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What is white noise? Exploring its brain health benefits

Julia Park
Focused person

White noise, often mistaken for background hum or static, can play an important role in our everyday
focus. As people search for ways to maintain a sharp, focused brain in a world full of distractions and dwindling attention spans, white noise can be the unexpected hero. But what exactly is it, and how does it affect our brain performance?

White noise is not just about blocking out the sounds of our world. It’s more about giving our brains the appropriate backdrop to concentrate on the present. 

Research suggests YouTube searches for “sleep music,” “rain sounds,” and “white noise” have surged in recent years. And with over 3 million listening hours on Spotify dedicated to white noise every day, it’s clear people are interested in tapping into the focus white therapy can bring.

The science behind white noise

White noise is a consistent sound produced by combining all the different frequencies of sound that the human ear can hear. These frequencies range from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. [1] This encompasses the entire audible spectrum a healthy adult can typically hear. Imagine attending a party where everyone’s talking simultaneously; the combined hum of voices is like a white noise sound. 

So, why “white” in white noise? The term white noise comes from white light, composed of all the colors or frequencies of light combined. Similarly, white noise is a blend of all audible frequencies. [2] This blend creates a constant, soothing sound that can mask other disrupting sounds impacting our brain focus and mental health.

Research shows that we need certain ambient sounds to keep our brains functioning optimally. [3] Too much silence can be just as distracting as sudden and jarring noises. White noise fills this silence, creating an auditory blanket for improved concentration and a more focused brain. 

While many people turn to white noise machines, more advanced options are emerging.

The Muse 2 Headband and Muse S Headband ingeniously integrate this concept into their design. The headsets use a spectrum of noise colors, gentle cues, and real-time neurofeedback to create a better soundscape that helps you focus. 

How does white noise impact focus and cognitive health?

Our brains are always active with constant neuronal activity. Every emotion, thought, and sensation we experience comes from countless neurons firing away. This activity gives rise to electrical patterns known as brainwaves. [4]

Different brainwaves indicate different levels of consciousness, like deep sleep or strong focus. For example, an alert, focused state of mind is indicated by beta waves, while relaxed wakefulness is linked to alpha waves. [5]

EEG allows us to measure waves that have different frequencies and are associated with various levels of consciousness. These levels include deep sleep and intense concentration. 

White noise can help the brain stay focused by covering up distracting sounds that could shift its attention. It acts as a buffer, promoting a steady state of focus-driven brain activity. Because of this buffer, white noise can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.


Exploring the spectrum of noise colors

Beyond white noise, there is a palette of “colors” of noise, each with its own characteristics and potential uses. 

Red noise (or Brown noise): Characterized by higher energy at lower frequencies, it resembles the sound of a strong wind or a thunderous waterfall. Its power decreases as the frequency increases, making it soothing for some listeners. [6]

Pink noise: Pink noise is a mix of white and red noise. It has equal energy in every octave and is often found in nature, like the rustle of leaves or rain. Pink noise can enhance sleep and memory consolidation.

Blue noise:  With more energy at higher frequencies, blue noise is the counterpart to blue light, sounding hissy and sharp. Audio production teams sometimes use it to mask lower-frequency noises. [8]

Violet noise:  Similar to blue noise but with even more emphasis on the higher frequencies, violet noise is often used in electronic devices to mask tinnitus. It can also serve as a tool for sound equalization. [9

Gray noise: Sounds “even” across frequencies to the human ear, similar to white noise, but with a psychoacoustic correction to make it sound flat. Audio equipment testing often uses gray noise. [10]

Green noise:  Often described as the background noise of a stream of steady ocean waves. It’s a mid-frequency version of white noise and can be soothing. [11

Orange noise: Using all frequencies except those our ears consider in tune, orange noise sounds like the chatter in a crowded room or the bustle of a busy cafe. This noise can be stimulating and helpful to creative projects. [12]

Each of these noises can influence our perception and cognitive state. Their uses range from sleep aids and protecting against cognitive decline to improving auditory testing and sound design. 

Knowing and using the right kind of noise can help create the best environment for different purposes. 

