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A Complete Guide to Colored Noise: Exploring the Sound Spectrum in Colors

by BetterSleep
Jan 31 2024 • 7 min read
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A Complete Guide to Colored Noise: Exploring the Sound Spectrum in Colors

What is colored noise?

Colored noise is a term that references a category of sleep sounds, but it also has other applications that might enhance your life in other ways. While many people are familiar with white noise or brown noise, discussions focused on pink noise, green noise, blue noise, violet noise, and gray noise are not as common. The different varieties of colored noise can be used for relaxation, focus, and concentration, and to address a range of health conditions. This article is intended as a guide, introducing you to colored noise so that you can begin to experiment with them on your own. As we will explore in this article, each color of noise has different properties, applications, and benefits beyond just better sleep. Let’s explore! 

Colored noise versus music 

Colored noise is different from music in that it doesn’t have a rhythm, beat, or any discernible patterns or melodies. Each type of colored sound is random noise that falls within a certain band of the spectrum of audible sound, giving your ear a different impression or feeling when you hear it. Additionally, which variety of colored noise someone enjoys or benefits from varies from person to person. Just like music, we all have our own favorite color of noise. 

Why are noise types named after colors?

Color-based names for noise help to distinguish and remember what sets them apart from each other. To understand why certain types of random noise got their names from colors, let’s briefly visit the audible sound spectrum using the analogy of the visible light spectrum. 

Think about a rainbow, where different colors represent different frequencies of light. Colored noise is like this, but with sound frequencies. In the same way that white light is a mixture of all the colors in the rainbow, white noise has equal energy across all audible frequencies of the sound spectrum. In this sense, black noise would be the sound of silence, just like darkness is the absence of light. 

Each color of noise represents a different combination of frequencies and volumes along the spectrum of sound.  So, when we say “colored noise,” we are essentially describing a sound that has a specific frequency pattern, and naming it after colors helps us visualize and remember these patterns more easily.

The audible sound spectrum in colors 

The human ear can hear frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. These frequencies are divided into different ranges or bands, like bass (lower frequencies), midrange, and treble (higher frequencies), where each band has a different color.

If you are interested in understanding the technical differences in composition of all the colors of noise, you can find a great explanation on the Sound Speeds YouTube Channel.  

Applications for colored noise - why use colored noise?

One of the most common applications of colored noise is to improve sleep by making it easier to fall asleep or by keeping you asleep longer. Colored noise does this in two ways. First, by masking environmental sounds. Second, by influencing your brain and body toward states conducive to relaxation and deep sleep. 

You can also use colored noise to help you focus and concentrate, or to relax. You might try colored noise to improve the conditions for journaling, reading, yoga, or meditation. It can also help you read, write, or study and retain information. 

While it’s not a replacement for medical interventions, some people find that colored noise can provide some relief for a variety of health challenges, such as tinnitus, sleep disorders, mental health conditions, stress and anxiety management, sensory processing disorders, and some cognitive conditions. 

You can try colored noise to: 

  • Improve focus 
  • Boost productivity
  • Enhance creativity and memory 
  • Decrease fatigue or brain fog 
  • Increase mental clarity or sharpness
  • Relax the mind and body
  • Enhance your sense of presence for yoga or meditation
  • Soothe stress and anxiety
  • Help put your baby or toddler to sleep 
  • Reduce irritation or distraction caused by other sounds in your environment

The 7 Colors of Noise Explained 

violins floating through the air in different colors to represent the full color sound sepctrum of sleep sounds (white noise, brown noise, pink noise, blue noise, black noise)

White Noise: the standard sleep sound 

Distinguishing feature: Equal energy across all audible frequencies.

People have been using white noise for better sleep since before sleep noise became popular! Think of the rushing or hissing sounds of tv or radio static and the steady hum from a fan, a vacuum, or an air conditioning unit. This color of noise is characterized by its even or flat sound—it contains all frequencies in the audible spectrum at equal amplitude. So, high frequencies are heard as equally loud and balanced with midrange and low frequencies, all at the same time. 

White noise provides the most consistent background noise, best for masking other environmental sounds. White noise is great for light sleepers to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you find that you wake up easily, you can try white noise to help you stay asleep no matter what is happening in the room around you. The same goes for putting babies and toddlers to bed! White noise can also help you write and read faster, retain more information, focus better, and help you manage the symptoms of ADHD. 

examples: fan, vacuum, air conditioner, tv or radio static 

Pink Noise: study and sleep support 

Distinguishing feature: More amplitude in the lower frequencies and decreasing amplitude with higher frequencies. Louder low frequencies and slightly softer mid and high frequencies.  

