Lots of people use “white noise” machines while they sleep to drown out the sound of snoring bedmates, barking dogs or traffic. But research suggests that “pink noise” is more effective for falling and staying asleep…and sleeping with pink noise might make your memory stronger, too.
White noise sounds like radio static. Pink noise sounds similar, but because it emphasizes lower sound frequencies and deemphasizes the “sizzle” of high frequencies, most people find it calming and restful. Pink noise often is compared with the sound of a steady rainfall.
What about making your memory work better? A study at Northwestern University found that exposure to pink noise while sleeping significantly increased participants’ ability to absorb and then recall information the next day. In the study, the noise wasn’t constant all night but was synchronized with the sleepers’ brain waves, an effect you can’t reproduce at home. But sleeping with pink noise at home might help your memory if for no other reason than it encourages deeper, less interrupted sleep. Anything that does that has a positive effect on your mood and memory.
It’s worth trying pink noise if you’re struggling to fall asleep or remain asleep, even if there is no significant background noise to block out. Near total silence can keep people awake, too, because the brain becomes more alert to even slight or distant sounds. That’s why people who live in cities sometimes have trouble sleeping when they visit the quiet countryside.
If you meditate, pink noise could be beneficial for this as well.
There are numerous free pink-noise apps available, including Sleepo and Pink Noise for Android devices and NoiseZ and White Noise Lite (which includes a pink-noise setting) for Apple devices. Or buy a sound machine capable of generating pink noise (and other sleeping sounds that some people prefer) such as the LectroFan Classic ($49.95, SoundOfSleep.com) or iHome Zenergy iZBT10 ($99.99, iHomeAudio.com), which adds an alarm feature including FM radio and music streaming.