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Pink is the New White Noise

Pink is the New White Noise

In the 2005 thriller White Noise, Michael Keaton plays a man who comes to believe that his recently deceased wife is contacting him through the static or white noise on un-tuned radios and televisions.

Well, it turns out that there’s more than one myth about the powers of white noise: According to a new small study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience white noise isn’t the best way to tune out nighttime distractions and sounds so you can (talk to the spirits?) sleep better. You want pink noise!

Tracking 13 older adults over two nights, researchers from Northwestern University found a “pink noise” mixture of high and low frequencies, which sound less random than white noise, created more slow-wave brain activity. And slow wave sleep has been linked to brain restoration.

Not only did the researchers find that folks listening to pink noise slept more soundly—turns out, the next day their brains were supercharged! Those study participants did nearly 27 percent better on memory tests compared to folks who didn’t sleep with pink noise. 

This finding matches with past studies done in younger adults that have also uncovered an improved memory the morning after sleeping with pink noise. Studies on pink noise have been small, and we don’t know how much benefit it provides over time, but it can’t hurt to give this lullaby a try. You can download a pink noise generator from several sites online (YouTube has a 10 hour long version!) or purchase a pink sound machine.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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