If you have trouble falling asleep, then odds are you've heard about (and maybe even tried) listening to white noise as a solution to insomnia. But you might not have heard about pink noise, white noise's more colorful cousin. Given the potential health benefits you can gain from listening to this type of sound as you sleep, you're probably going to want to use pink noise for sleep at least once, to see how rested you are the next morning.
Pink noise is similar to white noise in that they're both audible to humans. However, they're different in one distinct way: white noise has an equal power per hertz through all of its frequencies, and in contrast, pink noise's power per hertz decreases when the frequency increases. In other words, white noise is a static and consistent noise, like television static, while pink noise tends to ebb and flow, like the sound of waves crashing on the beach. In fact, many examples of pink noise can be found in the natural world: rain falling, leaves rustling, and hearts beating are all examples of pink noise.
Luckily, it's super easy to create a pink noise-friendly environment in your bedroom. All you have to do is use a sound app and select an audio option that has an ebbing and flowing pattern, like all of the nature sounds mentioned above. Relax Melodies is one such app that has pink noise options, including rain or river sounds. Another option is buying an actual pink noise generator like Honeywell's DreamWeaver Sleep Fan. Or, if you live in a place where you can hear leaves rustling or waves crashing through your window, you can just listen to those natural sounds, too.
There are also plenty of pink noise videos available on YouTube — just make sure that the video is definitely pink noise, and not white noise. If you have a good ear, you'll be able to make that distinction by recognizing pink noise's thicker sound with lower frequencies, whereas white noise tends to sound thinner, and has less low frequencies.
If you're on the fence, consider this: studies have suggested that pink noise could help you not just fall asleep, but enjoy deeper and more restful sleep, too. A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience helped explain the potential sleep-deepening effect that pink noise can have on people. Specifically, scientists at Northwestern University studied the impact that pink noise had on the sleep quality of a group of adults between the ages of 60-84 years old, and determined that listening to pink noise was correlated to deeper sleep for the participants than the sleep they experienced when not listening to anything.
Yet another study explained just how helpful a better night's sleep can be for your long-term health. A June 2019 study published in The Annals of Clinical and Transnational Neurology by scientists at Northwestern University argues that pink noise, also described as "gentle sound stimulation," could have the power to "enhance deep sleep for people with mild cognitive impairment, who are at risk for Alzheimer's disease." Dr. Roneil Malkani, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said of the study's results, "These results suggest that improving sleep is a promising novel approach to stave off dementia."
The best part about pink noise is that it's super easy to incorporate into your nightly routine. It might even be available through your bedroom window. So really, there's nothing to lose by trying it for just one night.
Malkani, R. (2019), Acoustic enhancement of sleep slow oscillations in mild cognitive impairment. The Annals of Clinical and Transnational Neurology, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/acn3.796
Papalambros, N. (2017), Acoustic Enhancement of Sleep Slow Oscillations and Concomitant Memory Improvement in Older Adults. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00109/full