What Is Brown Noise and Can It Help You Relax?
In the past, using a white-noise machine was a popular ways to drown out noisy environments with a constant whooshing sound. Today, there’s a brisk business in devices that emit so-called “pink” and “brown” noises to help you get to sleep faster and improve your quality of sleep. (One study even says your memory improves with pink “acoustic stimulation” while you snooze.) Better sleep and better brain function? This we had to try.
Electronic Sound Coloring for One, Please?
By our bedside, we plugged in the Lectrofan, a seven-sided speaker with a few knobs on the side. I started clicking through the ten noises on offer to find what seemed the most relaxing to me and selected the deepest-sounding of the whooshes. Turns out, I wasn’t a pink-noise prospect at all—what I wanted was brown noise.
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I? Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
Yanny or Laurel?
Similar to the recent sonic meme that sounds like different words depending on whether your ears pick up more high frequencies (so you hear “Yanny” in the example above) or low frequencies (yielding “Laurel”), there are various “colored” noises that correspond to the range of frequencies in a sound soup.
Turns out, of the ten sound options on the LectroFan, the one that chilled me out the most was the lowest-sounding one, which I learned is called brown noise—named not for its color but because its signal is random, like the random movement in science known as Brownian motion. But mumbo jumbo aside, it might as well have been named for the color, because it sounds, well, brown—kind of heavy and murky, like the rumble of an approaching thunderstorm. Since I was on team Laurel in the meme debate, it makes sense that I was partial to the lower brown noise rather than the pink noise, which has more of a trebly “shhhh” tone.
So, sleep or no sleep?
As soon as I switched on my nice brown-noise rumble, I relaxed. That’s even while my son was next to me scrolling through YouTube and two dogs were wrestling on the bed. Who knows if this was the placebo effect of actually taking the effort to procure and plug in a device to signal “must sleep now” to my body or if it was actually the earworm quality of the deep tones being emitted 18 inches from my ear. When I finally turned out the light a half hour later, I was so relaxed that I forgot to set an alarm and woke up late the next morning. But, oddly, my panic didn’t climb to the usual DEFCON 4 over it.
During subsequent nights over the next week, I relaxed into using my new sleep aid responsibly, even remembering to set my alarm. I felt more refreshed in the mornings and peaceful, even looking forward to using my new electronic companion. I’m thinking all the hue and cry over robot sex may be the wrong emphasis. We already have access to a bedside robot that will whisper the custom-colored sweet nothings we want into our ear.