Could Listening To ‘Pink Noise’ During Sleep Improve Memory?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Lots of people need a little noise to fall asleep.

For example, here’s what helps some people fall asleep:

“I just like the fan noise.”

“It really seems to calm whatever it is in my brain that decides to get revved up when there’s complete silence.”

“You hear the little vibrations in the back. It makes me feel like super good. So I go to sleep like really well.”

“I need a constant noise, makes me falling asleep better, I mean, we live in a very quiet area, there’s no noise from the road, but I like it. I like rain, when I’m in my bed.”

“When it’s raining outside, and I go to sleep, that’s actually better than the TV.”

Researchers are paying closer attention to the type of noise and how this affects sleep and memory.

You may have heard of white noise. With a combination of different frequencies, there is pink noise.

“If you think about pink noise, it sounds a little bit like a waterfall. A gentle waterfall,” explains Allegheny General Hospital sleep specialist Dr. Daniel Shade.

Previous studies have shown that pink noise can boost slow wave sleep.

“We know that slow wave sleep, or delta sleep, real deep sleep, is good for memory,” Dr. Shade said.

So, could pink noise also improve memory?

A group of 13 study participants, ages 60 and older, were monitored in a sleep lab for two nights. One night, they were exposed to pink noise once they reached slow wave sleep. One night they were not. They took memory tests before bed and in the morning.

“It did seem to strengthen slow wave sleep, and the next morning their memory on word recall is increased by about 25 percent,” said Dr. Shade.

To figure out what this means, we need more study with more people, more types of noise, more stages of sleep, and more nights of sleep. But, the findings are provocative.

“If they could show this actually improved memory, especially with the fear of Alzheimer’s and dementia in our aging population, it could be a big thing. But, right now we just don’t know,” Dr. Shade said.

Using pink noise just like they did in the study would be hard to do at home.

“Right now, they don’t have the algorithms to time it outside of a study,” he says.

But, you could search for pink noise on your favorite device and play it all night, as something simple and non-invasive to try.

More from Dr. Maria Simbra
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