Pink noise vs white noise: what you need to know

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People can describe the strength of a noise signal using color, the same way people can describe light using a spectrum. Two colors of noise that exist on this spectrum are pink and white noise. Research suggests that these colors may have many potential applications, such as aiding sleep.

A person can determine the color of noise by the energy of the sound signal, with color referring to how the signal distributes energy across different frequencies. Pink noise and white noise encompass all audible frequencies, but differ in how they distribute energy across those frequencies.

Some researchers believe that pink and white noise may offer potential benefits, including better sleep and productivity improvement. However, more research is needed to investigate the effects of these noise colors and how people might use them.

In this article, we take a closer look at pink and white noise, including their differences and potential uses.

Sonic Hues, also known as noise spectra or noise colors, describes the practice of naming different noises after colors. Noise color refers to the power spectrum of a noise signal, or the frequencies of the noise.

The practice of naming noises after colors originated with white noise. The researchers chose this system to classify noise because it reflects how they measure light on the electromagnetic spectrum. For example, just as white light includes all visible light, white noise includes all audible frequencies.

Most noise colors take their name from a color of light with similar spectra. Other colors in the noise spectrum include red, purple, blue, and gray.

White noise refers to noise that contains all frequencies across the audible sound spectrum, which are those in the range of 20–20,000 Hertz (Hz). There is an equal distribution of all frequencies in white noise. Some people may refer to white noise as broadband or wideband noise because it encompasses multiple bands of sound.

Here are some examples of white noise:

  • static television or radio
  • whirring fans or noise from ventilation systems
  • wind
  • heavy rain
  • waterfalls

Pink noise is similar to white noise in that it is also broadband noise, containing all frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. However, pink noise is deeper than pink noise. white due to power reduction at higher frequencies and power boost at lower frequencies.

Here are examples of pink noise:

  • heartbeat
  • waves hitting the shore
  • regular rainfall
  • rustle of leaves

The benefits of white noise and pink noise have been a popular research topic. Some possible benefits include:

Potential uses of white noise

Researchers have studied the potential benefits of white noise more than those of other noise colors. One of the main research topics is the use of white noise to improve sleep quality.

In a small study 2021, using a white noise device in the bedroom significantly improved participants’ sleep. Similarly, a small 2017 study found that broadband noise reduced the time it took participants to fall asleep by 38% compared to normal environmental noise. Broadband noise may help reduce insomnia symptoms in some people, researchers suggest.

However, a 2021 systematic review notes that the current quality of evidence regarding the use of white noise as a sleep aid is low and that more research is needed before promoting its use.

Other possible benefits of white noise include:

Potential uses of pink noise

Researchers also studied pink noise to see if it could improve sleep. A small 2017 study found that participants who listened to short looping bursts of pink noise while they slept had improvements in memory and recall during a cognitive task. However, the authors note that pink noise did not alter participants’ sleep quality, mood, or alertness.

A similar study 2020 found that pink noise helped participants fall asleep and achieve deep sleep faster. A little study 2020 indicates that pink noise can improve work efficiency, continuous performance and working memory.

However, it is important to note that many of these studies included small numbers of participants. Larger studies are needed to confirm the clinical benefits of pink noise.

A person can try using white and pink noise to improve their sleep.

For example, a person can use a white or pink noise machine to produce constant background noise in the bedroom. Although research is sparse, leading theories suggest that these noise colors can aid sleep by providing a calming environment, being part of a bedtime routine, or masking loud, distracting noises. These machines are commercially available.

Find out how to choose a white noise machine.

A person can also download white and pink noise apps on their mobile phone. Similar to machines, these apps are capable of playing white or pink noise, which a person can use to try and improve their sleep. Users can search for these apps through the app store on their phone.

Learn more about white noise apps.

White noise and pink noise have shown some benefits in research, but it’s important to note that not everyone will react to these noises the same way.

It is far better to practice good sleep hygiene, that is, sleep habits that can have positive effects on sleep quality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises adults to aim 7 hours or more of sleep per night and recommend:

  • go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • making sure the bedroom is a suitable sleeping environment
  • place distracting electronic devices out of reach and sight when you are in bed
  • avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol near bedtime
  • be physically active during the day

Both pink noise and white noise refer to varying frequencies of noise. Similar to how people can determine the color of light, people can use color to describe the frequency of noise.

White noise and pink noise encompass all noise frequencies audible to the human ear. However, white noise contains all frequencies with equal distribution, while pink noise has more power at low frequencies and less at high frequencies, which makes it deeper.

Examples of white noise include television, radio static, and ventilation systems. Examples of pink noise include steady rainfall, waves and rustling leaves.

Research indicates that both white noise and pink noise may have beneficial effects on sleep. Some evidence also suggests that white noise may be helpful for children with ADHD, while pink noise may boost working memory and recall. However, more research is still needed to determine the effects and uses of these noises.

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