One afternoon when I was a teenager, my father misplaced his wristwatch, and searched the house for it in vain. He often left it on the mantle in the living room, but this time it wasn’t there. I asked my folks for quiet for a moment, and after circling the living room, I stuck my arm under a couch cushion and retrieved the watch. When dad asked how I found it, I told him I could hear it ticking. He insisted I’d planted the watch in the couch myself, so I had to find it three more times before he reluctantly believed me.
While I doubt I could repeat that stunt today, I’ve always been hypersensitive to light and sound. I’ve tried every type of ear plug I’ve come across, from cheap plastic to foam to high-tech plugs used by competition marksmen; most of them just hurt my ears. The best were made of soft silicone, but those fell out easily, attracted dirt, and my cat thinks they’re chewing gum for felines. While they did effectively block external sounds, they provided a new problem: every sniff, snort, gurgle, snurf, and other indescribable internal noises were amplified.
I also tried a variety of sound-masking devices; surf and sea was nice, but the pauses between waves allowed external noise in and didn’t help me to sleep. White and pink noise, especially white noise sounds cold and annoying. Finally, I discovered Brown noise.
Brown noise differs from other “color” named noises, in that it is actually “Brownian” noise, named after Robert Brown, who discovered Brownian motion.
According to Wikipedia: “The graphic representation of the sound signal mimics a Brownian pattern. Its spectral density is inversely proportional to f², meaning it has more energy at lower frequencies, even more so than pink noise. It decreases in power by 6 dB per octave and, when heard, has a “damped” or “soft” quality compared to white and pink noise. The sound is a low roar resembling a waterfall or heavy rainfall.”
The sound is rich and warm, and the higher power at the lower frequencies helps to mask low frequency annoyances, including all but the most over-powered trunk blasters. With it, I can now sleep through most sounds that used to have me leaping out of bed. I can sleep through thunderstorms, ringing phones, even salesmen pounding on the front door.
Whether your need is undisturbed sleep, or you just want to work uninterrupted or block out chatter or distractions, Brown noise could be the answer. I have a Sansa MP3 player set to automatically replay the track endlessly. Just set the volume to a comfortable level and you’re good to go. Quality earbuds do make a difference – cheap buds don’t reproduce the lower frequencies well, and the result sounds like white noise. While earbuds do pop out occasionally, it’s surprisingly easy to adapt to sleeping with them. Just remember to keep them clean to avoid infections.
I have a few recommendations from experience – make sure your battery will last through your entire sleep period. If the Brown noise suddenly stops in the middle of sleep, I awaken instantly, wondering if the power has gone off to the entire house. Common sense dictates not using such effective sound masking in situations where one would need to be roused by disturbing sounds. Brown noise is particularly helpful with meditation, self-hypnosis and writing. While music can be a great aid to writing, some people are distracted by lyrics or certain rhythms. Brown noise can help to retain mood and focus without the abrupt changes one faces with radio programs.
If sleep is your objective, you might consider adding a technique such as meditation or progressive relaxation, and four-count in, six-count out slow deep breathing; Brown noise won’t stop anxiety or brain chatter that keeps you awake, but when it is combined with a relaxation protocol, you can create and reinforce an anchor or mental association that will facilitate a restful state of mind. Once that is trained and locked-in, Brown noise can become an automated trigger for peace of mind.
Usually, you will drift off into sleep imperceptibly. However, if you are into Lucid Dreaming, or stabilizing the hypnagogic state for creativity or problem solving, it is interesting to note your individual responses as you approach sleep. I have often observed the moment of a shift in consciousness, when a very pleasant silence in my mind replaces the Brown noise, as I’ve internalized enough to ignore it entirely. It also might be possible to use this phenomena as a springboard to block certain types of pain, as I’ve read in some studies.
Brown noise is also very helpful in blocking tinnitus; it’s not a cure, but it can give you a welcome respite when the ringing becomes overwhelming.
One small caveat: any sleep aid or ritual can form a habit. If you like falling asleep while listening to the radio, the sudden absence or failure of that radio could affect your sleep patterns. However, the inconvenience is minor, and certainly not as daunting as a drug dependence, be that dependence physical or psychological.
If you think this is something you would like to try, the following is a link where you can download 30 and 60 minute MP3 files of Brown noise, that I made:
Brown Noise MP3s
They’re both free, no strings attached.