How coloured noise could help you sleep

You may have heard of white noise, but what about coloured noise? Our experts explain what it is and whether it can help you get a good night’s sleep.

White noise is not alone! Between the rain-like sounds of pink noise and buzzing blue noise, a range of background sounds can block out the highway traffic or barking dogs that keep you up at night.

Here’s what’s known about coloured noise.

What are the different coloured noises?

Let’s start at white noise, which Audiology Australia president Dr Barbra Timmer says is the baseline for coloured noises.

“When we talk about sound, we talk about its frequency and its intensity,” Dr Timmer says.

“White noise includes all the frequencies we can hear, and humans typically hear from 20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz.

“White noise has the same intensity across all these frequencies.”

Each coloured noise features a different intensity and frequency, which determines the sound that comes through our ears.

“Pink noise has more intensity in the lower frequencies, and many people think it sounds like a flowing stream or waterfall,” Dr Timmer says.

“Blue noise is the opposite, and has more intensity in the higher frequencies which results in a sharper sound.”

The colours mean little and are more a reflection of the high or low frequency weighting.

“It really comes down to which noise people react to best,” Dr Timmer says.

Will listening to coloured noise help you sleep?

There’s nothing worse than noisy traffic as you’re trying to fall asleep – and coloured noise can help drown out these distractions.

“There’s a lot of conflicting data about whether adding background noise at any frequency is helpful or not, and it’s definitely a personal preference,” health psychologist Dr Moira Junge says.

“But if you live in a busy street and have inconsistent noises like beeping horns, then background noise can be really good at masking that.

“It means you can tune into background noise rather than the intermittent noises that wake you up.”

This masking effect is also helpful for those with tinnitus, a condition that causes constant in-ear ringing or buzzing.

“Different pitched coloured noises can match and therefore mask the particular pitch of someone’s tinnitus, helping them get to sleep,” Dr Timmer says.

Listening to coloured noise can help set the scene for a good night’s sleep, however it’s not typically recommended by sleep experts.

“A consistent bedtime and get-up time, making enough time for sleep as well as unwinding before sleep are proven strategies to help your sleep,” Dr Junge, CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation, says.

“Adding background noise is not standard evidence-based advice.”

It’s also worth considering the cause of your sleeplessness.

“If you’ve got a busy mind or can’t unwind, Dr Junge says coloured noise probably won’t help.

“Sometimes a racing mind is hard to switch off, so it’s better to learn things like meditation, controlled breathing or other relaxation techniques to help quieten the mind,” she says.

Is listening to coloured noise unhealthy?

Loud sounds over a long period of time can hurt your hearing – coloured noise included.

“When listening to coloured noise, it’s important to do so at a volume that is not damaging,” Dr Timmer says.

“Anything below 80 dB is fine, but even 80 dB over eight hours can start to create damage.”

For more sleep tips:

Written by Hayley Hinze.