If you have trouble falling asleep, then you may have thought about playing some white noise in the background. Or perhaps some pink noise, or brown noise. For those that don’t even know what all these are, never fear.

As well as weighing up white noise vs pink noise vs brown noise, this article is here to explain each of these sorts of sounds fully.

As well as what they can do to ensure you have a great night’s sleep, every night.

white noise vs pink noise vs brown noise which is better for you

All three - white noise, pink noise and brown noise - are said to be beneficial for sleep. So let’s begin by taking a look at what each term means.

Why white noise, pink noise and brown noise?

So why is background noise for sleep called after colours? It’s all about how scientists measure light on the electromagnetic spectrum. White noise was the first to be named in this way.  

What is white noise?

White noise could help you sleep if you find steady sounds that are made by machines soothing - such as a vacuum cleaner or air conditioning unit

air conditioning unit noise can help you sleep
Image by ElasticComputeFarm from Pixabay

White noise is like white light in that all types of noise are included. White light includes all visible types of light, and white noise covers all forms of sound. It can also be known as wideband or broadband noise.

When it comes to white noise, all kinds of sound frequencies are covered. Everything between 20 and 20,000 hertz is included.

White noise examples include static from a TV or radio, sounds emitted by dehumidifiers, air conditioning units and ventilation systems, or a vacuum cleaner. So there are various man-made forms of white noise.

This type of noise can be more monotonous than pink or brown noise.

What is pink noise?

Pink noise could help you sleep if you find soft, natural sounds relaxing - such as light rain or gentle wave action

gentle wave noise to help you sleep

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com

Pink noise can also be described as a broadband or wideband form of noise. Again, frequencies between 20 and 20,000 hertz are included.

So what’s the difference between white noise and pink noise? Pink noise differs from white noise because it’s not as powerful at higher frequencies. At lower frequencies, however, it’s more powerful.

Examples of pink noise include steadily falling rain, waves washing against the shoreline, the rustling of leaves and the sound of someone’s heartbeat. So in general, pink noise more often comes from natural sources than white noise.

What is brown noise?

Brown noise could help you sleep if you find more powerful natural sounds restful - such as a rain or thunderstorm, or crashing waves

sound of a thunder store to help you sleep

Photo by Johannes Plenio: https://www.pexels.com

Brown noise could be described as a more extreme form of pink noise. At higher frequencies, the sounds are even less powerful here. At lower frequencies, though, they can be stronger.

Like white and pink noise, brown noise is also fairly monotonous. It’s named for the pattern it creates on an equal-loudness contour graph: against a black background, it looks like a brownish line.

Like pink noise, brown noise often comes from natural rather than man-made sources. If you don’t enjoy the silence and find hearing something in the background soothing, then brown noise could be the answer.

Brown noise examples include more powerful sounds. Of the three, this form of noise uses the deepest frequencies. Think crashing rather than gently rolling waves, heavy rainfall, a thunderstorm or the sound of a power shower running.

White noise, pink noise or brown noise at night

Which do you prefer - machine noise, gentle natural sounds or powerful natural sounds?

So whether it’s the sound emitted by a dehumidifier or vacuum cleaner or a more natural sound such as light or heavy rain, why can white, pink or brown noise help you sleep better?

Really, it’s all about relaxation. Plus distraction from the kind of anxiety or stress that could keep you awake. Brown, pink or white noise can be of benefit to those with ADHD, as it can help to calm the mind. If you have tinnitus - or ringing in the ears - white noise can also help here as it can drown out the unwanted sounds.

Which will work for you is a matter of trial and error. The monotony of white noise works well for some, while others prefer the more natural tones of brown or pink noise. Pink noise is the more gentle of the two, and brown the more powerful.

Before putting one, two or all three to the test, it’s worth thinking about what helps you sleep. Can you nod off if a machine is humming in or close to the room? If the answer is yes, then white nose may suit you. If it's a no, brown or pink noise could be better options.

How do you sleep during strong winds, thunder or heavy rain? If the answer is very well indeed, then brown noise may be the best bet for you. When you find lighter rainfall or the rustling of the leaves on the trees more soothing, then pink noise might be the better choice.

White noise, pink noise or brown noise during the day

White, pink or brown noise can also benefit many people by day

It’s not only at night that brown, pink or white noise can be of benefit. Whether you’re working out or sitting at a desk in a busy office, using this sort of noise can help you to be more productive.

If you’re the sort of person who’s easily distracted by colleagues who are typing, talking on the phone or even eating lunch at their desk, then putting on some headphones and drowning out these sounds by using pink, brown or white noise may increase your productivity levels. Due to the lack of distractions and annoying sounds, this may also make you feel calmer.

The easiest - and cheapest - way to try it for yourself is simply to download a white, brown or pink noise app. Many are free. Apps such as White Noise Lite, Sleep Sounds and BetterSleep are even recommended by trusted sources like Sleep Foundation.

May 02, 2023 — Michelle Fletcher Smith