Sounds of Silence: Could ‘Coloured Noise’ be the Secret to Better Sleep?

Dalai Lama once said, ‘sleep is the best meditation’. And we think he might have been onto something…

Many of us have experienced the restfulness that comes when we’re stood next to sea, listening to the waves crashing. Or maybe with our eyes closed, while the wind rustles through the trees. Or that inner peace when the rain is drumming on the window.

Those of us in search of a better night’s sleep might assume the best environment for this is one of silence. But could the solution actually lie in immersing ourselves in more noise? While that may sound counterintuitive, certain types of noise – such as the gentle humming of a boiler or the pitter-patter of rain – can in fact help us to drift off.

According to Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare‘some noises can actually help us get to sleep by making us less conscious of our immediate environment, which allows our mind to relax in a way that’s similar to the process involved in meditation’.

Far from being a new phenomenon, the concept of coloured noise has been around much longer than you might think. Thomas Alva Edison began conducting experiments on sound frequencies and coloured noise in the late 1800s and scientists soon discovered the full spectrum of sound frequencies.

These are still relevant today – for example ‘pink noise’ has been scientifically proven to improve deep sleep, allowing for better memory formation and re-energisation of the brain. To explore concepts further, the healthcare experts have recorded three unique ambient sounds: at the peaceful Trwyn Llanbedrog beach in North Wales; one of London’s busiest overpasses; and Kielder Forest, the most tranquil place in the UK.

White noise – constant ‘shhh’ sound

White noise works by reducing the difference between background sounds and a ‘peak’ sound, like a door slamming, giving you a better chance to sleep through it undisturbed. Typically, white noise is a constant ‘shhh’ sound, which is like a bright, mix of frequencies. These frequencies are often likened to the restful sound of waves hitting the shore. AXA PPP healthcare has associated it with the sounds heard on Trwyn Llanbedrog beach in North Wales – the UK’s favourite coastal sound, perhaps due its hypnotic quality.

Pink noise – turning up the bass on white noise               

A busy London overpass has been matched with pink noise frequencies – which is similar to white noise but with the bass turned up. As well as the rumble of traffic, rainstorms have a pink noise frequency. The 24-hour activity of modern cities feels at odds with our need to sleep – but what if we could take that energy and use it to help us relax?

Brown noise – a deep, rolling rumble

Kielder Forest, the UK’s most tranquil location, may not seem to have many sounds at first, but the sound of the wind blowing through the trees can be likened to the frequency of brown noise. Brown noise is an even deeper version of pink noise; a deep, rolling rumble that can often go unnoticed.

One thing is for sure, the world is getting noisier with as many as 25% of adults losing sleep due to noise from their neighbours. For this reason, Tim Antos, founder of Kokoon, designed sleep-aiding headphones to help block out unwanted noise.

“From the moment we wake, our lives are filled with noise. Whether you’re trying to relax or just can’t sleep, audio is one of the best ways to help us naturally unwind and switch off. Sleep clinics prescribe thousands of audio based techniques daily and millions of us use audio to relax every single day.

“The best way of falling asleep varies for each person and depending what we have going on in our lives. At Kokoon, we wanted to open the door to trying different techniques, giving people the opportunity to learn what really works for them. The headphones incorporate electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors to detect electrical activity in your brain throughout your nightly sleeping ritual. By pairing our technology with AXA’s coloured noise recordings we hope to improve the sleep quality of many.” Said Tim Antos.

Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, helps patients on a regular basis understand why they struggle to fall and stay asleep and how they can help themselves to get a more restful and restorative sleep.

To listen to AXA PPP healthcare’s coloured noise recordings, visit the website, and find your secret to a better night’s sleep.

Charlotte Giver

Charlotte is the founder and editor-in-chief at Your Coffee Break magazine. She studied English Literature at Fairfield University in Connecticut whilst taking evening classes in journalism at MediaBistro in NYC. She then pursued a BA degree in Public Relations at Bournemouth University in the UK. With a background working in the PR industry in Los Angeles, Barcelona and London, Charlotte then moved on to launching Your Coffee Break from the YCB HQ in London’s Covent Garden and has been running the online magazine for the past 10 years. She is a mother, an avid reader, runner and puts a bit too much effort into perfecting her morning brew.