How White Noise Helps
Can you explain how white noise helps with mental wellness?
Signed: Too Many Noises
Dear Too Many Noises:
Many people don’t know this, but there are quite a few “colours” of noise – and each one of them can help a person in different ways. The colour of noise is determined by its mix of frequencies and how energy gets distributed among these frequencies. The particular hues of noise are believed to change the state of the brain and most commonly help with varying issues related to relaxation. They are especially helpful at bedtime, as people try to unwind and slow down their thoughts so they can drift into deep and restful sleep patterns.
But some research has shown that the colour of noise may also help with memory and concentration abilities, especially in people with ADHD or other cognitive and/or neurodivergent brain patterns. Our emotions run at different electrical impulse levels (or frequencies) in our brains. And studies also suggest that these “colours” of noise can alter or shift these states, from high-alert to calm and relaxed.
White noise is likely the most commonly recognized “colour” of noise. It is most often associated with the whirling sound of a fan or the static/snow on old TV and radio stations, when the programming has ended. For decades, people have used this sound to help them fall asleep at night – it works wonders to block out ambient noises in the background, by equalizing the distribution of energy across all audible frequencies at the same time. It’s also helpful to calm crying babies and to lower ADHD symptoms (to some degree).
But did you know that there is also brown noise – and pink noise – and green noise – and grey noise? And each colour hue is reported to do something a little bit different.
Brown noise is said to mirror the brain’s resting state the closest. It has the lowest distribution frequency (and is often said to be the most soothing). It mimics the sound that a baby hears when it is in its mother’s womb (or ambient underwater sounds). It is best known for helping a person drown out their own internal thoughts (when they just cannot shut down their minds). Brown noise also helps children and adults who have learning and thinking differences by increasing the stimulation in the brain to the peak efficiency levels required for studying and work focus needs. It can help sharpen focus and concentration skills and increase productivity.
Pink noise falls on the frequency levels in between white noise and brown noise, and has been shown to also be an excellent aid for sleeping (especially for light sleepers – white noise can sometimes be too loud for these individuals). Like with brown noise, pink noise can lower anxiety levels and reduce the reactivity (high-alert) state that the brain may experience when it hears little noises in the environment, even on a subconscious level.
It combines a mix of high and low frequencies, to create a more harmonious (and gentler) level of noise. This often allows people to spend longer periods of time in deep sleep, thereby allowing them to wake up feeling more rested. This enhanced state of deep sleep also helps improve memory (or the process of information consolidation, which only happens in our deep sleep cycle). But take note – pink noise cannot help if you have poor pre-sleep patterns. You have to develop habits that work with the noise in order to allow it to be most effective.
Green noise (which runs at a 500 Hertz level) is a variation of white noise – but at a less high frequency level (so is without the “hiss” sounds that most people can hear with white noise). It is said to be the closest to the sounds of nature. It is often used to help a person unwind and destress from their day. It seems to mimic the calmness and peace that many experience when listening to a natural waterfall or ocean waves breaking on a beach.
And grey noise is a more complicated but balanced version of white noise – using both a high and low frequency combination. It is often the frequency used for hearing tests. And it is said to be the best type of noise to listen to if a person struggles with tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Grey noise and brown noise both seem to mask these symptoms, whereas white noise sometimes exacerbates them.
There are also blue and violet noises – but these are more straining and irritating to the human ear, and are used for other reasons (not for relaxation and calm). The important thing to remember when using any colour of noise is to not use it constantly. Take breaks and allow your brain to have downtime from the hues you are listening to.
Research relating to how the colours of noise truly impact the brain are a relatively new thing in the world of science. There has not yet been enough time to show definitive and consistent proof of the impacts that have been reported by those who have so far participated in the studies. And we need to remember that each person has a different level of hearing capability – so what works for one individual might be different than what is best for another.
The concepts of various colours of noise are becoming quite well known these days, thanks in part to social media forums, apps for our devices and YouTube platforms. There are many free play lists created that specifically represent each of the noise hues. So it’s easy to experiment a bit yourself, to see which ones you find helpful. Have some fun with it!
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