Brown Noise Is TikTok's Latest Answer to Sleep, Relaxation, and Focus, But Does It Work?

Here's what experts think of the wellness trend spreading on TikTok.

TikTok True or False: Brown Noise
Photo: Getty Images

TikTok True or False is the answer to your burning questions about the health, beauty, and fitness fads taking over your social feeds. Each story breaks down a buzzy wellness trend with the help of experts and scientific research to uncover the truth and safety behind the viral "advice" you see online. You'll never have to wonder what's actually legit — or what to skip — again.

Using background noise to relax, focus, and fall asleep isn't exactly a new concept, but some TikTok users now suggest that a specific type of sound — brown noise — can help with a slew of health issues. (See: Tips for Better Sleep, Straight from the Experts)

Brown noise is similar to white noise but has a slightly different, deeper sound. TikTok is currently flooded with videos from people who claim this low-frequency sound helps them relax and sleep. There are even people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) who say it helps them focus better. In fact, videos tagged with the hashtag #brownnoise have more than 71 million views collectively.

One post that went viral features a TikTok user who regularly posts about having ADHD. In the clip, which has more than a million likes, the user's jaw drops after listening to brown noise for the first time. "Where did the thoughts go?" reads text placed on top of the video.

While the concept of putting on headphones and tuning out the rest of the world sounds great, does brown noise really help with sleep, relaxation, and ADHD symptoms? TBH, experts are mixed on this one. Here's what you need to know.

What is brown noise?

You're likely already familiar with white noise, which offers a fuzzy sound like a radio tuned to an unused frequency. Similarly, brown noise is a broadband sound containing low frequencies. This ends up producing a sound that's deeper than white noise, explains Melissa Santos, Ph.D., division chief of pediatric psychology at Connecticut Children's.

"[It's] a static, random background noise," adds Mathias Basner, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and director of the unit for experimental psychiatry, division of sleep and chronobiology, and department of psychiatry, at the University of Pennsylvania. You might think of brown noise as the dull sound of high winds sweeping past.

Does brown noise help with sleep?

While ambient sound machines that produce white noise are often used as sleep aids, research hasn't shown that they actually lead to better sleep, says Alon Avidan M.D., M.P.H., professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. In fact, he's studied data on white noise and sleep and found that broadband noises are "not shown to be effective," says Dr. Avidan. While brown noise is slightly different from white noise, Dr. Avidan isn't convinced it helps with sleep. "If patients ask me whether they should purchase a machine that cancels out environmental noise or plays noise, I tell them not to do that," he says. "The data so far does not show that it has scientific merit."

Dr. Basner, who has studied the impact of sound on sleep, agrees. "When I learned that many people were using broadband sounds for sleep, I was surprised," he says, noting that "the introduction of a noise source could be detrimental for sleep itself." However, it could be helpful in masking other noises that might come into your bedroom, such as car horns, says Dr. Basner. And if you consistently play brown noise at night, it's possible that it will eventually serve as a cue for your brain that it's time to sleep, which may help you drift off, he says.

Does brown noise help with relaxation?

There may be something to using brown noise for relaxation, says Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., clinical assistant professor of psychology at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the Mind in View podcast. "There isn't high-level scientific research on this, but [listening to brown noise] does seem to be a way to slow the brain down," she says.

"It may allow for a [more] meditative place in a person's mind than other types of noise because it's a deeper sound," explains Dr. Gallagher. By comparison, white noise sounds "excitatory" (meaning, it could make you feel more revved up), she says. But brown noise "can feel very slowed-down and relaxing for some people," she adds.

Does brown noise help with ADHD symptoms?

Some TikTokers suggest brown noise is useful for focusing, especially for those with ADHD, a common neurodevelopmental disorder that's usually diagnosed in childhood and lasts into adulthood. People with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, have difficulty controlling impulsivity, or be overly active, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The suggestion is brown noise helps ADHD because it helps focus, concentration, and eliminating distractions from other noises you may hear," says Dr. Santos. "It allows for you to have a consistent sound to hear versus a variety of different sound inputs that could decrease focus," she adds. It's important to note that the effect of brown noise on ADHD symptoms hasn't really been studied, according to Dr. Santos. However, research has found white noise therapy may be beneficial for people with ADHD.

Is listening to brown noise safe?

Experts say there's no evidence to suggest using brown noise for sleep, relaxation, or focus is unsafe. "There are no safety concerns with any color noises, and previous research has shown some benefits to white noise," says Dr. Santos. "But no research studies to date have been done on brown noise," she adds.

Brown noise helps with sleep, relaxation, and ADHD symptoms: true or false?

TikTok True or False: Brown Noise
Getty Images

While many TikTok videos make brown noise seem like the answer to a variety of health concerns, there isn't enough research to prove brown noise actually helps with sleep, relaxation, or ADHD symptoms. In fact, some evidence suggests ambient noise actually deters your ability to fall asleep. Overall, though, if you want to listen to brown noise while you sleep, chill, or study, it couldn't hurt to try it, according to experts.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles