Sunday, September 25, 2022

A calming noise.

ifee | Deposit Photos

You've heard of white noise, I take it? Well, there are other colors of noise, too.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a story about brown noise. I had never heard of it, but apparently it's been a thing for for several years. Like white noise, brown noise is a combination of every frequency that the human ear can hear. The difference between white and brown is that white emphasizes higher frequencies and has a hissing quality to it. Brown noise, by contrast, emphasizes the lower frequencies and is more of a rumble. Think of the sound of heavy rain, strong wind, or a waterfall. 

What's the deal with the colors? That's thanks to engineering. Somebody decided to base the hierarchy of these types of noises on the rainbow. Brown, which emphasizes the lowest frequencies, is akin to the red end of the rainbow; red light has the lowest frequency of light waves. On the sound scale, after brown comes pink, then white, then blue (which sounds like the static you get on an FM radio between stations). You can hear short samples of these different noises here. (The New York Times article also lists violet noise; there's a sample of that at the link in the second paragraph.)

White noise machines have been around for many years, of course. People use them as sleep aids. I've also seen them placed outside of therapist's offices, the theory being the white noise will drown out whatever confidential conversation is going on inside the office and keep people in the waiting room from eavesdropping. But the Times says brown noise is now becoming popular with those diagnosed with ADHD. Reportedly the rumble helps them focus.

The jury is still out on whether brown noise -- or any color noise -- can help alleviate anxiety. Some people may find that having such noise gives their brain something to do other than dwell on anxious thoughts. But others might find the constant background noise distracting or even irritating.

By the way, a survey done two years ago of scientific studies about the efficacy of white noise's use as a sleep aid found it's...not all that helpful. There's no harm in using it, but the reason it's helpful may be more about masking other annoying sounds that are keeping you up at night -- such as a significant other's snoring.

In fact, there doesn't seem to be any harm in using any of these types of noise on a regular basis. So if you believe it helps you sleep or concentrate better, have at it. I'm not really a fan of any sort of noise -- I prefer silence, especially when I'm writing. But if I had the choice to listen to either a rushing waterfall or FM radio static, I know which one I'd pick.

In fact, sitting by a waterfall sounds like a good idea any time. 


These moments of noisy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! The pandemic may or may not be over, but Covid isn't leaving any time soon.

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