You’re probably familiar with the concept of white noise and its ability to mask or drown out unwanted sounds in your environment. Think of the gentle whirring of a fan or the fuzzy sound from a staticky radio — that’s what white noise sounds like. But it’s not the only “noise color” on the block: Now TikTok is buzzing about green noise and its powers to promote of relaxation and better sleep. Scroll on to learn more about this latest trend and to find out what noise colors can do for you.
What are noise colors?
“There are different colors of noise that emphasize different frequencies over others,” explains Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, PhD, Cowan professor of auditory neuroscience and director of the Neuroscience Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “They have energy in different parts of the spectrum.” Or, as the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) puts it, “noise colors refer to the frequency and amplitude of that noise.”
Each noise color has its own specific characteristics, frequencies and uses, just as colors of the rainbow have different shades. The noises are named by color to make it easy to understand and identify each one so you can identify and choose the one that can best help you. That’s right: Certain sounds have been linked to specific health benefits. Keep reading for what you need to know about these sounds and how they can benefit you.
Green noise may help you sleep better
Green noise isn’t as well defined as many other noise colors such as white noise. Some experts believe it’s a variation of white noise (though with a narrower frequency range) or brown noise (but higher in pitch). Others claim it mimics sounds often found in the natural world such as the sound of ocean waves or a waterfall. Listen to green noise here.
Confusing matters: “If you listen to four or five green noise samples on Spotify and YouTube, you will see that they are all different,” says Dan Berlau, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Regis University in Denver.
Scientific research hasn’t found evidence for the benefits of green noise. Even so, Dr. Shinn-Cunningham says that because green noise (such as the sound of waves) fluctuates at a slow rate, it could mask sounds that are bothering you. This could translate into helping you fall asleep more easily at night or focus your attention on a task at hand when there are distracting sounds in your environment. (Click through for 6 foods that boost focus)
And according the the experts at the Sleep Foundation, “Green noise might also be beneficial for people who have racing thoughts and anxiety at night.”
On TikTok, green noise gets lot of love from people who say the sound helps calm a racing mind and bring on sleep:
Noise comes in many colors, with different benefits
Over the years, researchers have found that certain sounds can have an effect on our mood, mindset, brainpower and more. Read on for the details.
White noise improves focus
This noise is a mixture of all the audible frequencies of sound that humans can hear. Some people find white noise helps them sleep better. In addition, there’s some evidence that exposure to white noise could be beneficial for children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The key? Keeping the volume low. Another study in the journal Scientific Reports found that subjects who listened to low levels of white noise (similar to the noise you’d hear sitting in a library) were less stressed and scored better on tests of creativity and focus than those who listened to louder white noise (say, sitting in a café). Listen to white noise here.
Pink noise eases tinnitus
Pink noise contains all the frequencies humans can hear, but compared to white noise, pink noise has more power in the lower frequencies than the higher ones, which could make it soothing, according to the AAA . Pink noise — which can include the sounds of a human heartbeat or steady rain — has also been found to relieve tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. (Click through for a simple stretching routine that eases tinnitus.)
And research from China found that exposure to steady pink noise during sleep reduces the complexity of brain waves and improves sleep quality. What’s more, a 2020 study from Taiwan found that when people were exposed to pink noise while taking various cognitive tests, they performed better in tests of executive function, judgment, and psychomotor speed. Listen to pink noise here.
Other sounds making noise online
Brown noise is having a moment: #brownnoise has 129.6 million views on TikTok. This sound is lower (or deeper) in frequency than white and pink noise are, and changes in its sound signal can occur randomly from one moment to the next. In this case, the name doesn’t refer to the color but to Brownian motion (named after Scottish botanist Robert Brown), the random movement of particles that bump into each other when they’re placed in liquids. You might hear brown noise in the distant sound of rolling thunder. Listen to brown noise here and click through for more potential benefits of brown noise.
Then there’s blue noise, which has a higher frequency than white noise. “It’s the opposite of what natural sounds are like — it could be annoying,” says Dr. Shinn-Cunningham. It’s often described as sounding like the hiss of a tangled garden hose. Its main purpose: Audio engineers use blue noise for what’s called “dithering,” a process in which noise is added to a track to smooth out the sound and lessen distortions. Listen to blue noise here. (Click through to learn how another type of sound therapy known as binaural beats improves sleep.)
Finally, you may have heard of black noise, which is often defined as the sound of silence or the absence of sound.
How to put colored noise to use in your life
First, keep in mind: “Any frequency of noise can be helpful if you want to focus in on certain things or ignore things that are distracting,” says Dr. Shinn-Cunningham. “Different people react differently to this because they’re more or less susceptible to distractions. There’s a huge variation in how people respond to sounds.” So what may be soothing to you may be irritating to other members of your household.
Moreover, which color noise is right for you depends on your personal preference and the effect you’re trying to elicit. So you may want to experiment with different color noises to see what helps you focus, relax, drift off to sleep or calm your racing mind. “The main effect is to drown out unexpected or interrupting sounds that would distract you or disrupt your attention,” Dr. Shinn-Cunningham says.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.