November 19, 2019 at 03:00AM by CWC
Call me a tough customer, but I can neither fall asleep to the tune of my boyfriend’s snoring nor complete silence. That’s why, for years, I’ve relied on White Noise Lite, a free app offering an expansive slate of sleep-friendly sounds. But of all the sonic options available—from usual sound-machine suspects, like ocean waves crashing and thunderstorm, to more, eh, specific offerings, like dishwasher rinsing and cat purring—my absolute favorite is brown noise. And, I recently learned, I’m in pretty great company.
Before I came to rely on the app, I had never heard of brown noise (or pink or violet or blue noise, for that matter), and always figured white noise was the standard in the world of color-coded static tones that can help a gal clock in some sleep. But then I learned that not only do several of my colleagues also credit brown noise for helping them to fall asleep, but they also use the exact same app. What’s the appeal, you’re wondering? At first listen, white and brown and pink noises may seem pretty similar, but each “color” actually has its own frequency, which gives off a different pitch.
“Brown noise has less-high-frequency sound energy than pink and white noise, and it resembles the sound of gentle ocean turf,” says Sam Nicolino, musician, sound engineer, and founder, president, and CEO of Adaptive Sound Technologies, Inc. “Put another way, it has more bass than white noise, making it more pleasant to listen to.” Of course, it’s all subjective—but when the rest of the Well+Good editorial staff (those who weren’t already singing the graces of brown noise, that is) gave the different colors a listen, they agreed that brown sounds the best.
“Brown noise has more bass than white noise, making it more pleasant to listen to.” —Sam Nicolino, sound engineer
Nicolino adds that all color-identified noises are “random sounds” meant to mask other noises in your environment, but some can be preferable to others. “White noise has broadly spread energy across the entire sound spectrum, including low-frequency, mid-range, and high-frequency energy,” he says. “It can be compared to the hiss of a radio tuned between stations.” Pink noise has more energy, and he says it falls in the low-to-mid-range frequency—the closest to actually sounding like a light-to-medium rainfall. Brown noise, though, is “even deeper, even stronger, and at the low end without the mid-range and high-frequency energy of white and pink noise,” says Nicolino. And that’s precisely why many find it more appealing.
For me, white noise skews shrill and panic-inducing and pink is just too screechy (think: the Gilbert Gottfried of color frequencies). Just right, though, is brown noise. There may not be much by way of scientific evidence to support it yet, but take my (and my coworkers’) word for it: It’s like a warm hug for your ears that’ll help you tune out the world and snooze.