November 10, 2022 3 min read

How Brown Noise Can Help Quiet Your Brain

You’ve probably heard of white noise before, but did you know there are other “colors” of ambient noise?

In fact, there are three main types: white noise, pink noise, and brown noise. They all have relaxing properties, but brown noise is the one that everyone’s talking about lately. Apparently, it’s capable of erasing negative thoughts and eliminating anxiety.

In recent weeks, social media has been abuzz with people posting videos of themselves listening to brown noise. Similar to white noise but with an emphasis on low frequency sounds, brown noise, they say, is relieving their anxiety symptoms and reducing negative self talk. One video, which has been viewed over a million times, is captioned, “Where did the thoughts go?!”

So, could brown noise really help you get rid of your anxiety? Read on to find out (and to learn what brown noise actually is).

 

Ambient noise is really just a fancy way of saying background noise. It’s not music (though ambient music is itself a genre) and it’s not disruptive. Rather, ambient noise is a subtle, calming sound rendered at a steady pace. The Guardian defines brown noise as “the familiar, staticky sound of white noise… but with the low frequency notes augmented and the less pleasant high frequency notes turned down.” Amplifying the low frequency notes counteracts the human ear’s predisposition to experiencing higher frequency notes at a higher volume.

One way to think of brown noise is as white noise’s more relaxed cousin. Its consistent low-level rumble brings things like rainstorms and the comforting sounds of crashing waves to mind.  As such, it’s become a popular tool for managing A.D.H.D, anxiety, insomnia, and other stress conditions. (Perhaps this is why, given the stresses of the last few years, brown noise is gaining recognition.) Unlike medication and therapy, brown noise is free and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. 

Like so many things related to our senses, brown noise — and ambient noise, in general — is a bit mysterious. As Regis University School of Pharmacy Professor Daniel Berlau put it in a recent New York Times article: “It’s not as scientific as people would think.” While several scientific studies on ambient noise indicate that “certain noise can enhance environmental comfort,” more research is needed in order to understand noise’s specific effect on the brain.

Indeed, brains and their noise tolerance vary considerably from one person to the next. The concept of “stochastic resonance” — a phenomenon wherein white noise improves the brain’s ability to detect certain sounds — may explain why and how noise helps some people focus.

As for brown noise, it’s possible that the calming capabilities attributed to it are the result of the placebo effect; We are calmer after hearing brown noise because we’ve been told it has calming qualities. While the science behind it isn’t definitive, it appears — at least, anecdotally — to help with everything from deepening sleep to intensifying focus and easing panic attacks. Ultimately, if something soothes you, it’s worth trying… placebo or not.

Thanks to YouTube, it’s easy to find brown noise. To test its effect on you, quickly assign your stress level then listen to the below track. After it’s done, check back in on your stress level, noting any changes. (If there are none, that’s okay. Not everyone finds brown noise useful).

Because brown noise is often used as a sleep aid, many tracks last for eight hours or more. This popular 12-hour track is a great example — simply put it on in the background and see how you feel. You don’t have to listen to the whole track to feel the effects. Many of the comments on the YouTube video feature users reminiscing about how the sound brings up peaceful memories of quiet times.


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