The latest TikTok trend has us listening to brown noise. According to TikTok, this has numerous benefits including helping you relax and fall into a deep sleep quickly.
Insufficient sleep and insomnia are common. So it’s no wonder that many people are looking for ways to improve their sleep.
But can brown noise help? If so, how? And what is brown noise anyway?
What is brown noise? Is it like white noise?
Brown noise, the more familiar white noise, and even pink noise are examples of sonic nuances. These are “continuous” noises with minimal changes in pitch—rising, falling, and changing speed—compared to sounds such as music or someone reading aloud.
What distinguishes brown noise from white or pink noise is pitch (or frequency).
White noise describes sound spread evenly across frequencies. It includes low, medium and high frequencies, and sounds like radio static.
Pink noise has more low-frequency sounds and less high-frequency sounds. It is lower and deeper than white noise, similar to steady rainfall.
Brown noise contains lower frequencies than white and pink noise. It sounds deeper, similar to a rushing river or a raging river.
Why does noise help some people sleep?
Some people are more sensitive to external stimuli than others. This includes human touch (such as hugs), strong smells, caffeine, bright lights or noise.
So one person may find a sound soothing or relaxing, while another may find it distracting and annoying.
Several theories may explain why some people perceive benefits from vocal nuances.
1. Distraction and relaxation
Noise can redirect you and distract you from excessive thoughts or worries. Some studies show that listening to music helps people relax mentally, which can aid sleep. However, if your thoughts are disturbing or intense, noise alone may not be enough to distract your busy mind.
2. Sound mask
Our brains continue to process external sounds when we sleep, and loud noises can wake us up. But masking, through continuous background noise, “drowses” isolated loud noise. In a quiet country town, the same car alarm or barking dog will sound much louder and may be more likely to wake us than in a busy city center.
3. Classical conditioning
Classical conditioning is a way of learning and may explain how we respond to noise during sleep. If noise is relaxing, then pairing noise with sleep can improve a person’s ability to fall and stay asleep. In this way, the noise is a reinforced stimulus for good sleep. If the noise is annoying then it will interfere with sleep and will be a reinforcing stimulus for interrupted sleep.
4. Auditory stimulation
Auditory stimulation is not specific for pink, white, or brown noise. This includes low-frequency tones played in an attempt to “enhance” certain stages of sleep (for example, “deep” sleep), possibly improving sleep quality.
Read more: What sleep apps can really tell you about your sleep
So is TikTok right? Does brown noise work?
Researchers have not specifically examined the impact of brown noise on sleep. However, there is limited science about the impact of white or pink noise.
Some studies suggest that white and pink noise helps us fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality, but the quality of the science is poor.
Auditory stimulation can improve memory in healthy young adults. Auditory stimulation using pink noise can increase slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) in older people.
Few studies have directly examined how improved sleep using noise benefits mood and daytime functioning. After all, these are the benefits most of us seek from a good night’s sleep.
Read more: Is it possible to catch up on sleep? We asked five experts
When to check your sleep problems
If you have constant difficulty falling or staying asleep, are waking up too early and don’t feel fresh during the day, your problems should be checked by a medical professional. Your GP can diagnose, offer treatment options and refer you for treatment if necessary.
Relaxation and noise can improve your sleep. However, evidence-based techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, provided by a trained health expert, are generally required to address the cause of your sleep problems.
This therapy usually takes place with a psychologist, over four to five sessions. It includes addressing thoughts and behaviors around sleep, looks at why sleep problems may have developed and how to improve them.
Treating sleep problems properly with evidence-based treatments before they develop into a chronic problem — not relying on TikTok recommendations — will ultimately lead to better sleep in the long run.
If you’re concerned about your sleep, here are some great online resources and fact sheets from the Sleep Health Foundation.