Adding Pink Noise to Your "Sleep Ritual": The Skinny on Sonic Hues



Integrative Health

Adding Pink Noise to Your "Sleep Ritual": The Skinny on Sonic Hues

Making your bedroom sleep-friendly does not have to be limited to soft, cooling sheets for a blissful night of shut-eye. To promote peaceful slumber, add white, pink, or brown noise using a sound machine to create the perfect atmosphere.

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss


Loud, random sounds like car alarms and horns, fire trucks, and drunk passers-by outside your window can jolt your brain and disrupt your sleep. "Sonic hues" like white, pink, and brown noises can soothe you into a restful sleep. The pink nose is a mix of high and low frequencies that can block these annoying erratic sounds. What are these colorful noises, and how do they compare? 

Pink noise is a sound purported to cover up unwelcome noises in your sleep environment. Calming sounds at night delivered at a low decibel seem harmless, but there isn't much science that proves why or how sleep machines help to lull you into that supreme state of rest we all need. There is more for researchers to learn about how white, pink, and brown noise aid sound slumber.

Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says, "It's possible that they could be beneficial for sleep, and it's also plausible that they could be detrimental for sleep."

While the evidence is inconclusive, sleep specialists hear patients vouch for the success of these low soothing sounds to help them fall and stay asleep. People in urban settings can often feel anxious, and sudden disturbing noises at night can ruin the next day.

Through a process called noise masking, sound machines create a blanket of soothing vibrations around you that absorb jolting noises and prevent them from reaching your brain. Yet, no one knows if this continuous ambiance all night might rob the brain of the rest and restoration it needs. 

The brain's job is to repair and restore the body and boost the immune system, all while hearing every little sound during the night. Sleep is essential for many brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. Sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.



The brain cannot perform its duties if sleep deprivation leaves it exhausted. Concentration and learning are also affected by poor or little sleep. The signals your body sends may also be delayed. This can result in decreased coordination which can exacerbate your risk for accidents.

A good night of rest will give you energy, clarity, a brighter mood, and decrease your risk for certain health issues. Weakened immunity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, and obesity can ensue from poor sleep.

Getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can be difficult if you suffer from sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless leg syndrome.

Interestingly, sleep and slumber are two different things. Most people are unaware that sleep is the primary state of rest whereas slumber is the supreme one. Sleep is accompanied by dreaming while slumber is the state of mind not attended by dreams. Personally, I love dreaming, especially ones in which I am flying.

There are many tricks for getting a restful night of sleep, but one mighty tool at your disposal is a noise machine—otherwise known as a sound machine.

Pink noise seems to be the most effective. The Journal of Theoretical Biology published a study in 2021 detailing what researchers found. Steady pink noise reduces brain waves, which increases sound sleep. A 2017 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience also found a positive link between pink noise and deep sleep.



The newest machines on the market use digital audio to simulate various natural sounds, including rain, ocean, and jungle. No matter what features you're looking for, you can probably find them.

Bluetooth-compatible, controlled from your iOS or Android mobile device, and even quieter models for babies. The best feature for a baby, though, is the so-called "nursery calibration." Some apps can report the volume in decibels, with an on-screen recommendation about the maximum volume level. This allows you to choose the perfect decibel level you feel is safe for your infant.

One popular sound machine gives you access to more than 15 sounds, including rainfall, babbling brook, ocean surf, waterfall, crowd sounds, and more, like white, pink, and brown noise. My favorite is waves crashing on rocks.



Generally, white noise is better for focus and productivity, while ambient noise fosters creativity. Background sounds can range from flowing waterfalls to the steady hum of life in a coffee shop.

Brown noise lowers the higher frequencies making it a bit "rougher" than pink noise. Brown noise resembles the roar of a river current or strong wind, promoting relaxation, improved focus, and sleep improvement.

If you are driven crazy by tinnitus at night, then complex sounds might work better for you. The preferred ones are white and red noise. Most people prefer white noise as it is perceived to overshadow the tinnitus pitch more effectively. Red noise has a soft, dampened quality compared to traditional white noise. Pink noise is thought to be more pleasant because it's specially calibrated for how we hear.


Are noise machines considered "sound therapy?" Pretty much yes, although this is a broad term.

In general, sound therapy means using external noise to alter a patient's perception of, or reaction to, let's say, tinnitus. No tinnitus treatment will cure the condition, but sound therapies may appreciably lower tinnitus's perceived burden and intensity.

Many devices offer different levels of sound-based therapy. They function on four general mechanisms of action:


  • Masking - exposing the patient to external noise at a loud enough volume that it partially or wholly covers the sound of their tinnitus
  • Distraction - using external sound to divert a patient's attention from the sound of tinnitus
  • Habituation - helping the patient's brain reclassify tinnitus as an unimportant sound that should be consciously ignored
  • Neuromodulation - specialized sound is used to minimize the neural hyperactivity thought to be the underlying cause of tinnitus



Before choosing a machine, consider these factors:


  • Price – you can find a white noise machine costing under $100. There are also other higher-end models offering a range of sounds.
  • Size – they are generally lightweight and compact. Sound machines designed for travel can be small.
  • Sleep Timer – some machines have programmable timers that will automatically shut off the device after a time of your choosing.
  • Looping – other machines loop their sounds at the end and beginning to create a continuous listening experience. In contrast, others will stop when the recording is finished. 
  • Alarm – some machines offer a built-in alarm to help you wake.


If you are searching for a safe, non-drug sleep aid, sound machines are a popular choice. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that 5% of Americans sleep with a "sound conditioner" - a fan, phone app, or another noise-producing device. If you have an existing hearing loss, some experts recommend not using a sleep sound machine. You should talk to your doctor first. The "blanket of sound" these machines create is a lifesaver if you live on a busy street where loud nighttime noise comes to be expected.



© 2021 Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing. All rights reserved.

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