Brown noise is Josh Widdicombe's sleep solution: How does it compare to white noise?

Undated BBC/CBeebies handout photo of Josh Widdicombe, who says brown noise helps him sleep, who will read
Josh Widdicombe says brown noise has helped both him and his wife sleep better. (PA Images)

Josh Widdicombe has shared his top tip for sleep and what has finally helped him slumber soundly – brown noise.

Speaking on Tuesday's episode of Parenting Hell, the podcast he co-hosts with fellow comedian Rob Beckett, he at last gave his listeners a positive sleep update.

"So you know I'm struggling with my sleep...," says Widdicombe, 39. "It's on the road to recovery, I've had one bad sleep in 15 nights."

He proceeds to tell Beckett, 36, he has a "good sleep tip" revealing it to be brown noise.

"Brown noise is a lower frequency," he explains. "I read an article, it's been used recently, people with ADHD use it. People with ADHD will listen to brown noise and it stops you thinking, stops all those thoughts coming."

The dad of two adds that he's been listening to a 12-hour brown noise video on YouTube, with the only problem being that an advert plays six hours in.

"I haven't got ADHD," says Widdicombe, "but it's apparently really good for stopping your thoughts before going to sleep."

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Playing an example of brown noise on the podcast, Beckett observes, "Oh it is lower isn't it, it sounds like you're on an aeroplane, I sleep really well on aeroplanes, maybe it's the brown noise..." before adding that he loves flying because it stops him from thinking.

Widdicombe also explains it helped his wife Rose Hanson, who he shares daughter Pearl, four, and son Cassius, one, with.

"She said it knocked her out as well, so I think it is genuinely a good tip," he says, stressing that he's "surprised it worked" for him.

But his revelation is shared by many others, with there being currently 86.7 million views for #brownnoise on TikTok, and many people, including members of the ADHD community sharing their experience of trying it.

So, what exactly is it?

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What is brown noise?

Some nature sounds are a type of brown noise. (Getty Images)

Brown noise doesn't actually get its name from a colour, but from Robert Brown, who came up with 'Brownian motion', the type of signal it's produced by.

Brownian motion is used to describe particles in both liquids and gases ('fluids') that move randomly, because they are bombarded by other moving particles in the fluid. Brown (the man) first observed this by studying pollen grains moving erratically in water.

The nature of brown noise is similar in that its sound signals are randomly changing all the time, making it static. In day-to-day life, it might sound like strong wind and thunder, crashing waves, strong waterfalls or rain, a shower, or to aeroplane.

"Many people use background noise to block out other sounds and noises they find stimulating. So brown or any ‘colour noise’ is used as a distraction mainly from the unwanted noise and its accompanying thoughts," explains Dr Kat, sleep therapist.

"The hope is that this will help the person to relax and thus fall asleep. If it does (and it won’t for everyone), the noise might also become a signal for relaxation (conditioning), meaning that the body ‘knows’ that when it hears brown noise, this means the day is done – it’s time for relaxation and sleep (it can be part of your sleep ritual)."

But, Dr Kat acknowledges, whether brown noise is good or bad for sleep is currently not known for certain.

How does brown noise compare to white noise?

Man listening to brown noise. (Getty Images)
Brown noise has been associated with helping to calm a racing mind. (Getty Images)

In a nutshell, brown noise and white noise are in the same family, but with intricate differences.

"Different people prefer different sounds, so whether it is white, pink or brown. Having said that, brown and pink have less high pitch sounds so most people will find them more pleasing to listen to at night," says Dr Kat.

"White is the combination of all frequencies. Pink might be able to improve slow wave sleep but again, we need more studies on that."

Read more: Sleep quality more important than quantity to stay healthy, research suggests

Can brown noise help you sleep?

White noise has been associated with helping people sleep, improving sleep quality and cognitive tasks involving memory in children with ADHD, and providing relief for tinnitus, though other studies contradict this, with the placebo effect also worth considering.

And what we listen to can affect us in varying ways. "We all respond differently to noise," emphases Dr Kat, "what one finds relaxing another person finds stimulating or annoying. Others yet again need stillness to relax and sleep."

"Your expectation for why you are listening to the noise will have an impact," she adds. "Creating a (temporary) soundscape that you enjoy listening to is more likely to support you in feeling relaxed than one that you expect will deliver this effect."

But with so many claiming brown noise has helped them block out thoughts and relax, it could be worth a try.

That said, Dr Kat adds, "I think learning how to handle unwanted thoughts more effectively instead of trying to switch off the mind, something that doesn’t work, will be the most helpful in terms of helping the body and mind reach a calm state – and thus fall asleep."

If you're unsure, consult your doctor before trying new ways to improve your sleep and help any conditions you might have.