According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, nearly 40% of adults report unintentionally falling asleep during the day, and about 50 to 70 million individuals suffer from chronic, ongoing sleep disorders. This can be even more prominent for women who are dealing with symptoms common to menopause, like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and night sweats.
Fortunately, there are several simple ways to improve our chances of getting a good night’s sleep, including exercising regularly, drinking sleep-enhancing tea, and reducing screentime before bed. Many people find it helpful to have something playing in the background, especially if the area they sleep in is noisy. In many cases, music can invade rather than induce sleep, however, leading to daytime sleepiness.
White noise is sound that is distributed equally across all the auditory frequencies. It effectively blocks out other noises without giving your brain a recognizable pattern to lock on to. For this reason, white noise machines are often recommended to help people fall asleep and sleep through the night. White noise is not the only color of noise, however. Noise comes in a wide spectrum of frequencies and, therefore, colors, each with slightly differing effects.
A Rainbow of Sound Frequencies
There are as many noise frequencies as there are light frequencies, and therefore a wide range of auditory colors to listen to, but not all of them are particularly useful for sleep. In addition, each person senses and therefore reacts to frequencies slightly differently.
Noise comes in a wide variety of colors or frequencies, much like light. The colors that a person prefers to listen to and how their brain reacts to the different sound frequencies is highly individual. Although many people find relief from insomnia by masking background sounds with white or other color noise, a few studies even indicate that the noise itself may interfere with sleep quality and duration.
There are, however, a few specific colors of sound that are more frequently referred to regarding calming or focusing the mind.
As mentioned above, white noise is distributed equally across all the auditory frequencies, resulting in a steady hum. Examples of white noise that you might run across in your day-to-day life include:
- An air conditioner
- A vacuum
- A whirring fan
- Radio static
As it is evenly distributed across the frequencies, white noise is particularly good at masking other sounds. This makes it a good option for blunting noises that might interfere with either sleep or concentration, and it is often used as a study aid as well as a sleep aid. White noise can be a bit intense for some listeners due to its higher sound frequencies.
The term black noise refers to either silence or infrasound. Many people are more comfortable sleeping in silent or near-silent environments, but some find this type of sound, or non-sound, unnerving.
Noise that blends high and low frequency in a way that more closely mimics nature is said to be pink noise. It is a gentler sound that lacks the intensity of white noise. Some people refer to it as ambient noise. Examples of pink noise could include:
- Calm waves on a beach
- Steady rain
- The wind rustling through leaves
Light sleepers and people who are sensitive to high sound frequencies may find pink noise especially helpful. Those who listen to white noise but consistently wake up with low energy may want to try using pink noise instead.
Brown noise, first discovered by Scottish botanist Robert Brown, focuses more on the lower frequencies in the auditory spectrum. It is an offshoot of another theory of his called Brownian motion. Sounds that approximate brown noise include:
- A pounding surf
- Rolling thunder
- The rumble of strong winds
- A rushing river
This type of noise occasionally referred to as red noise, is more soothing to some people than either white or pink noise. It is said to help counteract intrusive thought processes and may help to reduce anxiety. Brown noise has also been associated with increased concentration and focus and is frequently employed as a study aid.
How we perceive sound can be affected by our own personal hearing range, the equipment it’s being played on, and even the environment it’s being played in. How each color of sound will affect you may differ from how it affects someone else. It may even affect you differently in different surroundings or played on a different device.
Selecting an appropriate auditory sleep aid is a highly individualized choice. Fortunately, there are many great options available to find just the right sound for you, from machines designed exclusively to manufacture these sounds to online apps like MyNoise.net that offer adjustable online sound machines so you can find precisely the right noise frequency for you. In general, whatever color noise leaves you waking up rested and rejuvenated is the best for you.
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