You’ve tried warm milk. You wear socks to bed. You turn on a fan for white noise. You even use a heavy blanket to induce Zzzs. You’ve tried every sleep hack in the book, yet you still have trouble drifting off to snooze land from time to time.
An optimal sleep environment is different for everyone—some people can sleep on a crowded, turbulent airplane, while others can only drift off in a silent, pitch-black room. If you’re one to appreciate a little white noise but still have some trouble sleeping occasionally, there may be one more trick for you to try: pink noise.
White noise machines, like your fan, have been used since the '60s to help people fall asleep. White noise drowns out and dulls disturbing sounds by filling the environment with continuous, unchanging noise. Just like white light is the combination of all colors in the rainbow, white noise is described as equally intense sound waves at all frequencies of the audio spectrum.
So, What Is Pink Noise?
Pink noise apps and machines create sounds closer to those found in nature. Pink noise contains all frequencies in the audio spectrum, but with an intensity that increases and decreases at a rate of three decibels per octave.
Pink noise has been found to improve sleep quality by slowing and regulating brain waves, which may help you wake up feeling more rested, according to the National Sleep Foundation. (Learn more about brain waves and the different stages of sleep.)
To understand the difference, imagine white noise as the sound of a hissing radiator or continually rushing water, while pink noise could sound like falling rain, waves crashing, or a babbling brook.
Adequate sleep—about 7 to 9 hours a night—is vital for optimal health, so it’s important to find a sleep routine that works for you. When it comes to white noise and pink noise, neither is better than the other. The clear winner is the one that helps you get the sleep you need.
If you’ve tried all the sleep tricks, hacks, and tips in the book and still have trouble falling or staying asleep, it may be wise to see a doctor.