It’s a strange phenomenon if you think about it long enough. Why the static of a muted TV or the buzz of a radio station out of range is actually somewhat … pleasant. White noise gets a lot of attention as a solution to falling asleep. Nevertheless, going to bed with more sounds on is actually pretty counterintuitive.
But, maybe we should think again. Little did many of us know. There are a lot of other types of sounds besides the good old white stuff. In fact, pink noise is gaining popularity for its “magical” hypnotic powers. And let’s not forget the brown noise. It is a favorite among college students for its concentration and relaxation enhancement.
But how do these noises actually help us sleep and live better? And what do they have to do with color? Here, we cut through the noise (see what we did there?) to dig into what gives these sounds their unique shade. And how you should be using them tonight.
Introducing the Sounds Color Spectrum
Let’s back up a little so we can understand why noise has anything to do with color. According to an article by The Atlantic, a sound wave is broken down into two characteristics. First, frequency, which signifies how quickly the wave vibrates per second. And second, amplitude, which means how big the waves are.
Now, remember back to your first chemistry class or color lesson. Color (or more specifically, light) is broken down the same way. An object will absorb light depending on its own properties. The light is then reflected back (leftover, you could say) at a certain wavelength is the color that we see. So if you’re looking at a rose, the red of the leaves actually appears that color because of the wavelength of the light that is being reflected back. Still with us?
White, blue, brown, pink …
So, as the Atlantic explains, white noise (or any other color noise) is named as an analogy of the color spectrum. White noise, then, is made up of every audible frequency humans can hear, just as white light is made up of all the visible frequencies humans can see. The same thing goes for every noise of the rainbow — blue, brown, and pink too.
With white noise, every frequency is released at random and equal power — it’s like thousands of different sounds mixed together simultaneously. But other colors refer to different sounds because their energy is stronger at the higher or lower ends of the sound spectrum, creating a different noise. That’s why pink or brown noise sounds deeper and more bass-like.
These sounds are less high-pitched than white noise because of our biology. Humans hear in octaves (the doubling of a frequency band), meaning that the difference between 30–60 Hertz and 10,000–20,000 Hz actually sounds pretty much the same. For us, says LifeHacker, these octaves manifest as more sounds appearing higher pitched. The frequency strengthens every time sound goes up an octave indeed. But pink noise is engineered to take our hearing into account, balancing the octaves so that there’s less space between them. That makes the sound more pleasant and lower-pitched.
What’s the Deal with Pink Noise and Sleep?
Interestingly, white noise has long been touted as the solution to sleepless nights. But the pink noise actually has a whole lot more to do with good quality sleep. On a very basic level, our brains are very perceptive of sound, especially when it’s silent (like in the middle of the night). Turning on background noise is a natural way to muffle obnoxious snoring or loud neighbors. Noise makes indeed any background noise less extreme to our delicate ears.
But more than that, it turns out that pink noise is scientifically proven to actually improve the deep phase of sleep. It allows indeed for better memory formation and the re-energization of the brain. One study played sounds consistent with slow oscillations (i.e., pink noise). It found that these sounds actually enhanced the brain’s analogous slow oscillatory activity (i.e., deep sleep).
A study showed how pink noise is beneficial to our sleep
Another study tested 11 people in a sleep lab for two nights. Some participants were played pink noise as they approached deep sleep on the first night. The second night, researchers played pink noise for those who missed it the first time. Before bed each night, participants viewed 120 pairs of words. When they awoke the next morning, they were asked how many of the pairs they could remember. For the participants, the night that pink noise was played yielded deeper sleep. There was an increase in the height of brain waves that night. Ultimately, the participants remember almost double the number of words after the pink noise night, as opposed to the silent one.
So clearly, pink noise is beneficial to our sleep. And ultimately, to our days as well. There are many innovations in the works to bring sleep technology leveraging pink noise to the masses (including our Dreem headband). We’re bound to see sleep technology draw even more on the importance of noise to enhance sleep.