Nothing can disrupt a night’s sleep like a noisy environment. For that reason, many people find it easier to sleep with earplugs, sound-cancelling headphones, or some sort of ambient noise around such as from a fan or white noise generator. While white noise generators are by far the most popular and common type of noise machine, a recent study suggests pink noise might actually be more conducive to deep sleep and improved memory function. What exactly is pink noise, and how might it improve sleep?

White noise is the scientific name for sound which has the same intensity across the frequency spectrum. Think of it like a perfect mix between the ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ frequencies. Since all frequencies are equal, white noise can drown out any other sounds which happen to be around. The intensity of the frequencies in pink noise, on the other hand, are inversely proportional to their frequency. In other words, bass frequencies are louder than treble frequencies. Since our ears are more sensitive to treble frequencies, pink noise can sound less brash and harsh than white noise.

To test how different ‘colors’ of noise might affect sleep quality, neuroscientists and neurologists at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University conducted a study in which 13 individuals between 60 and 84 years old were subjected to different types of noise at night while they slept. Following exposure to these different types of noise, the participants completed memory tests.

The researchers found that the participants’ memory recall was three times better after sleeping with pink noise and that pink noise seemed to lead to longer periods of deep sleep. Dr. Phyllis Zee, one of the researchers involved with the study, says the outcome suggests pink noise may be “an innovative, simple, and safe non-medication approach that may help improve brain health.”

Will this study lead to a rise in pink noise machines on the market? It’s possible, although many people – my wife and I included – already simulate the spectral intensity of pink noise by muffling their white noise generators slightly using a pillow or towel at night. There are also scores of ten-hour pink noise videos available free on YouTube. Give it a shot – it just might help you reach deeper sleep.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact him at [email protected]

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