March 28, 2024/Mental Health

Brown Noise May Help You Focus and Relax

Thunder, waterfalls and heavy rain — these low-frequency sounds might help cancel out disruptive noises and thoughts

Person studying with headphones on, with laptop and notepad

The low hum of a running washer machine. A heavy rainfall drumming on a hot tin roof. The steady thrum of a far-off airplane engine. These low-frequency sounds scratch a certain kind of itch for anyone interested in the latest trend of listening to brown noise.


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Like white noise — but with a more balanced, deeper quality — brown noise has gained popularity on TikTok and other streaming services where you can find hours-long playlists putting it on heavy rotation. Listeners swear by its benefits, touting its usefulness for busting up brain fog, helping with focus and assisting with sleep — especially for those living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But is brown noise as useful as it sounds?

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Shivnaveen Bains, MD, explains what brown noise is and how it may or may not be useful.

What is brown noise?

Your cochlea, a spiral-shaped fluid-filled cavity in your inner ear, is responsible for turning soundwaves into recognizable sounds. In general, your ear can only register sounds that fall within a range of frequencies, and these frequencies exist on a color spectrum (like a rainbow).

Brown noise gets its name from Robert Brown, a scientist who discovered “Brownian motion,” or the way pollen particles move in random patterns whenever they’re suspended in water or air.

“Brown noise is a sound generated by random movement,” explains Dr. Bains. “Brown noise is a combination of all the different frequencies we can hear, but the deeper and lower frequencies are played at a louder level and the higher frequencies are much softer, so brown noise sounds more balanced.”

Brown noise vs. white noise vs. pink noise

White noise, which has been commonly studied, sounds a lot like static. It contains all the frequencies our human ears can hear, but sounds very busy, frazzled and all over the place.

Pink noise is a muted version of white noise, where the lower frequencies are more prominent and the higher frequencies are turned down a bit more. This results in relaxing or soothing sounds like soft ocean waves, steady rainfall or rustling leaves.

Brown noise, in comparison, has the highest emphasis on lower frequencies.

“Brown noise is softer and more balanced than pink noise or white noise, and it’s calmer,” notes Dr. Bains. “Brown noise has more power at lower frequencies compared to higher frequencies which results in a bass-heavy sound with a deep rumbling quality.”

Examples of brown noise include:

  • Rushing, steady waterfalls or rivers.
  • Rumbling thunder.
  • Crashing waves.
  • Running showers.
  • Heavy rainfall.
  • Heavy wind blowing through trees.


Does brown noise help with focus?

When some of us have difficulty focusing on a task, like writing up a proposal or finishing an essay, we might turn on a TV or play some music in the background to get us through that activity. Sometimes, even heading out to a coffee shop where there’s a constant hum of background noise can provide a soothing setting for real-world productivity.

The reason for this is that when our brains need a bit of distraction — from external disruptions or internal thoughts — we can mask those unwanted noises with other soothing sounds to help us improve our ability to focus. And this is perhaps most helpful when you’re dealing with sensory overload and/or ADHD paralysis (or difficulty making decisions).

Think of it like this: When you have ADHD, your brain is hungry for the next stimulating activity that’s going to earn its attention, so it’s constantly seeking that next best thing to feed on. But if you can feed that part of your brain enough material to distract it long enough that it doesn’t go hungry, the rest of your brain can hunker down and focus on finishing what it needs to accomplish.

“The ADHD brain is different from other brains in that it tends to have lower levels of chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, which are involved in the attention and reward pathway of the brain,” explains Dr. Bains.

“For people who have ADHD and low levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, white noise has been shown to enhance the phasic dopamine release, thereby modulating the activity between different regions of the brain and helping to increase attention, focus and even some memory formation.”

When we listen to white noise specifically, there’s a masking effect where external sounds are masked or covered up, and this helps improve someone’s ability to focus.

“Several studies have shown benefits of white noise as a nonpharmacological treatment for ADHD in kids,” Dr. Bains further explains. “But for brown noise, the benefits are still under research, and that research is minimal and there are no significant studies to compare brown noise to white or pink noise for ADHD.”

Research into white noise and its ability to help with focus also has wide variability based on a number of factors related to an individual’s brain, listening behavior, auditory volume, personal preferences and more.


One study showed white noise was successful in improving working memory, accuracy and performance but could lead to higher levels of stress when listened to at different volumes for prolonged periods of time.

A 2022 study of 52 children with ADHD and 52 children without ADHD supported the idea that white noise could be used as a nonpharmacological treatment for ADHD in preschoolers to help improve attentional performance. But that same study showed white noise had a negative effect on preschoolers who didn’t have ADHD.

Despite the lack of current research, proponents of brown noise still swear by its ability to help them focus, and for some, that may be true. Dr. Bains says that if you find brown noise helpful to have on in the background while you’re trying to focus on something important, it couldn’t hurt.

But until we know more about its benefits and more research is done, we won’t know definitively all the ways brown noise can impact your ability to focus and whether or not it’s better or worse than white noise or pink noise.

“Brown noise is the latest sound in trend, and it has gained in popularity mainly because of social media testimonials,” she says, “but I would still say that scientists are still researching its benefits, and it’s too soon to tell just how helpful it can be.”

Other benefits of brown noise

While more scientific research is needed to support these claims, people who listen to brown noise regularly suggest that it helps them block out unwanted noises and distracting internal thoughts. We know sound masking is a big part of why we like listening to loud music. But it might also be helpful in short bursts for anyone who has tinnitus (a ringing in their ear) or anyone looking to fall asleep faster and block out loud or disruptive noises before bed.

“Some people report that brown noise has a soothing effect and that having a consistent sound that provides low frequencies to mask other destructive noises in the environment can help them fall asleep more quickly,” notes Dr. Bains.

Despite widespread testimonials, again, research is varied. A 2020 review of 38 studies found limited evidence that continuous noise improved sleep, with some studies resulting in a delay of sleep and disruption of sleep. A similar review of 34 studies in 2022 showed no strong evidence to support the use of noise machines for sleep improvement and that there were no negative effects of using them either.


So, while there may not be much harm in listening to white, brown or pink noise before bed in small increments, we simply don’t know the exact science behind the use of noise machines and their direct impact on sleep.

In some cases, the reason for any positive results may be dependent on someone’s personal comfort or there may be a placebo effect at play.

For example, you may, in fact, sleep better when you’re in the comfort of your own home if you’re used to sleeping with a special pillow, stuffed animal or blackout curtains because that’s what you’re used to. But change your environment, and suddenly, your sleep is less sufficient. The same rules may apply here: If you usually listen to a noise machine before bed, and it’s helpful to you when falling asleep, then it’s probably OK for you to use it as long as it’s not disrupting your sleep.

How to listen to brown noise safely

“Whether you’re listening to white noise, brown noise or pink noise, you want to listen to these noises for brief periods of 10 to 15 minutes at a time,” advises Dr. Bains. “If you’re listening to these sounds at bedtime to help you sleep, maybe use a timer to give your ears a chance to recover before you fall asleep.”

Studies have shown that listening to music or noises at higher volumes for prolonged periods of time can lead to long-term hearing loss. Up to 1.35 billion young adults worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss from exposure to unsafe listening practices, so it’s safer to keep these sounds at a lower volume and to avoid listening to them all night long if possible.

“Loud noises in particular can be harmful to our inner ear, but even a one-time exposure to a loud sound for a long time can cause hearing loss,” warns Dr. Bains.


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