'Pink noise' may help sleep, improve memory

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Pink noise
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Pink noise is a variation of white noise that may be more effective at helping people fall asleep as well as improve their memory.

You've heard white noise can help you sleep.

But did you know pink noise might help your memory?

New research finds a difference between the two and reveals how "pink sounds" may help your brain.

When Erin McNeil downloaded a sound machine app to help with her insomnia, she was thrilled to discover something called "pink noise."

"I fall asleep much faster, almost within minutes," said McNeil.

According to neurology professor Phyllis Zee of Northwestern University, pink noise is like the more commonly known "white noise" but it has a slightly different frequency.

"It's a softer sound," Zee said. "It kind of mimics a sound of a waterfall. So, it's like a 'shh' type of a sound."

Zee co-authored a study that found pink noise may not only enhance deep sleep, but may improve sleep-related memory in older adults.

In the study, her team used an experimental technology they created to deliver short bursts of pink noise on a small group aged 60 and older.

Participants then took a memory test the next day.

"There was close to a 30 percent increase in the number of words they were able to remember in the morning," said Zee.

Experts believe these sound waves can stimulate brain activity during phases of deep sleep which in turn helps with memory.

And pink noise isn't only helpful for the senior set.

A previous study found a similar link in younger adults.

Recall performance was distinctly higher than a control group.

McNeil likes the idea that her sleep aid may be doing double duty.

"It's exciting to me that it might help," she said.

Larger studies are needed to confirm these initial findings.

Zee and her team are working to create a home version of their pink noise system which will play short bursts of pink noise versus the continuous all-night sound common with traditional sound machines.

Experts are hopeful these types of sound stimulation technologies could lead to new solutions for age-related memory loss in older adults as well as help people achieve a better night's sleep.