What Is Pink Noise?

Pink noise can block out annoying sounds and may help you sleep better

Pink noise is a type of noise that contains all the sound frequencies that humans can hear. However, unlike white noise, which represents all the frequencies equally, the higher frequencies in pink noise are less intense. For many people, that results in a type of noise that can block out annoying background sounds, without sounding harsh or shrill.

For some people, pink noise may contribute to more sound sleep, and help you get your recommended eight hours. Learning more about pink noise can help you decide whether or not this potential sleep aid might be helpful for you.

Relaxed young man laying on ground and listening to music on autumn day.
DjelicS / Getty Images 

What Is Pink Noise?

To understand pink noise, start with the more familiar white noise. Like white light, which encompasses all visual frequencies of light, white noise encompasses all frequencies of sound that humans can hear. White noise, like a vacuum or television static, is often used to block out unwanted noises, especially for people who are trying to sleep.

The problem with white noise is that all frequencies come through at the same intensity. Human ears don’t particularly like high-pitched sounds, so true white noise can sound annoying to some people.

Pink noise aims to correct this. With pink noise, higher frequencies are less intense. Because of that, your ears are less likely to be overwhelmed by them. Instead, most people focus on the calming lower frequencies and find pink noise sounds more soothing.

Pink noise represents all the audible sounds, but lower frequencies are amplified, while higher frequencies are diminished.

Examples of Pink Noise

Unless you’re an audio engineer, the information above might be confusing. So, it’s helpful to consider some familiar examples of pink noise. Many natural sounds are pink noise. Waves crashing on a beach, leaves rustling in the trees, and rain falling are all examples of pink noise.

But not all nature sounds are pink noise. Sounds that emphasize low frequencies even more than pink noise are called brown noise. Thunder or the sound of a far-off waterfall are examples of brown noise.

Can Pink Noise Help With Sleep?

There’s a lot of evidence that using sound to cover up background noises can help people sleep better. But most of the research has been done on white noise.

Researchers have found that white noise can help hospital patients fall asleep almost 40% faster. As many parents will attest, white noise can also help infants sleep better. It can even help kids concentrate in school.

Research indicates that pink noise can help with sleep, too. In turn, that means that it can boost memory, since memories are stored during deep sleep

One of the more recent research studies on pink noise was published in 2017. It examined the effect of pink noise on sleep for a small group of 13 older adults. The study found that listening to pink noise while sleeping increased slow wave activity, which is associated with deep sleep.

A similar study conducted in 2016 found that pink noise also improved sleep and memory for younger adults who were taking a daytime nap.

Similar studies in 2012 and 2013 also found that exposure to pink noise could result in deeper sleep, longer sleep, and improved memory. The findings held true for nighttime sleep, as well as naps during the day. 

The Different Colors of Noise

Many people refer to any noise that’s meant to mask background sounds as white noise. Although white noise has become a catch-all phrase, it’s not the best way of talking about the background noise that many people use to help themselves sleep. 

In addition to white noise and pink noise, detailed above, there are two other types of noise: brown and blue. Here are some of the benefits of each type of noise:

  • White noise: Represents all audible sound frequencies equally. Because of that, it’s good at masking background noises, but some people find it annoying to listen to because their ears hear the high-frequency noises the most.
  • Pink noise: While including the full range of audible sounds, lower frequencies are amplified, while higher frequencies are diminished. Because of that, it sounds more soothing to many people who might find white noise annoying.
  • Brown noise: Brown noise contains all sound frequencies, but the low, base tones are strongest.
  • Blue noise: Blue noise is essentially the opposite of brown noise. It contains all the audible frequencies, but the higher-pitched frequencies are amplified. To most people, blue noise sounds harsh, so it’s not a common option for sleep support. However, some people find it helpful.

How to Find a Pink Noise Machine

Most people who need help drowning out sounds like barking dogs, cars, or loud neighbors simply search for a white noise machine or app. However, you may need to do a little digging to find readily-available pink noise.

It’s helpful to know that you’re looking for—many apps noise machines have pink noise options like waves crashing, even if they don’t explicitly mention it. Some apps have options for pink or even brown noise.

A Word From Verywell

Getting quality sleep is critical for mental, physical, and emotional health. If you are struggling with sleep, the addition of a masking noise into your bedroom might help you fall asleep faster, and get more deep sleep—something that’s critical for the development and storage of memories. 

The type of noise that will be the best sleep aid is highly personalized. It’s OK to experiment with noise machines and apps to find one that is right for you. 

In addition to using a noise machine or app, you can improve your sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. This includes going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day, making sure the room is dark, and minimizing your use of electronics in the bedroom. Coupled with pink noise, these steps can help you feel refreshed in the morning.

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