Pink Noise vs. White Noise: Complete Guide

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Even when it seems quiet, sound is all around us. During the day, this background noise (known as “ambient noise”) can be easy to ignore. However, when you’re trying to fall asleep, ambient noise can make the difference between drifting off into dreamland and staying awake far longer than you intended.

Taking charge of the noise in your sleeping environment can be a game-changer for both the quantity and quality of your sleep. An effective way to do this is by embracing the power of the entire spectrum of sound, which goes far behind just white noise. Having an awareness of the benefits of pink noise vs. white noise, for example, can help you choose the right “color” of noise to help support more restorative sleep. 

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What Is Pink Noise?

All sound waves break down into two primary components — amplitude (power) and frequency. Amplitude, measured in decibels, describes the size of the sound waves. The larger the sound wave, the louder that sound will be. 

Frequency, measured in Hertz, refers to how quickly a sound wave vibrates. The faster the vibration, the higher the frequency and pitch.

Think of the color of noise the same way you think about the color of light — the amount of frequencies (vibrational speeds) that the human ear can pick up in a sound is what determines its “color.” 

For example, white light has multiple frequencies that all exist with the same amount of power. Similarly, white noise has multiple frequencies that also exist on the same level.

Pink noise is slightly different. Although it contains a mixture of higher and lower-frequency sound waves, low-frequency sound waves tend to have more amplitude. This gives pink noise more of a “bass” tone, similar to the noise it makes when you press your lips together to make a “shh” sound.

Examples of pink noise sounds include rustling leaves, steady rain, and the sound of your heartbeat.

What Effects Does Pink Noise Have on the Body?

The different colors of sound can all have positive effects on our brains and our bodies, depending on their amplitude and frequency. Pink noise helps improve sleep quality and stability by reducing the complexity of our brain waves when we sleep (essentially, it can help the brain to “think less”). Pink noise can also help you fall asleep more easily and quickly.

What Is White Noise?

While pink noise focuses more amplitude on the lower frequency sound ways, white noise places equal power on the entire spectrum of frequencies. This type of noise is by far the most common — you can even buy specialized white noise machines or use white noise apps designed to help you fall asleep.

Examples of white noise sounds include a humming air conditioner, radio or television static, a running vacuum cleaner, or a whirring fan. 

Because it has a full spectrum of frequencies, white noise helps improve the quality of sleep for those in high-noise environments (like bigger cities).

When To Use Pink Noise vs. White Noise

Is there an easy way to know which “color” of noise is best for you?

The biggest factor to consider when choosing a color on the noise spectrum is how sensitive your hearing is. Because white noise represents all frequencies of sound waves, including the higher frequencies, some people find it to be too jarring to listen to when they are trying to fall asleep — especially those who are more sensitive to high frequencies.

For those who really want the most bang for their buck in blocking out unwanted sound, white noise can be incredibly effective. On the other hand, if you are more of a light sleeper, pink noise may be the better option. 

It’s also important to consider accessibility. While many sound machines feature white noise, you may have a hard time finding noise generators that focus on pink noise.

How Can Other Colors of Noise Support Sleep?

If you can’t make an easy decision between pink noise and white noise, there are also other colors of noise on the spectrum you can try. Each has its own benefits, and you may use all four of these colors depending on your needs at the moment.

Brown Noise

Also known as red noise, brown noise is deeper and even more bass-like than either pink or white noise. However, because of the deeper tones of brown noise, this noise helps increase concentration instead of lulling people to sleep. 

Unlike the other colors of noise, the name “brown noise” doesn’t come from a color. The name actually comes from a concept known as Brownian motion — the small, random fluctuations and movements that particles make in liquid.

Green Noise

Green noise is closely related to white noise. The name comes from how closely green noise resembles nature sounds — think of green noise like a babbling brook or rhythmic ocean waves.

Unfortunately, the science of green noise and how its sound frequencies can impact sleep have not been well investigated.

How Else Can You Encourage a Good Night’s Sleep?

In addition to pink noise and white noise, there are other ways you can alter your sleep habits and improve the quality of your sleep.

It starts by changing the way you approach your sleep — it’s time to stop looking at sleep like a one-size-fits-all journey. Everyone’s sleep is different, and there are multiple factors that can impact sleep. For most people, difficulty sleeping isn’t caused by just one thing; it’s the result of a combination of factors like stress, your sleeping environment, and even physical sleep disorders (like sleep apnea).

Addressing sleep issues is about more than just relying on surface-level advice like meditation or changing the temperature of your bedroom. Instead, research finds that longer-lasting sleep issues are commonly caused by deeper, underlying psychological reasons. 

For example, do you find your thoughts racing when you get into bed? Are you waking up anxious in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? As beneficial as pink or white noise can be, you have to look at the whole picture. 

At Stellar Sleep, we focus on helping you get better rest — and with our free sleep quiz, you can learn how to sleep again.

The Bottom Line

There’s no “right” answer when it comes to pink noise and white noise (or any other noise on the sound spectrum) — it all depends on what helps you achieve a better night’s sleep. However, just sound alone can’t help you sleep better; you also need to approach your sleep from a holistic perspective to really make a difference. 

To learn more about how you can get the sleep you deserve, take our free sleep quiz today.


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