The latest TikTok trend is making us listen to brown noise. According to TikTok, this has many benefits, including helping you relax and fall into deep sleep quickly.
Lack of sleep and insomnia are common. Therefore, it is not surprising that many people are looking for ways to improve their sleep.
But can brown noise help? If so, how? What is brown noise anyway?
What is brown noise? Is it like white noise?
Brown noise, the better known white noise, and even pink noise are examples of sonic hues. These are “constant” noises with minimal sonic variation—high, low, and changing speeds—compared to sounds such as music or reading aloud.
What distinguishes brown noise from white or pink noise is the pitch (or frequency).
White noise describes sound that is evenly distributed over frequencies. It includes low, mid and high frequencies and sounds like radio interference.
Pink noise has a lower frequency and less high frequency sound. It is lower and deeper than white noise, like constant rain.
Brown noise contains lower frequencies than white and pink noise. It sounds deeper, like a raging river or surf.
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 odors, caffeine, bright lights or noise.
Thus, one person may find the sound soothing or relaxing, while another finds it distracting and annoying.
Several theories may explain why some people perceive the benefits of sound tones.
1. Distraction and relaxation
Noise can redirect and distract you from overthinking or worrying. Some research shows that listening to music helps people mentally relax, which can help them fall asleep. However, if your thoughts are anxious or strong, noise alone may not be enough to distract your busy mind.
2. Sound masking
Our brains continue to process external sounds while we sleep, and loud noises can wake us up. But masking through constant background noise “muffles” isolated loud noises. In a quiet country town, the same car alarm or barking dog will sound much louder and more likely to wake us up than in a busy city center.
3. Classic conditioning
Classical conditioning is a learning method that can explain how we respond to noise during sleep. If noise is relaxing, then combining noise with sleep can improve a person’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Thus, noise is an increased stimulus for good sleep. If noise is annoying, it will interfere with sleep and be a reinforcing stimulus for interrupted sleep.
4. Auditory stimulation
Auditory stimulation is not specific to pink, white, or brown noise. This involves playing low frequency tones in an attempt to “enhance” certain stages of sleep (such as “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 studied the effects of brown noise on sleep. However, there is some limited scientific evidence on the effects of white or pink noise.
Some research suggests that white and pink noise help us fall asleep faster and improve the quality of sleep, but the quality of scientific research is poor.
Auditory stimulation may improve memory in young healthy people. Auditory stimulation using pink noise may enhance slow-wave (deep) sleep in the elderly.
Several studies have directly examined how noise-enhancing sleep affects daytime mood and functioning. Ultimately, these are the benefits most of us seek from a good night’s sleep.
Read more: Can you sleep? We interviewed five experts
When to Check Your Sleep Problems
If you have persistent difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up too early, and feeling stale throughout the day, your problems should be checked out by a healthcare professional. Your PCP can make a diagnosis, suggest treatment options, and refer you for treatment if needed.
Relaxation and noise can improve your sleep. However, evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia by a trained healthcare professional, are usually needed to address the cause of your sleep problems.
This therapy is usually done with a psychologist over four to five sessions. It includes looking at thoughts and behaviors related to sleep, analyzing the reasons why sleep problems may occur, and ways to eliminate them.
Treating sleep problems properly with evidence-based methods and before they develop into a chronic problem without relying on TikTok recommendations will ultimately lead to better sleep in the long run.
If you’re worried about your sleep, here are some great online resources and newsletters from the Sleep Health Foundation.