If you want a softer background noise or if you find high-frequency sounds too sharp, you might find pink noise better for relaxation and sleep. Where white noise is great for getting to sleep, pink noise can help you stay asleep longer. Sleeping to pink noise might also boost your memory after you wake up. You might try pink noise to enhance productivity if you are trying to study in a cafe or work in a busy office with lots of environmental noise.

Examples: rustling leaves, the hum inside an airplane cabin, the hum of a fridge, steady rain on a tin roof. 

Brown Noise: deep and soothing

Distinguishing feature: Low frequencies are emphasized and high frequencies are barely audible—a more pronounced decrease in energy with increasing frequency compared to pink noise.

Brown noise is deeper than pink or white noise because it emphasizes the bass frequencies of sound, which you might find particularly soothing, and all the other frequencies are softer and less audible. Sometimes called Brownian noise or red noise, brown noise is best for a deep and uninterrupted sleep. Like pink and white noise, it can also enhance relaxation and focus or lengthen your attention span. Try brown noise for better reading comprehension! 

Examples: rumbling thunder, strong winds, a purring cat, crackling fire.

Green Noise: a naturally calming noise 

Distinguishing feature: Emphasizes the middle of the sound spectrum, so mid-range frequencies are heard the most while the extreme lows and highs aren’t as audible. 

Green noise provides you with a reliable, calming background noise buffer. It falls into the mid-range of the sound frequency spectrum, so you won’t be bothered by any extreme treble or bass. It drowns out other distracting sounds while also soothing symptoms of anxiety and ADHD. Try green noise if you want to feel relaxed and focused at the same time. Whether you are trying to work, read, write, or sleep, green noise can help! 

Examples: heavy rainfall, rolling waves, soft breezes through a forest, driving noise. 

Blue Noise: a lively concentration sound 

Distinguishing feature: the reverse of brown noise, the high frequencies are more pronounced than the low frequencies—mostly treble with hardly any bass.

Blue noise has a bright and lively quality. While low-frequency sounds are present, they are less audible while the high-frequency sounds are emphasized. You might still use it for sleep, but it is more likely useful for situations where you need to get things done! It encourages a sense of alertness, mental clarity, concentration, and focus. Examples of blue noise might be a hissing hose, steam leaking from a pipe, or computer fan noise. 

Violet Noise: the most uplifting focus noise

Distinguishing feature: the high frequencies are even more pronounced than in blue noise—all treble and no bass. Violet, or purple, noise is a more extreme version of inverted brown noise. It is the most crisp and bright-sounding of all the colored noise types. You might use it to stay awake on a long night drive or to improve focus, attention, and memory while reading, working, or studying. Violet noise is best for masking high-frequency sounds in your environment, especially if you have tinnitus. It sounds like a high-pitched hiss or sizzle, a lot like running water from a faucet. 

Grey Noise: the smoother white noise 

Gray noise is like a smoothed-out version of white noise or pink noise that is perceptually more balanced to the human ear. It is the most even-sounding of the colored noises with any variations in volume from frequency to frequency melting into each other.

Choosing the Right Noise for Your Needs

The type of noise that works best for you will depend a lot on personal preference, as well as what you’re hoping to achieve. For example, you may find that blue noise helps you get work done, but isn’t all that helpful for sleeping. Another person might find the opposite is true. That’s why choosing the right noise color for you will require a bit of experimentation. If you are looking for help with sleep or relaxation, you might start with white, pink, or brown noise. If you want to get your brain focused and working, green, blue, or violet noise might be your first choice. As you explore the differences between the different colored noise types, you might find some annoying or soothing, and what works well for one person may not work the same for the next person. The best approach to finding your ideal noise color is to use the overview provided in this article and try different ones to find out which has the effect you’d like.

Conclusion

As you can see, the world of colored noise is vast and varied. Understanding the differences between each of the seven main colored noise types will help you on your journey to discovering your favorite sounds for your intended outcomes. Whether you are trying to sleep better, improve your health, or enhance productivity, using colored noise is one of the best ways to mask environmental sounds and influence your brain in different ways. The next step is to listen to colored noise and notice how it affects your unique system.

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