Benefits of Brown Noise

Govind M., the Stanford student who wrote me about walking while studying, has written again to say that brown noise (deeper than white noise) makes him “calm and focused”. He discovered this while trying to find something to listen to while doing schoolwork:

I tried listening to rain, and that was ok. I know some people try to find places that are really, really quiet and then work there. But that’s pretty hard to do. Plus, it seems that the more silent the place, the more distracting individual noises potentially are. So one day I tried brown noise, because it was on the same site as the rain, and I was a fan immediately. I tried white and pink but I found them less calming and a bit too static-y. I use brown noise when I really need to focus. So any “serious” reading, writing, coding, studying, etc. I don’t know if there are contexts in which brown noise doesn’t help, but it does seem a bit much for responding to emails. . . . [It] makes the outside world melt away.

It also helps him fall asleep. He uses headphones to listen to it. Unfortunately, he said, “everyone that I have told about this thinks I am crazy.”

I tried it and quickly became a fan. Brown noise is much more pleasant than white noise. I especially like the Getting Wet preset on this page, which is close to brown noise. It does help me focus. Putting on my noise-cancelling headphones and listening to this is like being instantly transported to a faraway peaceful place. A cabin in the woods. I use it when I am doing something that takes full attention. Unlike podcasts or books, it doesn’t interfere with writing. Unlike music, it never becomes boring. (The same piece of music over and over gets boring.) Why isn’t something like brown noise piped into waiting rooms, waiting areas, and elevators?

14 Replies to “Benefits of Brown Noise”

  1. I’m also a huge fan of brown noise, especially for going to sleep. I also use it for working sometimes. However the combination of f.lux and brown noise make working past 8 PM almost impossible! I go right to sleep.

  2. Speaking of waiting areas, I’m annoyed that virtually every doctor’s office and dentist’s office now has a TV mounted on the wall. I used to bring reading material with me when I had an appointment, but I can’t read with the TV blaring. Very irritating.

  3. Wow! I’m stuck on grey…the drips in the foreground could be a little lower, or less constant, but the patter of the rain is exactly what it sounds like hitting our patio umbrella…it’s hard to suppress the urge to look out the window (it’s a grey morning here, so that adds to the ambiance)…and the sound of the distant storm in the background is one of my all time favorite hunker down, under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn and a book sounds.

    Cheers

  4. I wish you would try and quantify the effect from Brown Noise (on attention, focus, … whatever). Like you did with Omega-3 and butter.

    Seth: I’m thinking of measuring how long I work with and without it. Maybe it allows me to work longer before I need to take a break. I may also measure its effect on my sleep.

  5. @Alex,
    My Dr.’s waiting room TV was playing an (I can only assume) pharma sponsored station that would have short “healthy cooking” clips interspersed between a long series of big pharma ads. I waited 45 minutes, and saw some of the ads four times.

  6. I’ve played around a bit with various sound generators over the past few months.

    One is the White Noise app from TMSOFT to help focus, mainly by reducing the impact of background noise. One of its nice features is the ability to mix different noise types, eg I often use blue noise and brown noise together, so you get a blend you like.

    sox is another useful program ( http://sox.sourceforge.net/ ) which can be used to generate white noise sound files for use in music players.

    Also, I recently came across the FocusAtWill website which claims to have music that helps with concentration ( see https://www.focusatwill.com/science/science-primer/ ) . In my experience it seems to be pretty good for background music while working on a computer – I generally use the UpTempo channel.

  7. I tried several of the generated noises . . .rain, brown, uptempo . . . they just made me nervous. I’m glad they work for others here, but for me, I prefer either quiet or specific musicians. For example, when cutting code, I’ll listen to Sonic Youth. When my goal is to relax, I play Marconi Union.

  8. I found this comment on Wiki interesting: ” Its spectral density is inversely proportional to f², meaning it has more energy at lower frequencies . . . the sound is a low roar resembling a waterfall or heavy rainfall.” I’m a new father and in one of the books on helping babies sleep, the author recommended using noise like a rainfall; however, he recommended using quality speakers with deep base because the base was very relaxing to children (and adults). He said to mimic what a baby in utero hears, turn on your bath water and fill the tub- now stick your head under the water and listen to the difference in base between running water and the deep tumbling sound you hear while submerged. That’s what a baby is used to hearing in utero. I wonder if this brown noise is important because of the deeper base sounds than white noise which can be static-y.

  9. Pink noise works really well for putting me to sleep when mixed with brown. It’s not quite as deep and is somewhere in between brown and white noise in terms of frequency.

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