What is Pink Noise and How Can it Help with Sleep?

Woman sleeping peacefully on fresh organic bedding

Most of us are familiar with white noise as a sleeping aid. In fact, many people invest in white noise machines or at least run a ceiling fan to help them sleep at night. But have you ever heard of pink noise?

You may have noticed that you relax a bit more easily on nights when you fall asleep listening to a steady rain outside. Perhaps you’ve even attributed this to white noise. However, that soothing natural rain sound is actually an example of pink noise.

While pink noise is a relatively new topic in the sleep science world, more and more researchers are studying pink noise for its potential to help with relaxation, sleep and memory. Here’s a review of what we know so far. 

What Is Pink Noise?

Sound has many colors besides the oh-so-familiar white noise. The color of a noise depends on its intensity and energy distribution. Pink noise is a sonic hue, or color of noise, that’s deeper than white noise. 

Pink noise includes all frequencies audible to the human ear, but the energy isn’t equally distributed across them. It’s more intense at lower frequencies and lighter at higher frequencies. This means that lower pitches are louder than higher pitches, which creates more depth to the sound. 

The drumming of rain on a tin roof, the rhythmic crash of ocean waves, the rustling of leaves in the breeze ­– these familiar sounds are examples of pink noise. To the human ear, pink noise sounds balanced, flat and even. 

Close up of raindrops splashing into a puddleClose up of raindrops splashing into a puddle

Examples of Pink Noise  

Here’s a cool thought – if you’ve been living on planet earth, you’ve heard pink noise before and not even known it! Many sounds of nature that we associate with tranquility are examples of pink noise. Nature is abundant with it. 

Some examples of pink noise in the natural world include:

  • Rustling leaves
  • Rainfall
  • Ocean waves
  • Wind
  • Heartbeats
Close up of rustling leaves, an example of pink noiseClose up of rustling leaves, an example of pink noise

How Does Pink Noise Affect Sleep?

There isn’t a lot of information out there yet to support pink noise as a sleeping aid because it has yet to be extensively researched. However, preliminary studies have yielded promising results.

When we sleep, our body and brain enter a state of rest and restoration. Our brains produce slower waves when we sleep so that we can rest, regenerate and recover. In contrast, our brains produce faster brain waves during periods of focus and concentration. 

Researchers believe that pink noise can amplify the effect of these slow brain waves during deep sleep. It may help people fall asleep faster at night and achieve deeper, less fragmented sleep.

Does Pink Noise Have Other Benefits?

Already sleeping soundly at night? Fantastic! Check out these potential further applications for pink noise and its place in your wellness approach.

Pink Noise and Memory 

Deep sleep is necessary for consolidating memories to be recalled later – making them stick, if you will. The older we get, the less time we spend in that deep, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep where our memories are stabilized. Because of this, our memory recall weakens as we age.

A 2017 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found a link between listening to pink noise while asleep and increased deep sleep — participants not only slept better, but also performed better on memory tests the next day as well. 

Further Applications 

There’s so much left to be explored about this relatively new topic in sleep science. One possible application for pink noise is for different types of neurotherapy. 

Researchers have seen promising results using pink noise in transcranial brain stimulation – an effective treatment for depression and emerging treatment for other conditions such as anxiety and PTSD in which a very gentle, non-invasive electrical stimulus is administered via electrodes. 

While these clinical observations are promising, there’s much more research to be done before we fully understand how pink noise may be beneficial as a form of neurotherapy.

Waves crashing along the shore, creating pink noiseWaves crashing along the shore, creating pink noise

Other Easy Natural Sleep Tips

Pink noise may be the cool new kid on the sleep aid block, but there are plenty of tried and tested methods for getting a good night’s sleep. Here are a few of our favorites. 

Stick to a Routine

Like most things in life, sleep habits improve with a structured routine.  You should try to stick to a sleep schedule — whether it’s a work night or a weekend, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. 

Integrate a bedtime routine into your daily schedule. Reading, meditating, yoga — find what helps you to relax and dedicate 30 to 60 minutes to that ritual before bedtime. On that same note, avoid screens too close to your bedtime.

Be Mindful of Intake

You’ve probably heard that you should avoid food before bed if you're trying to lose weight, but did you know that overeating before bed can cause you to lose sleep? When you eat right before bed, the muscles that help digest and metabolize that food are at work when the rest of your body is resting. This can not only make it harder to fall asleep, but can also prevent you from achieving deep, restorative sleep.

Avoid eating large meals a few hours before sleeping. If you’re hungry, eat a light and simple snack like a banana or toast, and try to give your body some time before sleeping.

You should also avoid stimulants before bed. It’s no surprise that caffeine can keep you awake at night, but did you know that nicotine is a stimulant, too? Additionally, depressants like alcohol can reduce your quality of sleep, so try to be mindful of your intake.

Lead an Active Lifestyle 

If you want to feel tired at night, exercise during the day. Physical activity can help both your mind and your body to feel tired at night and crave the restoration that sleep brings. Pro tip: try exercising outside to tap into your natural circadian rhythm.

Just avoid strenuous exercise a few hours before bed ­– the exercise hormones that increase your heart rate, muscle strength and alertness can also make it harder to relax.

Speaking of relaxation, we all need a power nap from time to time. But those who struggle to sleep at night should try to limit naps to 30 minutes or less, as any longer can disrupt your sleep schedule.

Talk to your Doctor 

Hacking great sleep can be a difficult task – and it’s a little different for everybody! While tools like pink noise and healthy routines can be helpful, sometimes the solution isn’t that simple.

If implementing these habits doesn’t work, it may be time to talk to your doctor. They can help you to determine the best way to get the quality sleep you need. 


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