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Brown Noise Benefits for ADHD: An Unexpected Ally

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
January 12, 2024

What is…brown noise? No, no, no. It’s not what your dirty mind is thinking. It’s something…else.

When you have ADHD, daily life can feel like an uphill battle, where just daily functioning poses some kind of feverish Ninja Warrior challenge. From lack of focus and restlessness to impulse control and ADHD paralysis, even writing an email can be daunting. 

But what if I told you that there’s a sort of solution to some of these hurdles, and it’s not something you need to buy, rent, or even spend hours researching? 

I’m talking about brown noise for ADHD.

But you might be thinking: isn’t noise a bad thing? When your brain tries to think all the thoughts at once, twice, maybe adding an extra layer of distraction isn’t a good idea, eh? Yet, not all noise is created equal. The right frequencies at the right time can make all the difference in the world.

So in today’s article, we’ll take a deep dive into all things brownish and noise’ish as we explore such topics as:

  • What is brown noise
  • How it differs from the other types of noise
  • How it benefits ADHDers
  • Why you should consider trying it
  • How to get started with nosiness

With that said, let’s make some NOOOOOOOOISE…actually, not yet. Hold on a second.

First, let’s figure out brown noise, ADHD, and how it all ties together

[What is Brown Noise?]Understanding Brown Noise

It’s SCIENCE time. 

As you may already know, sound exists at different frequencies - low, mid, and high. Because humans love their boxes and order so much, we’ve decided to break down the types of noise into different colors, each representing a specific frequency range or a spectrum. 

Today, we will talk mostly about brown noise, but we will also briefly mention how it differs from other popular ‘colors,’ mainly pink and white. Each ‘colored’ noise has unique characteristics and uses that can be circumstantially useful. 

But don’t worry; you don’t need synesthesia to reap the benefits!

What is Brown Noise?

Brown noise, a.k.a Brownian noise, a.k.a random walk noise, a.k.a red noise (jeez, pick a name already), is a noise signal that emphasizes lower frequencies (i.e., “bass”) more than higher ones which creates a deep, almost a rumbling sound. 

Pure brown noise makes a sound that I can describe as that of rainfall in the distance or behind a pane of glass - so you get that relaxing sound without the high-pitched frequencies you’d hear if you were standing smack dab in front of it. 

Fun fact: Unlike pink and white noise, brown noise is called not after the color but after the scientists Robert Brown. So it’s a bit of an impostor, you could say. ඞ

How Does Brown Noise Differ from White and Pink Noise?

While not all noise is created equal, it’s still noise. The differences between these three types come from how they modulate frequencies and which ones they decide to emphasize (or not).

White Noise ADHD

Let’s start with the white noise, the vanilla flavor. With white noise, the intensity of the sound across all frequencies is equally distributed, which means that its low-pitched sounds are as loud as the high ones. That creates a very static sound. 

Fun fact (another one): that’s why we call the TV static…well, static. Because when the old TVs were doing this thing, the shhh’s of disappointment produced static, a.k.a white, noise. 

Pink Noise ADHD

Now the pink noise strolls in and thinks: meh. It decides to switch things up a bit and progressively lower the volume the higher the frequencies go. You can think of it as a kind of step ladder that goes downwards from left to right. That makes pink noise less abrasive to listen to, as it makes the high frequencies less standoffish. 

Brown noise, then, in an obvious display of one-upmanship, decides to take it even further and lowers the volume of higher frequencies two times more than the pink noise. 

[Connection with ADHD]Brown Noise and ADHD: Exploring the Connection

Okay, now that we more or less pinned down what this brown noise does, we should ask ourselves why does brown noise help ADHD

Sure, we’ve all probably heard about how “using noise helps me relax/sleep/study,” but what’s the specific connection with ADHD?

For that, (un)fortunately, we’ll have to get knuckle-deep into some scientific lingo, but I will try to make it as harmless as possible.

Theory #1: Optimal Arousal Theory

Much like with brown noise not being what you thought it was…we’re talking about different arousal here. 😳

Simplifying, but imagine your brain has two opposite states: low-arousal (drowsiness, lethargy) and high-arousal (high-energy, excited). 

The optimal arousal theory, then, suggests that neither state is good for productivity. If you have a low arousal, you’re simply too tired to focus or be motivated to do things. Conversely, with high arousal, you might just be too excited and jittery to stand still and concentrate. 

Thus, we can deduce that an optimal level of arousal helps us focus and do our best.

Researchers then applied this theory to ADHD, suggesting that a specific subset of individuals with ADHD have low cortical arousaland using brown noise can “fix” that. Without getting too into the actual neurological mechanisms (please, don’t bully me, I don’t have a Ph.D.), there’s a hypothesis that using brown noise can “wake up” that sleepy part of the brain, thus putting ADHDer into an optimal arousal zone and thus allowing them to focus. 

It all sounds fine and dandy, but there’s a catch. While some peoples with ADHD are under-aroused, others are too aroused2 (bonk) and hyperactive. For them, brown noise can make things even worse, believe it or not.

I mean, not like you would combust or anything; it just wouldn’t help the issue it is trying to solve. 

So, to sum up:

DO USE brown noise if you need a perk-up to stay more focused and concentrated when you are feeling like a snail in Arizona's heat

DO NOT USE brown noise if you’re already hyper, and ready for action, as extra layer of noise won’t really help you and can only make your distracted mind even more distracted. 

Theory #2: Stochastic Resonance

It’s pronounced stuh-KAS-tik.

Stochastic resonance is a phenomenon where some signals (or sounds) can become more profound and easier to hear if we introduce noise.

Sounds weird. How can adding more sounds into the mix help us hear something we barely heard in the first place? Well, the key word here is resonance. White noise, and its “progeny,” pink and brown, make a sound on all frequencies. As it’s a “catch-all” for frequencies, eventually, some of the noise frequencies, through random chance (that’s the stochastic part), will begin to resonate with the original sound and, thus, amplify it. 

Think about it like clapping. Two people clapping will sound louder than one person clapping, right? That’s because sounds resonate!

Now, let’s tie it back to ADHD.

Our brains are complex systems that operate through complex systems of neurons that pass electric signals. These neurons create, let’s say, “brain waves,” and we must catch the “right wave” to do whatever we try properly. 

Unfortunately for us, we might have a more challenging time “tuning in” to the right frequencies3, and that’s where brown noise comes into the mix. By introducing another layer of sound, we hope to hit the right spot and resonate with the right “brain waves” to help with our productivity doings. 

Both theories might sound far-fetched to you, especially the last one. Believe it or not, there’s science behind it! But, as science goes, it’s still a baby. 👶

Simply put, there hasn’t been enough time or studies done with a large enough sample size to allow us to say that it works 100% confidently. Not that there isn’t any evidence3, but as with any new development and area of research, we must be cautious and not peddle it like one-size cures all, you know? 

We ain’t snake oil peddlers, after all!

[Benefits for ADHD]The Benefits of Brown Noise for ADHD

Before introducing you to an easy way to access brown noise, let's delve deeper into its potential benefits for individuals with ADHD. These include:

Improved Focus

Using constant, low-frequency noise, such as brown or pink, can help us mask disruptive ambiance - including the one we generate ourselves 🥴 - and thus improve focus and concentration.6 While it’s not a miracle cure, as you still have to focus effortlessly, it can make the task much more manageable

Decreased Anxiety

Unfortunately, where ADHD goes, anxiety often follows. Whether as a consequence of the persistent ADHD symptoms or completely unrelated, it’s not uncommon for ADHDers to experience anxiety.

Fortunately, research further suggests that white noise can be therapeutic for those experiencing anxiety and depression7. So, next time you feel that icky feeling creeping in, consider plopping your favorite Psh-psh playlist and see if it helps. 

Better ZZZs

Even outside of the ADHD variable, we know that playing noise in the background can improve sleep quality4, especially for those with racing thoughts that keep us awake at night. 

Increased Cognitive Function

Additional research suggests that using white or brown noise can boost our cognition in tasks such as word learning and auditory recall.This research specifically emphasizes that the noise has been particularly effective for sub-attentive (a fancy way of saying low attention) individuals, and it supports the stochastic resonance hypothesis, where noise, in the right quantities, can help such individuals “fine-tune” to the “right frequency,” if you will. 

[Does it help?]So, Does Brown Noise Help with ADHD?

So we have talked at length about brown noise and the research to suggest that it helps. But here’s the rub: the scientific articles we referenced today do not emphasize brown noise specifically. Rather, they say that any noise should work as long as it’s static and constant. 

Well, why choose brown noise, then? 

The answer will ⚡shock ⚡you. 

It’s just a preference

Yep. Whether pink, brown, or white noise - in the eyes of science, it doesn’t matter yet.

As I’ve mentioned, the research on this topic is still in its infancy. Thus, there’s not much to pick from to confidently say that “this noise is better than this noise.”

While we would love to provide a definite answer, ethics simply won’t allow us to. 

Where do we go from here, then? 

If we know that noise helps, we don’t know which helps better. The only choice is to become SCIENTISTS and test it on ourselves.

We ought to become what we must! Guinea pigs (in lab coats).

[Where to listen?]How to Start Listening Some Brown Noise?

Well, now that we’re here, it’s high time to explore all the conventional ways for you to begin experimenting with being noisy.

I want to point out that noise is noise. So, whichever option you pick, don’t fall for some subscription-based “premium noise generator” scam because such a thing doesn’t exist. 

Anyways.

YouTube

Simply typing “brown noise” (or pink or white) in the search bar should give you enough playlists to pick from. Pick the one with the shiniest thumbnail, and it should be ready. 

For your convenience, though, here’s one to get you started (opens a YouTube video).

Websites with Noise Generators

If you want more control and fine-tuning, the Internet is also packed to the brim with various noise generators, where you can adjust specific frequencies or pick one of the presets, be it brown, pink, white, or…something called ultra noise

MyNoise.net is a tried and tested tool that should give you as much flexibility as you need to become the next Metro Boomin’ of the noise-making world. 

Use an App to Have Noise on the Go

Website and YouTube, while convenient, have their downsides, however. 

With YouTube, it’s a fact that you can’t rely on it if you don’t have the internet. Sure, in this day and age, if you don’t have an internet connection, having a noise generator is the least of your problems, but the point still stands. For camping and hiking, for instance, YouTube might be a go. 

Noise generator websites have a similar issue, further amplified by the lackluster user interface. I don’t want to diss anyone, but it’s not mobile-friendly and clunky. 

For such occasions, consider using an app such as our ADHD White Noise + Brown, Pink. It’s free, and we pinky swear that we’re not harvesting your data to sell it to Jeff Bezos. You can choose from four noise options with an app, so it’s just Plug'n'Play.

Still trying to decide Which Noise is the Best? Ask Fellow ADHDers!

Not to sound like a broken record but yeah. As I pointed out a couple of times, the research on the benefits of noise for ADHD is still in its infancy, so the bespectacled brainiacs can’t give you a comprehensive answer just yet. 

But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work! Think about honey, for example. Humans have known for centuries that it’s a good “medicine” food for one when sick with a cold. It took science a while to reach the same conclusion8. Not because they’re slow. They have to be 100% sure about what they’re saying. 

It falls on us to try and experiment to see which noise signatures help in which specific situations and scenarios. And there isn’t a better audience to validate your ideas and hypothesis than the jury of your peers, a.k.a fellow ADHDers. 

That is why we have created Numo - a hub for people with ADHD to share their experiences and encourage each other on a journey that sometimes feels…a bit unfair, you know? 

So, what can you expect to find inside this itty bitty app? 

  • Noise-generator - it’s the same noise generator we offer for free as a standalone app but more ~~Numo’ish~~ (I don’t know what that means, don’t ask)
  • Squads and tribes - this is where we all connect to ask questions, answer questions, and ponder questions. Answers? Yes! So if you need any expert takes on noise fans, this is the place to go.
  • Short stories, educational materials, yay - we also share short learning materials every day to help you develop new coping skills and strategies to beat ADHD into submission. 💪 By the way, if science ever makes a breakthrough about how noise affects ADHDers, we’ll be sure to share it here.

Hop in when you have a moment. Or don’t! We will love you all the same 🤗

[Summing  Up]Summing it All Up

So, what have we learned today? 

  • Sound is divided into different types based on frequencies, each given a 'color' name.
  • White noise is the most ‘basic’ of the three discussed, as it has equal sound intensity on all frequencies.
  • Pink noise is a bit more quirky, as it progressively lowers the volume the higher frequencies go.
  • Brown noise is a cooler pink as it decides to lower the volume of high frequencies even more.

There are two main theories explaining how noise benefits ADHD:

  • Optimal Arousal Theory: ADHD individuals with low cortical arousal might benefit from brown noise 'waking up' the under-aroused parts of the brain, aiding focus.
  • Stochastic Resonance: Adding a layer of brown noise could help amplify the 'right' brain waves, aiding productivity.

However, not all ADHD individuals will benefit from brown noise; some might find it detrimental. It’s all about experimenting! 

  • The research about the benefits of brown noise for ADHD is still in its infancy, so we need a bit more time in the oven to claim quantifiable effectiveness. Efficiency,
  • Potential benefits of brown noise for ADHD include improved focus, decreased anxiety, better sleep, and increased cognitive function.

That’s a lot of knowledge we dropped on you today. 🕶️ But I promise it is much simpler than it sounds in practice. 

Download the noise-generating free app, or pick a YouTube playlist to see how it fares. For the best results, consider testing it in different circumstances: when you’re trying to focus, when you’re trying to de-focus (like going to sleep), or whatever else you can come up with. 

And 👀 If you find a cool application for ze noize in your explorations, consider hopping on Numo and sharing the deets. 

See you around.  👋😉

[Sources]Science sources
1 EEG and Clinical Neuroscience Society. Underarousal in Adult ADHD: How Are Peripheral and Cortical Arousal Related?
2 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Optimal stimulation as the theoretical basis of hyperactivity
3 Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Listen to the noise: noise is beneficial for cognitive performance in ADHD - PubMed
4 Sensors (Basel). External Auditory Stimulation as a Non-Pharmacological Sleep Aid - PMC 
5 Helion. Low-intensity white noise improves performance in auditory working memory task: An fMRI study - PMC
6 Behavioral and Brain Functions. The effects of background white noise on memory performance in inattentive school children
7 Iran J Public Health. White Noise and Its Potential Applications in Occupational Health: A Review - PMC
8 BMC. Honey and its nutritional and anti-inflammatory value | BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies | Full Text
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