Pink Noise: The Key To A Better Night's Rest?

photographed by Michael Beckert.
If you're a millennial who's drawn to pink, and you're also someone who's tried many sleep products in an effort to get better ZZZs, then you're likely intrigued by the concept of a pink noise machine or app. Like white noise machines, pink noise has been studied for its relaxing effects on the body, as well as its ability to improve sleep.
A quick YouTube search offers up hours of pink noise clips for you to sit back and relax to, and there are even entire Spotify playlists dedicated to pink noise on a loop. So, can playing the sounds through your earbuds help you chill out before bed? Ahead, Nelly Papalambros, PhD, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who has studied pink noise, answers some questions about the buzzy sound:

What is pink noise?

Simply put, pink noise is a variation of white noise, Dr. Papalambros says. With pink noise, "there's more power in the lower frequency bands, so there's a lot of bass added to it," she says.

What's the difference between pink and white noise?

The different "colors" of sound can be somewhat confusing to understand, but essentially they refer to the frequencies that are audible to the human ear. "The coloring has to do with the fact that, if it was light, it would appear a certain color," Dr. Papalambros says. White noise contains all of the frequencies combined, while pink noise contains only certain frequencies. Brown noise, on the other hand, is named for a concept in physics called Brownian motion. To the average person, pink noise probably doesn't sound very different from white noise, however, it tends to be softer and more calming in quality, she says.

What are examples of pink noise?

Pink noise sort of sounds like soft static or humming. Imagine waves crashing, rain falling, or a train chugging along, and you've got pink noise. In addition to the pink noise you can find online, there are physical devices that can produce pink noise to listen to while you sleep. But keep in mind that the pink noise used in a lab setting during studies is administered in a very specific way, so the pink noise you come across online may not be exactly the same thing.

Does pink noise help you sleep?

The magic of pink noise is somewhat unclear, but research has shown that your brain can still process sound when you're asleep. "Even though you're asleep, and you're not necessarily consciously aware of whats going on, your brain is still processing external information, and that's to protect you," Dr. Papalambros says. When you're listening to pink noise at a low volume, it creates a "rhythmic response in the electrical activity of the neurons," which has a positive effect on the autonomic nervous system, she says. In other words, it helps relax the body on a subconscious level during sleep, she says.

What color noise is best for sleeping?

Again, we don't really know, because there haven't been studies comparing white noise to pink noise, Dr. Papalambros says. Basically, you should try a couple different things, and find what works for you, she suggests. Some people might prefer white noise, while others find white noise more soothing, and both are good options. "If playing a quiet white or pink noise in the background works for someone, then there's no reason not to use it," she says.

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