Unlocking the Colors of Sleep: White, Brown and Pink Noise as Sleep Aids

April 30, 2024


If you’ve been on the quest for a good night’s sleep and have turned to solutions beyond counting sheep, you may have come across the buzz surrounding colored noise as sleep aids. Among the spectrum of options, white, brown and pink noise have emerged as popular contenders, each claiming to offer unique benefits for improving sleep quality. But what sets these ambient sounds apart, and do they truly deliver on their promise as effective sleep aids? Marietta Bibbs, system manager of sleep disorders for BayCare, helps dive into the science behind each and explore their potential benefits for a more peaceful night of sleep. 

White Noise: Consistent and steady 

Think of white noise as a soft, steady “shhh” sound that creates a masking effect, drowning out other noises that might disturb sleep. Similar to the sound of static on a TV or the hum of a fan, white noise contains equal power across all frequencies audible to the human ear and can be helpful for some people to relax and fall asleep.  

Brown Noise: Deeper and fuller 

Also known as red noise, brown noise is deeper and lower in frequency compared to white noise. It resembles a rumbling sound, like distant thunder or a waterfall. This may be preferred by those who find higher-pitched sounds irritating and want a deep, soothing sound to help them relax. 

Pink Noise: Nature’s Symphony 

With its softer, more gentle approach, pink noise falls between white and brown noise by offering lower frequencies that resemble the sound of rain falling or leaves rustling. It creates a gentle, calming atmosphere for sleep and is often perceived as more natural and soothing compared to white noise. Pink noise has been shown to improve deep sleep and enhance memory consolidation. 

The idea of the constant and non-intrusive nature of these noises is to mask sudden disruptions, making it easier for light sleepers to fall asleep and stay asleep. Research into the effectiveness of colored noise as sleep aids has produced mixed results, with some studies indicating improvements in sleep quality and duration, while others show minimal impact.  

“It's important to recognize, that its effectiveness may vary depending on factors such as individual preferences, sensitivity to sound, and underlying sleep disorders,” Bibbs explained. “While colored noise can help some people drift off to sleep, it might have the opposite effect on others. Some sounds could have natural variations or irregular noises that might wake you up or disturb your sleep.” 

It's generally safe to listen to these noises for a long time, as long as the volume doesn't go over levels that can harm your ears — anything over 70 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To put that in perspective, the noise level of a typical vacuum cleaner falls under this limit.  

If you are dreaming of better sleep, you can find more tips here. If you’ve tried these tips and still struggle with sleep, Bibbs suggests consulting your doctor or consider asking for a referral to a board-certified sleep disorders specialist. Chronic poor sleep may increase the likelihood of certain illnesses such as dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even cancer.  “People need to make sleep a priority in their lives,” Bibbs said. 

BayCare operates three Sleep Disorders Centers throughout the Tampa Bay area. Learn more about BayCare’s sleep disorder treatments by calling (866) 328-9932 or talking to your physician about a referral for a professional sleep evaluation at one of our Sleep Disorders Centers.