pink noise as similar to white noise but with the base turned up,” says Dr. Dasgupta.

“Because certain elements of memory are dependent on spending time in this deeper, slow-wave sleep, it makes sense that pink noise could ostensibly help out with memory recall." —Dr. Dasgupta

In comparison, there are a few more studies on pink noise than there are on white noise to support its sleep-enhancing effects—namely, its ability to reduce brain-wave complexity (which can bring about more stable sleep) and even increase slow-wave brain activity during sleep. “Because certain elements of memory are dependent on spending time in this deeper, slow-wave sleep, it makes sense that pink noise could ostensibly help out with memory recall, too,” says Dr. Dasgupta. And that’s in line with the above study: Participants who were exposed to bursts of pink noise (when they were detected to have entered slow-wave sleep) performed three times better on a memory test the next morning than they did after a night of no noise.

Still, that study reflects a lab setting where the pink noise could be synced up with when each of the 13 participants drifted into deep sleep. And as a result, the link between pink noise and memory isn’t rock solid. “There’s not enough research that’s conclusive to say, ‘Listen to pink noise over white noise,’ but, that being said, if you have the option to try pink, you might as well try it out since there are a couple of these limited studies,” says Dr. Harris.

Listen to it here.

Brown noise

If pink noise is deeper in tone and intensity than white noise, then brown noise is even a bit deeper than pink. And by losing some of the volume of those mid- and high-range frequencies that are more strongly present in the other color noises, brown noise comes across more like the gentle rumble of the ocean, strong winds, or thunder than it does rainfall.

Although anecdotal evidence points to the benefit of brown noise for calm and sleep—and its deep tones may certainly create a more soothing, comfortable vibe than the sounds of its white and pink cousins—it hasn’t been rigorously studied, says Dr. Harris. “That’s why I tend to recommend anything that the person likes and is drawn to that’s a consistent noise—whether it be brown, pink, or white,” she says. “It's also the case that any of the above are likely to be more helpful for those people who have inconsistent noises in their sleep environments that they need to mask.”

Listen to it here.

Tags: Healthy Mind, Healthy Sleeping Habits

The Difference Between White, Pink, and Brown Noise | Well+Good (2024)


The Difference Between White, Pink, and Brown Noise | Well+Good? ›

For people with standard hearing function, brown noise's better-known and better-studied cousin, white noise, has a more hissing sound than brown noise. Pink noise is a softer version of white noise, playing lower frequencies a bit louder.

Which is better white pink or brown noise? ›

You might find that white noise helps you sleep, brown noise helps you relax, and pink noise helps you focus. Or maybe, you won't like how any of them sound. That's why it's a wise idea to explore the different hues of noise, so you can find the best sounds for your needs.

Which color noise is best for sleep? ›

White noise for sleep

White noise sounds like the static you hear when you accidentally tune cable TV to an unused channel. White noise is best for: Those who have insomnia or ADHD. Try it: Because it's the most popular of all the colors, virtually every sleep sound app includes it.

Is there really a difference between white noise and brown noise? ›

Brown noise plays low-frequency sounds and omits high-frequency sounds like white noise, making it smoother and more manageable for some. This includes sounds like: Rainfall. Thunder.

What is the difference between brown noise and pink noise? ›

The sound of light to medium rainfall is an example of real-world pink noise. Most people find this noise very calming and pleasant. Brown noise is even deeper, even stronger at the low end, and without the high frequency sounds of white and pink noises. It can sound similar to air flowing through a large duct.

What color noise is best for anxiety? ›

People with anxiety tend to be on high alert... The use of pink or brown noise may reduce their reactivity to those little sounds in their environment and support calming, sleep, or even concentration. The frequencies picked up in pink noise fall between white and brown noise and are also thought to aid in sleep.

Why brown noise is the best? ›

Many people find brown noise to be more soothing and less disruptive than white noise — its natural sound qualities make it easier on the ears and create a lullaby-like feeling. Brown noise also has low frequencies that are helpful for calming the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.

What color noise makes you tired? ›

Coined by a 19th century botanist, brown noise emits higher energies at lower frequencies — think strong winds and low thunder. Studies show that brown noise can help induce sleep and relaxation, making it a strong fit for those struggling to fall asleep in noisy areas or drown out their own internal thoughts.

What color noise is rain? ›

Pink noise uses a consistent frequency, or pitch, to create a more even, flat sound, like a steady rain, wind rustling through trees, or waves on a beach.

What is purple noise good for? ›

Use of violet noise:

The high frequency can be distracting to rest. However, this noise is great for treating people with conditions like tinnitus. Tinnitus is when people hear ringing in one or both of their ears. Violet noise can help mask the ringing sound.

Is it OK to listen to brown noise all night? ›

There isn't likely to be any danger in listening to brown noise for, say, eight hours at a time, Dr.

What color noise is best for what? ›

Some people find pink noise to be a little bit more soothing than white noise, because those high-pitch frequencies are reduced,” says Purdy. In contrast, “Brown noise has some emphasis on the lower frequencies and minimizes the higher frequencies even more than pink noise does,” she explains.

Is brown noise good for anxiety? ›

Research has also shown that brown noise can be particularly helpful for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. By creating a calming environment, brown noise can help reduce feelings of anxiety and promote a sense of calm.

What color noise is best for ADHD? ›

Brown noise is a low-frequency background sound that helps people with ADHD focus and feel calm.

What is the best sound for deep sleep? ›

Pink noise can help improve sleep quality by reducing the difference between low and high-frequency sounds. One study found that listening to pink noise synced to brain waves improved the quality of deep sleep and aided in memory consolidation. Additionally, it has been found to reduce the symptoms of tinnitus.

What color noise is best for dogs? ›

Brown Noise or Music

Brown noise helps to calm and relax, especially in dogs. A lot of people say it sounds like rushing water or soft TV static, but it works wonders for calming dogs down.

What color noise calms the brain? ›

Over the last 20 years, scientists have uncovered evidence that immersive sounds like white, brown and pink noise may help the brain to focus, sleep or relax — especially for people with A.D.H.D.

Is green or pink noise better for sleep? ›

Pink and green noise may be helpful for facilitating sleep onset based on your preference,” Silverman continued. Sounds like green noise can also be helpful for drowning out outside noise; you may also find it soothing to focus on if your thoughts are racing.

Is brown or white noise better for sleep? ›

Namely, pink noise and Brown noise can provide the same broad benefits for sleep, but offer slightly different sounds that some people find more tolerable than white noise.

What type of noise Colour calms the brain? ›

Brown noise, which contains lower frequencies many find soothing, is similar to the brain's resting state, which is why it helps people to relax. Brown noise playlists have also been created to help babies, since it mimics the sound inside a mother's womb.

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