Listening to "Pink Noise" in Bed Can Help Improve Sleep and Memory

If getting a good night's sleep is an issue for you, "pink noise" might be your solution. You're probably familiar with "white noise," but the former is a variety of frequencies — both high and low — that's more soothing and less disruptive to the listener. A new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that listening to pink noise resulted in deeper sleep and stronger memories.

Previous studies confirmed this theory with younger adults, but the more recent study sought to prove the same with older adults since both sleep and memory decline with age. The study's senior author, Dr. Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and researchers had a small group of 13 participants ages 60 and above spend two nights in a sleep lab. Each one took a memory test before going to bed and slept with headphones on and an electrode cap. They were asked to take another memory test in the morning.

Once they fell into a deep sleep, their headphones played short bursts of pink noise that were noticeable enough but not disruptive. "The noise is fairly pleasant; it kind of resembles a rush of water," Dr. Zee told Time. The sounds were spaced out to match their "slow-wave oscillations," or deep sleep patterns. Participants performed three times better on memory tests the following morning after sleeping with pink noise, compared to their performance after a night without headphones. Everyone's slow-wave oscillations also increased on the nights with pink noise.

Deep sleep is closely linked to maintaining a strong memory, proving the importance of this small study. Though Dr. Zee notes that larger and longer studies are still needed to confirm the benefits of listening to pink noise over the long-term rather than one night, the goal is to make it accessible commercially for home use.