A love for sleep is what unites all of humanity. Probably. In any case, many people are on a never-ending mission to elevate their snooze sessions, from choosing the perfect pillow to setting the perfect room temperature. One more tip to take your bedtime to the next level: pink noise.
A small new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests that one easy way for older adults to get deeper sleep and stronger memories is to listen to a certain soothing sound called “pink noise”—a mix of high and low frequencies that sounds more balanced and natural than its better-known cousin, “white noise.”
It may sound strange, but previous studies have found that playing so-called pink noise during sleep improves the memory of younger adults. Older people tend to get less slow-wave sleep and are at greater risk for memory impairment. Zee and her fellow researchers had 13 adults ages 60 and older spend two nights in a sleep lab. On both nights, the participants took a memory test at night, went to sleep wearing headphones and an electrode cap, and repeated the memory test in the morning.
On one of those nights, headphone-clad participants were played a series of short bursts of pink noise during deep sleep, spaced out enough to prevent the brain from getting used to and ignoring them. “The noise is fairly pleasant; it kind of resembles a rush of water,” says Zee. “It’s just noticeable enough that the brain realizes it’s there, but not enough to disturb sleep.” The sounds were timed to match their slow-wave oscillations. No noise was played during the other night.
After analyzing everyone’s sleep waves, the team found that people’s slow-wave oscillations increased on the nights punctuated by pink noise. Come morning, people who had listened to it performed three times better on memory tests than they had the other night. On the nights without the noise, memory recall did not improve as much.
Northwestern has a patent pending on the new technology, and one of the study authors has cofounded a company that plans to market it commercially. But first, larger and longer studies are needed to confirm the findings and show that there are benefits to long-term use, rather than on just one night. The researchers hope to develop an affordable device that people can use at home.
Though multiple studies support the idea that some noise can improve your sleep and your memory, no study has pitted the different “colors” of sleep against each other to see which might reign supreme. For now, anyway, it’s all up to your preference. If you prefer the higher pitched frequencies and want to have a go at better sleep, try white noise. If rushing water is more your jam, try pink noise. Happy snoozing!
Listen to some pink noise here: https://youtu.be/scI2l4rw68w
Check out my related post: How can the 4-7-8 breathing technique help you to sleep?