Sound machines may do more than help you get a good night's rest

Posted at 2:37 PM, Sep 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-18 14:37:51-04

When Erin McNeil downloaded a sound machine app to help with her insomnia, she was thrilled to discover something called pink noise. 

“I fall asleep much faster. Almost within minutes.” 

According to neurology professor Doctor Phyllis Zee, pink noise is like the more commonly known white noise, but it has a slightly different frequency. 

“It’s a softer sound,” she says. “It kind of mimics a sound of a waterfall. So it’s like a shhh type of sound.” 

Doctor Zee co-authored a study that found pink noise may not only enhance deep sleep, but may improve sleep-related memory in older adults.

In her study, her team used an experimental technology they created to deliver short bursts of pink noise on a small group over sixty. The participants then took a memory test the next day. 

“There was a close to thirty percent increase in the number of words they were able to remember in the morning,” she says. 

How does it work? Experts believe these soundwaves can stimulate brain activity during phases of deep sleep, which in turn helps with memory. 

And pink noise isn’t only for the senior set. A previous study found a similar link in younger adults. With recall performance distinctly higher than a control group. 

As for Erin, she likes the idea that her sleep aid may be doing double duty. 

“It’s exciting to me that it might help,” she says. 

Larger studies are, of course, needed to confirm these initial findings. And Doctor Zee and her team are working to create a home version of their pink noise system, which works by playing short bursts of pink noise versus continuous noise all night long, like traditional sound machines. 

She is hopeful that these types of sound stimulation technologies may lead to new solutions to age-related memory loss in older adults, as well as help people achieve a better night’s sleep.