White Noise vs. Brown Noise: Which One Is Better For Sleep? Experts Sound Off

Woman sleeping with either brown noise or white noise

Sleeping. It's something we all do—even babies do it (a lot, though not at 3 a.m.). Yet, adults may need help to get the recommended seven to eight hours of nightly rest. Machines that play white noise for sleep are often marketed as "must-have" items for baby shower registries, but nowadays, even grown-ups may receive targeted ads for sound machines.

Some are white noise machines, while others swear it's best to play brown noise for sleep. You may also have noticed that a debate between brown noise vs. white noise has raged on social media. Which is it?

Let's back up. For starters, the quest for better sleep is a worthwhile one.

"Sleep is so precious to our emotional and physical health," says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, MD, who is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. "Fundamentally, it helps the part of our brain that sets us apart from most other animals, the prefrontal cortex."

Dr. Dimitriu explains that this part of the brain helps us plan, imagine and exercise self-control.

"When we are sleep deprived, we have less self-control, which makes us more impulsive, moody, reactive and with stronger and more intense feelings," Dr. Dimitriu says. "This can make for a bumpy day and can also strain relationships."

Yet, Dr. Dimitriu is weary of advertising that offers any miracle solutions. If you're going to buy a machine, you may wonder: brown noise vs white noise, what noise is best for sleep? Good question. Dr. Dimitriu and other experts weigh in, putting this debate to bed.

Related: This Common Sleep Issue Could Be a Warning Sign of Heart Disease, According to Cardiologists

Why Are We Even Talking About Brown Noise vs. White Noise?

Why would someone want to use a noise machine to go to sleep? Isn't silence best? Maybe, maybe not.

"Many of us have enjoyed sleeping in the backseat of a car to the hum of the road, in a hotel room to the sound of a fan or an air conditioner or on an airplane to the sound of the engines," Dr. Dimitriu says. "These are all types of noise, which can drown out background sounds."

Dr. Dimitriu explains that noise comes in three types—brown, white and pink, the third of which is a lower frequency than white. Right now, we're zooming in on the brown noise vs. white noise for sleep debate so that catching Zzz's isn't a wild pipe dream.

What Is White Noise?

White noise is a blend of all of the hearable frequencies. "This creates a uniform, static-like background noise that can mask other sounds in your environment that might disturb your sleep," says Julia Forbes, a certified sleep science coach at Sleep Advisor.

Dr. Dimitriu likens it to TV static, but how's this for a dreamy comparison? "Consider white noise as your personal auditory sanctuary, offering a serene backdrop that fosters relaxation and peace," says Dr. Noah Kass, LCSW, a psychotherapist. "This can be especially useful in bustling urban environments where disruptive noises—like traffic or loud conversations—are common."

What Is Brown Noise?

"Brown noise has a lower frequency, producing a deeper, rumbling sound," explains Carlie Gasia, a certified sleep science coach at Sleepopolis.

She and Kass liken it to a rolling river. "This sound can be seen as more natural and organic, often evoking feelings of safety and tranquility," Dr. Kass says. "We perceive sounds reminiscent of gentle water or wind as non-threatening. Brown noise is particularly effective for reducing anxiety and aiding in focus, especially for those who find high-frequency sounds too grating like nails on a chalkboard."

Related: The Best Side to Sleep on for Heart Health, According to Cardiologists

Brown Noise vs. White Noise: Which Noise Is Best For Sleep?

Tomāto, Tomäto. "Choosing between brown noise and white noise for sleep largely comes down to personal preference," Dr. Kass says.

Exhibit A: People with ADHD were swearing by brown noise for sleep and focus in 2022, with videos containing #brownnoise racking up millions of views. In 2024, a systemic review and meta-analysis looked at white and pink noise and found they helped people with ADHD focus on tasks in a lab setting. Yes, it was for focus, not sleep, but the point holds: You might find one works better (or that you benefit from both).

Want more data specific to sleep? We've got you covered.

For the data lovers among us, here's what the research suggests:

  • A 2022 study of ICU patients in India found white noise boosted sleep quality.

  • A 2021 study of people in New York City who pointed to their high-noise environment as the reason for their poor sleep found that white noise significantly helped.

  • These results support an older Frontiers Neurology study from 2017 that found that white noise could improve sleep quality and lower the time it took to get to sleep by 38% if played at 46 decibels.

Yet, even a sleep scientist who lives for data has a preference. "My preference is brown noise," Dr. Dimitriu says.

While experimenting can help you pinpoint which (or both or neither) wins the white noise vs. brown noise for sleep debate, you might consider which sounds more appealing.

"Some individuals find the higher frequencies of white noise more effective at masking a wide range of environmental sounds, which can help them fall and stay asleep," Dr. Kass says. "The consistent, unvarying nature of white noise creates a uniform sound environment which helps prevent the brain from being startled by sudden noises, high-frequencies or sharp, grating sounds."


"Brown noise, with its lower frequencies, offers a sense of calm and security, helping to reduce anxiety and promote a more restful state," Dr. Kass says. "White and brown noise can both improve focus, help you relax and enhance sleep quality."

Related: If You Want to Live to 100, Here's the Surprising Thing to Prioritize

Tips For Using Brown or White Noise For Sleep

Experts share some best practices for getting the most out of a sound machine or playlist, regardless of your chosen frequency.

  1. Avoid loud volumes.  Even noise considered low-frequency can be loud enough to disrupt sleep. "Ideally, have a sleep timer or some method to turn down or off the noise towards the morning, when sleep gets lighter," Dr. Dimitriu says.

  2. Skip the headphones and speakers if possible. You may need this if a bed partner prefers the other noise (or none). However, Dr. Dimitriu says sleeping without them (especially headphones) is best for limiting disruptions.

  3. Location, location, location. Where you put a sound machine can help you sleep tighter (and hear it at a reasonable volume for sleep). "Placing it on a nightstand near the bed can be more effective than across the room," Forbes says.

  4. Prioritize consistency. "Maybe start by turning on a sound machine or a noise app about 30 minutes before you try to go to bed," Gasia says.

  5. Be realistic. Sound machines for sleep aren't miracle workers. "It’s important to keep expectations realistic and use a variety of strategies, including other relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes, to address these issues effectively," Dr. Kass says.

Other Tips for Improving Sleep

Dr. Dimitriu agrees with Dr. Kass: Maintaining good habits can have just as significant of an effect on sleep quality and duration as white or brown noise, if not an even greater one.

"Sleep loves rhythm and regularity, so try to get to bed and wake up at the same time each day," Dr. Dimitriu says. "Sleep also likes darkness, so getting to bed a bit earlier can result in longer and more restorative sleep."

As for the phone and other electronics? Put them to bed first. "Electronics are the opposite of sleep," Dr. Dimitriu says. "I often tell my patients to turn tech off at 10. Read a book or do something mellow, but avoid screens, clicking and scrolling. It's just too exciting."

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