Benefits of white noise for cognitive health

Beyond concentration, the consistent auditory white noise can offer a range of cognitive health benefits. Studies indicate that white noise can reduce stress, improve memory retention, and even aid in faster learning. [13

Creativity could also get a boost because a stable background noise can reduce the cognitive load from environmental sounds. This allows the brain to allocate more resources to creative thinking. 

There is also evidence that points to white noise’s impact on enhanced neuroplasticity, especially in older adults. A balanced sound environment helps our brain adapt and reorganize quickly, which is important for our cognitive abilities. 


Creating the perfect white noise environment 

While we recognize white noise for focus-enhancing properties, the journey to cognitive well-being through sound doesn’t stop there. Creating an optimal auditory environment that resonates with your mental rhythms is the goal. 

To improve cognitive performance and enhance sleep quality, consider trying the Muse S Digital Sleeping Pill (DSP). These aren’t your typical sleeping aids; they’re an innovative blend of soundscapes and storytelling, designed to respond intelligently to your brain activity for a more restful night.  

When night falls, the Muse S DSP enhances your bedtime experience. It offers a variety of soundscapes, such as the soothing tones of ‘Underwater’ and the rhythmic calm of ‘Ocean Rhythm’. For those who prefer a narrative touch, the ‘Journeys’ feature guided stories and guidance to ease you into sleep. 

And if you happen to wake up during the night, the same technology gently guides you back to sleep with its collection of relaxing sleep stories, engaging narratives, sleep meditations, soothing music, and nature biofeedback.

The Muse 2 and Muse S brainwave monitors pair EEG technology with over 500 guided meditation sessions to create a unique soundscape. Using wearable EEG headbands that provide real-time neurofeedback and adjust noise as your brainwave patterns change means you can craft each session with purpose. Whether it’s to improve concentration, stimulate creativity, ease anxiety, or promote deep sleep

Final takeaways

White noise is a well-known tool for cognitive enhancement, but it’s important to understand that people have different noise preferences.

Exploring different noise colors and creating an auditory environment tailored to personal cognitive goals can play a significant role in achieving improved focus and overall brain health. 

The key is to experiment with different sounds and notice how they affect your concentration, relaxation, and well-being. The main aim is to find the best background that helps you focus and improves your brain's health and performance. This can be achieved with advanced technology such as Muse 2 and Muse S headbands, natural sounds, or thoughtful environmental setups. 

In a world filled with noise, finding the right sound is not just about blocking out distractions. It’s about tuning into a frequency that improves productivity, creativity, and peace of mind. 

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  1. [1, 2] National Research Council (US) Committee on Disability Determination for Individuals with Hearing Impairments; Dobie RA, Van Hemel S, editors. Hearing Loss: Determining Eligibility for Social Security Benefits. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 2, Basics of Sound, the Ear, and Hearing. Available from:
  2. [3] Jafari, M. J., Khosrowabadi, R., Khodakarim, S., & Mohammadian, F. (2019). The Effect of Noise Exposure on Cognitive Performance and Brain Activity Patterns. Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, 7(17), 2924-2931.
  3. [4, 5] 22, D. (1997, December 22). What is the function of the various brainwaves?. Scientific American.
  4. [6] Yoon, H., & Baek, H. J. (2021). External Auditory Stimulation as a Non-Pharmacological Sleep Aid. Sensors, 22(3), 1264.
  5. [7, 8, 9] Tolliday, J. (2023, April 26). The colours of noise: What are they and what do they mean?. NoiseNews.
  6. [10] Techopedia. (2014, April 27). What is gray noise? - definition from Techopedia. Gray Noise.
  7. [11] Summer , J., & Singh, A. (2023, October 30). What is green noise and how can it help you sleep?. Sleep Foundation.
  8. [12] Clark, B. (2023, August 14). 9 different types of noise - the colors of sound. Musician Wave.
  9. [13] Awada, M., Lucas, G., & Roll, S. (2022). Cognitive performance, creativity and stress levels of neurotypical young adults under different white noise levels. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 1-9.

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