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A car horn, your partner’s borderline-violent mouth breathing, neighbors having loud sex, you wondering why you’re not having loud sex, your phone vibrating across the nightstand — all these things can seriously screw with your sleep.
The monotonous rumble-hum of a good box fan or a white noise machine can be your savior in these scenarios. But get this: There are actually more colors of noise than just white! And some may be even better for promoting good sleep. Enter: pink noise.
No, you can’t actually see pink noise, and no, it doesn’t sound like the gentle pitter-patter of unicorn hooves on the rainbow trail to Candyland — but it’s pretty rad nonetheless.
To help you understand pink noise and all other “colors” of sound, here’s a little intro to sound frequency.
Humans can hear a range of frequencies from 20 to 20,000 hertz. Frequency refers to the number of times per second a sound wave repeats itself, which determines a sound’s pitch — so 20 hertz is a very low pitch, and 20,000 hertz is a very high pitch.
The “color” of noise depends on how energy is distributed over these frequencies. For example, white noise consists of all sound frequencies (20 to 20,000 hertz) distributed at equal levels.
Pink noise consists of all frequencies, too, but they’re not equally distributed. Instead, the energy is greater for lower frequencies. This results in a deeper sound that’s lower, less “bright,” and more balanced than white noise — like white noise with the bass amped up.
You probably hear pink noise all the time — here are some examples:
- steady rainfall
- wind rustling through leaves
- gentle ocean waves
- low rumbling thunder
- a low roaring waterfall
- a fan on a low setting
Signs point to yes. Some experts think pink noise might be even better than white noise for sleep, but no studies have compared the two head-to-head.
In a small 2012 study, participants who listened to pink noise while sleeping got more deep sleep than those who slept in a quiet room. Pink noise increased deep sleep time by slowing the participants’ brain waves.
Pink noise’s positive effect on sleep may improve memory, too. In a 2017 study, researchers played bursts of pink noise in sync with delta brain waves (the slow brain waves associated with deep sleep) and found that people performed 26 percent better on memory tests the next day.
Similarly, a small 2019 study found that pink noise improved deep sleep and memory recall in people with mild cognitive impairment, the earliest stage of dementia.
Another perk: Because pink noise contains all frequencies, it can help mask sounds that might otherwise disrupt sleep.
The range of sonic colors doesn’t stop at pink and white. Here are some others you might hear in your day-to-day.
To recap: Pink noise is all about that bass. It consists of all sound frequencies humans can hear, but it emphasizes lower frequencies. This creates a sound that’s deep, steady, and less “bright” than white noise. Check it out here.
White noise consists of all sound frequencies humans can hear, represented equally. This results in a sound that some describe as radio static. It’s also the most well-studied type of noise for promoting sleep.
Examples of white noise in the real world include things like a whirring fan, a humming air conditioner, or a waterfall. Check it out here.
Lower sound frequencies are even more pronounced in brown noise than in pink noise. This results in a low, deep sound (think: even more bass tones) similar to a roaring river.
There’s not much research on brown noise for sleep, but some people say it works like a charm. Check it out here.
Blue noise isn’t necessarily sleep-friendly — it’s the opposite of pink noise, with higher frequencies amped up. Check it out here.
Black noise is the nonscientific term for complete silence. Ever been in one of those sensory deprivation tanks or pods? That comes pretty close to black noise. While black noise may benefit sleep, it’s hard to come by.
Experts say pink noise is safe for babies and may be effective — just make sure you keep it at a reasonable volume.
Before trying pink noise, familiarize yourself with how much sleep your baby needs in the first place.
Harness the power of pink noise with these apps, sound machines, and other products:
- Honeywell Dreamweaver Sleep Fan: Especially good for the summer months, this oscillating bedside fan combines pink noise with the whir of fan blades.
- Magicteam Sleep Sound Machine: This small, budget-friendly sound machine offers white, pink, brown, and blue noise, as well as a variety of soothing, nonlooping sounds.
- Yogasleep Rohm Portable White Noise Machine: All Yogasleep products actually feature pink noise, not white, for superior sleep. This one’s ultralight and great for travel.
- Letsfit White Noise Machine with Baby Night Light: Featuring white noise, pink noise, lullabies, nature sounds, and the soft glow of a night-light, this is perfect for baby.
- myNoise app (available for iOS and Android): Customize the color of noise you want to listen to — pink, brown, white, or a combination.
- Noisli app (available for iOS and Android): Mix different colored noises (pink, brown, or white) and sounds (coffee shop, campfire, rain, etc.) to create your ideal blend.
- White Noise Baby Sleep Sounds app (available for Android): Downloaded 1 million times by fellow sleep-deprived parents, this app offers pure white noise, pure pink noise, and a variety of soothing sounds, such as a purring cat.
Pink noise isn’t a magic bullet, especially if you stay up late, scroll Insta before bed, or chug a latte late in the afternoon. To boost its effectiveness, pair pink noise with these other healthy sleep hacks:
- Don’t mess with your sleep schedule. Your body likes routine! Pick a consistent bedtime and wake-up time and stick to them so your body starts to wind down and wake up on its own.
- Get some natural light first thing. Exposure to natural light in the morning helps suppress melatonin (the sleep hormone) and reset your circadian rhythms so you naturally feel alert.
- Get sweaty on the reg. Some vigorous exercise (think: a HIIT class) during the day can help you feel nice and sleepy later. Skip night workouts, which can leave you wired.
- Skip the p.m. coffee and booze. Caffeine can seriously mess with sleep when you drink it less than 4 to 6 hours before bed. And while alcohol makes you drowsy, it also reduces REM sleep, which is thought to be the most restorative sleep.
- Chill the eff out with a relaxing pre-bed ritual. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode each night. Consider making the transition with a ritual away from bright lights, like reading, taking a bath, or doing gentle stretches to calming music.
- Block that blue light. Artificial light exposure at night suppresses melatonin, so you don’t get sleepy like you should. If you can’t avoid screens altogether, at least put your phone in “night sight” mode or invest in a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.
- Skip the naps or keep ’em short. If you’re a regular napper but struggle with sleep, try shortening your naps to quick 20-minute catnaps. If that doesn’t help, nix them altogether.
For some peeps — and even babies — the deeper, soothing tones of pink noise may be even more effective than white noise for sleep. Experiment with pure pink noise or pink noise-dominant sounds at different volumes to see what works best.
Keep in mind that everyone’s different. If pink noise isn’t for you, consider another sonic hue. And don’t skimp on good old sleep hygiene! A pink noise app is no match for excessive screen time and a 4 p.m. latte.