Which coloured noise for sleep?

by | Oct 26, 2019 | Toddlers

Which coloured noise for sleep?

Which coloured noise is best for sleep? Is this something you’ve wondered lately? Yes, noises have colours associated with them. Crazy right, who knew!!?? I’ve previously written about white noise and how to use it effectively – but since then there have been a number of baby (and adult) products promoting pink noise… so what’s the difference, and which one is best?

It’s always easier to start at the beginning, so let’s look at the idea of noise for sleep for starters and go from there.

Can noise actually help you sleep?

At first glance, the thought of noise for sleep may sound counter intuitive. Doesn’t noise wake us up? Well, yes, it does.

After the 3-month mark, a lot of the sleep cycle incorporates light sleep, this is when the brain is also aware of its environment at some level. This means that your brain, and your child’s brain, continues to process sounds during sleep. So, it makes sense that different noises will indeed affect how well you sleep.

The noises that stimulate your brain and disrupt sleep the most are the random ones – the sounds you’re not expecting and the ones that result in a harsh change to the environment. Think car horns, slamming doors, barking dogs or screaming toddlers. Yet other sounds, especially consistent ones, can actually relax your brain and help promote sleep.

The fact is, you want your baby to sleep well, but you also don’t want to have to tiptoe around your own environment, just in case you wake them up. If you’re needing something to limit a noisy environment, that’s when using a consistent foundation sound – like white or pink noise – can help by masking the random other sounds. This masking effect alone can really help with sleep (even past the newborn stage)!

As well as masking harsh sounds, studies have concluded that using the coloured noises mentioned in this blog have improved memory and concentration, helped stabilise sleep and helped people feel more refreshed – compared to no sounds during sleep.

Right, so are you onboard with some form of consistent noise for better sleep, even if it’s to mask annoying sounds? Great – now for the colours.

The colour of noise

The idea behind noise having a colour is that both light (representing colour) and sound (noise) travels in waves. Indeed, just as white light is made up of all the colours that humans can see, white noise is made up of all the sound frequencies that humans can hear.

The “colour” black on the other hand is considered the absence of visible light (no colour) – and black noise also represents the absence of sound (no noise). Hence black noise is another way of classifying silence. Mind blowing, I know.

Without getting too technical, let’s just say there are also lots of other colours in between. That includes lots of colours of noise. In the interest of simplicity, I’ve only focused on the most common ones associated with sleep. Let’s look at these now…

White Noise

As mentioned above, white noise includes every sound frequency we can hear. This is why white noise is great at masking those harsh sounds – it literally covers all of them.

Pure white noise however means that every frequency of sound is distributed equally. However, not all frequencies are heard evenly. We hear higher-pitched frequencies louder so they’re more noticeable. White noise then is a higher-pitched “hissing” sound compared to the other noises mentioned, simply because those higher frequencies appear louder to the human ear.

You can hear an example of pure white noise HERE.

Beware imitations

Of interest, the term “white noise” has previously been used to incorporate other sounds which aren’t really pure white noise. It’s just that it is easier to label things this way.The sounds we typically associate with white noise – the fan or radio static for example, are often not really white noise at all. You may in fact be listening to something closer to pink or brown (or blue) noise.

Indeed, even Marpac, manufacturers of the DOHM sound machines, advise that their sound machines are not really white noise machines (WHAT!?). They actually use pink noise… but before you get up in arms about that… read on…

Pink noise

The simplest way I can summarise pink noise is that it is white noise but with the higher frequencies dulled down.

Pink noise is not as high pitched as white noise because the higher frequencies are modulated to be less powerful, hence they blend more seamlessly into the other sounds. This makes a lower-pitched “hissing” sound that can appear more ‘even’ to your human ear. It’s also thought to more closely resemble nature (think steady rain, wind or a heartbeat).

You can hear an example of pure pink noise HERE.

Brown (or Red) noise

Brown noise is even deeper than pink noise. It is the lowest pitched of the “hissing” sounds discussed today. It has been likened to the sound of a waterfall in the distance, or the drone of an aeroplane. Interestingly, I have to turn the volume up when I listen to brown noise.. go figure.

Ironically brown noise was actually named after Robert Brown a Scottish botanist who discovered random particle movements (Brownian motion). It wasn’t named for its colour at all, but for the randomness of its change in sound signal from one moment to the next. In terms of colour then, “brown” noise can be likened to the colour red (which also has a low frequency), in case you were wondering.

You can hear an example of pure brown noise HERE.

So, what’s it to be?

White, pink AND brown noise can help you sleep compared to not using them (white noise has the most research, followed by pink, then brown). But, and here comes the crunch, you may need to experiment with the different types and volumes of coloured noise to find what works best for you or your child.

The higher pitched frequency of white noise could either be relaxing for you or hype you up, or you may prefer pink noise as it takes out the “annoying” higher frequencies. However, in my opinion the lowest colour of noise, brown noise, may actually be the most comfortable sound for sleep. Or at least, it works best for me.

As it stands, there are no studies currently comparing white noise with pink or brown noise (come on people!). All research has compared the use of the appropriate noise with no noise. So, in terms of what may be “best”, the jury is out. To throw a spanner in the works, black noise (silence) can also help you sleep at night. Some people will indeed feel most relaxed when there is little to no noise.

The thing to remember is that not everyone has the same favourite colour or noise preference!

Do you have a preference? I’d love to know!

So maybe white, pink or brown noise is something you’d like to try…. There are numerous apps ad and sound machines around that you can consider. But if poor sleep or constant wakes continue to be an issue, please ask me about improving sleep skills. Helping you with sleep is what I love to do. To find out more, jump on a free initial call with me. You can book one here.

In any case, if healthy sleep is important to you, follow along on Facebook or Instagram or sign up to my newsletter (remember to check your email to confirm your subscription). Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep.