What is pink noise?
As more people turn to noise machines for sleep and relaxation, many are choosing something called "pink noise."
Anecdotally, pink noise is more soothing and calming, and there's some research on its effects.
The Sleep Foundation describes pink noise as a sound that contains a random assortment of all the audible frequencies, with more power in the lower frequencies.
It contains the same overall intensity in each octave, but the volume of individual pitches decreases by 3 decibels with each higher octave.
Here, learn how pink noise can help you get some rest and recuperation:
It helps you fall asleep
There's nothing worse than finally dozing off—only to be jolted awake by a slamming door or shrieking siren. (City dwellers: You know how it goes.) And while it's easy to shake a fist at the source, the specific noise isn't exactly the problem.
According to Carolyn Burke, sleep coach and research writer at The Sleep Advisor, it's more about the sudden changes in volume or frequency that are more likely to wake us up.
Enter the peaceful consistency of pink noise. "Pink noise provides a constant ambient sound, helping to mask sounds that interfere with sleep," explains Terry Cralle, R.N., certified clinical sleep educator and sleep expert with the Better Sleep Council.
It's similar to white noise but is less harsh and more calming, she notes. Specifically, pink noise minimizes the difference between abrupt sounds and the background, making it easier to fall asleep.
It can promote deeper rest
It's one thing to slip into a slumber. But what about staying asleep long enough to get sufficient deep sleep. That's another story.
Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, is the type of rest you need to feel refreshed and energized the next morning.
It's also when your body repairs muscle, regrows tissue, and enhances its immune function. Pink noise can help you reach this stage by masking potentially jarring sounds and, ultimately, allowing continuous sleep.
Pink noise also lends a hand by altering brain activity. According to Alex Savy, certified sleep science coach and founder of Sleeping Ocean, our brain waves are naturally very slow and smooth during deep sleep.
But "when you hear pink noise, the frequency of your brain waves adjusts to it," he says. In other words, pink noise decreases the complexity of your brain waves even further, resulting in more stable and restorative rest.
It could improve your memory
Thanks to its effect on deep sleep, pink noise is also associated with supporting and enhancing memory. That's because memory consolidation depends on adequate deep sleep.
The process starts with your hippocampus, the part of your brain that's known for making memories and decisions. (In fact, the hippocampus is known as the brain's "flash drive.")
As you snooze, the memories you made while you were awake relocate to the cortex, where it's saved as long-term memory.
There isn't much research on the link between pink noise and memory since pink noise hasn't been extensively studied.
However, in one small study, pink noise was found to improve deep sleep—and memory recall—in 13 older adults. The researchers credited this effect to the memory processing that occurs during sleep.
It might help you focus
The sound-masking ability of pink noise isn't limited to your beauty sleep. If external sounds are messing with your focus, try listening to pink noise.
"By creating a constant, soothing sound that reduces jolting distractions, [you] could better concentrate on the tasks at hand," says Burke.
Essentially, pink noise can make it easier to focus in the same way it can help some people sleep. This is especially useful when you're trying to work in a loud café, office, or house.
What is the difference between pink noise and white noise?
There isn't a huge difference between white noise and pink noise in terms of research and benefits. The main difference is what they sound like.
According to Cralle, both pink noise and white noise contain all the frequencies that humans are able to hear (20 hertz to 20,000 hertz).
But "white noise has equal power across all frequencies, [while] pink noise is more powerful on the lower end of the sound spectrum," she explains. Pink noise is basically white noise with a louder, stronger bass.
An example of white noise is static on an old television; pink noise is more natural and "flat," like steady rain or leaves rustling.
So which one is right for you?
It comes down to personal preference. After all, everyone's brain responds to sound in different ways. The best choice is the one that suits your needs.
Before investing in a sound machine, try listening to colored noise tracks on YouTube or Spotify. You might even be able to find a machine that offers both pink and white noise.
With a bit of trial and error, you can determine which colored noises work best for you. Here, our picks for the best noise machines, many of which include white and pink noise.
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.