By Alexandria Beyer
When I was a kid, the sound of my mom vacuuming would knock me out cold. Dogs and cats may think the end of the world is nigh when hearing that electric humming sounds, but me – I’d be napping in no time.
Later, during my time as a university student, I would open my windows to relax, listening to the bustle of the city: the soft rumble of motors, shuffling traffic, and the buses sighing to a stop and swinging open their doors for passengers. I could hear the whir of bicycle tires and the gentle clamor of bicycle bells passing alongside pedestrians and could hear their trickling laughter and conversation as they walked, heels clicking on the sidewalk below, and I was comforted; I would fall lazily into a slumber.
At present, living in the north woods near Canada, the sound of rain and wind through the forest of my backyard ushers me into dreamland. Can you relate? What sounds cradle you into a peaceful slumber? Here’s how coloured sound can help you sleep better.
If it’s hard to recall what a good night’s rest involves, don’t worry – you’re not alone. According to the Royal Society for Public Health, the public of the UK are undersleeping at least one hour per night, which adds up quickly and inhibits our normal functioning, right down to our breathing. By the end of the week, you may have missed out on an entire night’s worth of restorative sleep. Sleep is fundamental for our health and well being; it is supremely regenerative.
No matter what soundscape may appeal to you personally, all of them have something in common: “they help you to sleep by making you less conscious of your immediate environment, which allows the mind to relax in a similar way to meditation,” says Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare. The difference between the sounds, of course, lies in their frequency.
Just as different frequencies of light waves produce different colours, different frequencies of sound are likewise organised along spectrum of ‘colour’ according to the density of their waves, producing either white, pink, brown, blue, violet or grey noise. The frequencies with the most relaxing effects are white, pink, and brown.
The Colour Of Sound
Wondering what those colours sound like?
White noise is like the ocean; a constant, low hiss produced by the sound of of all the frequencies mixed together. Pink noise, on the other hand, is like the rumble of traffic and rainstorms. Think of it as white noise with the bass cranked up. Brown noise is even deeper than pink noise. It is a low, rolling rumble like the sound of wind blowing through the trees.
If you’re lucky enough to live by the sea, you can enjoy white noise on demand. Those living in city apartments on say, the 30th floor, will have constant pink noise from traffic. But if you don’t live in one of those situations, never fear – there are plenty of YouTube channels where you can listen to the sound of rain, the ocean, thunderstorms or Buddhist chanting (brown noise) to help lull you to sleep.
If those don’t work, there are more professional services that could work, too. For example, AXA PPP healthcare now offers access to techniques like Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR); closely mic’d sounds using special equipment that stimulates a tingly and relaxing sensation throughout the body, from lullabies composed using the very frequencies that quiet our minds and nervous systems, to ambient recordings from places throughout the UK including the Trwyn Llanbedrog beach in North Wales; one of London’s busiest overpasses; and Kielder Forest, all of which have similar frequencies to white, pink and brown noise, respectively. You can check them out here.
The fequencies of sounds, like those of colours, can have different effects on our moods, state of mind, and even our health. I’ve told you here about the main sound frequencies to help you sleep, but there’s one more colour of noise given an official meaning: black. It’s a spectral density of roughly zero power at every frequency; if white is all frequencies at once, black is the colour of silence – and maybe that’s the ultimate sound for the best night’s sleep ever.