The Best Sounds for Better Sleep
Table of Contents
There’s a reason that lullabies help put babies to sleep — the soothing melody is relaxing, making it easier to drift off. But lullabies are just one type of sound that can help promote sleep. To see what works for people, we conducted a Sounds of Sleep survey and scoured places like TikTok and Reddit for the most popular sleep-promoting sounds — and that includes an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Plus, we chatted with Dr. Richard Craig, founder of the ASMR University and host of the podcasts “Sleep Whispers” and “Calm History,” for his insight. From the most popular color noises, to the top-mentioned lullabies, to the best ASMR for sleep, here’s what we learned.
The Most Popular Color Noises
While you’re likely familiar with white noise — the steady, static-like sound that helps block out ambient noise for better sleep — there are lesser-known color noises that may also make for more restful sleep, and they run the gamut, from pink to green to gray. Here’s how these color noises ranked in popularity, with results based on search volume and number of TikTok views:
- White: 100 percent
- Brown: 83 percent
- Pink: 67 percent
- Blue: 42 percent
- Green: 42 percent
- Gray: 17 percent
- Violet: 0 percent
Our sleep experiment echoed these findings. Overall, white noise proved to have a positive impact on sleep across all metrics, including total hours slept, time spent in REM and deep sleep, and the time it took to fall asleep. However, brown and pink noise stood out in their own ways:
- Brown noise increased total sleep time by 43 minutes.
- Pink and brown noises had the biggest impact on the time it took participants to fall asleep.
- Pink noise reduced participants’ heart rates by an average of 3 beats per minute compared to sleeping without sound.
- The most popular sound according to our participants was pink noise, with an average score of 8 out of 10.
How Does Listening to Colors of Noise Impact Sleep?
If the idea of colors having sounds seems strange, let’s bring you up to speed. Whether it’s white noise, brown noise, pink noise or another color, these sounds all serve as a steady background hum that could make it easier for you to fall and stay asleep. Depending on the color, the tone and pitch of the color noise can vary — pink, for example, has deeper, lower sound waves, so it may have a gentler sound than white noise, which contains all frequencies in the spectrum of sound heard in equal parts. In fact, white noise tends to be a little high-pitched and intense, like the sound of a vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, or air conditioning unit. Brown noise is deeper, with more rumbling bass than white or pink noise. It’s comparable to heavy rainfall or a strong showerhead.
So, does listening to color noises for sleep actually work? There are quite a few small-scale studies backing up the results of our own Sound of Sleep experiment. One study from 2017 found that white noise helped some people fall asleep 40 percent faster, compared to normal environmental noise. A more recent study looked at the effects of white noise on sleep and duration for 10 people living in noisy New York City neighborhoods. The three-phase study included baseline, treatment, and a washout period, with assessments for noise level and sleep during each phase. Researchers concluded that white noise significantly improved sleep for all participants, which suggests white noise can be effective in noisy settings.
Interestingly, not everyone finds the sound of white noise relaxing, and there is research that finds continuous noise may actually be disruptive to sleep. That’s because white noise contains all frequencies equally, which differentiates it from pink or brown noise. “Although both contain all the frequencies of sound, pink noise focuses more on the lower frequencies to make it sound less ‘high-pitched’ compared to white noise,” Richard tells Sleepopolis. “The higher pitch sound of white noise can be more alerting and jarring for some listeners as they try to fall asleep.”
The Best ASMR Type for Sleep
You’re likely familiar with ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, even if you don’t recognize the name. “It’s a deeply relaxing feeling often accompanied by light and pleasurable brain tingles,” says Richard. “Someone is most likely to experience ASMR when a kind person is giving them positive, gentle, and personal attention.” That attention is generally accompanied by gentle movements, soft murmurings, and gentle light sounds. “These specific stimuli are called ASMR triggers,” he says. Generally, people access ASMR triggers online, via videos and podcasts.
While some people enjoy ASMR for stress relief, it can also play a role in promoting sleep. “Sleep is a vulnerable time, so we fall asleep most easily when we are not feeling stressed or threatened,” says Richard. He explains that ASMR sounds often naturally make listeners “feel safe, less stressed, and therefore sleepy.” Richard says the feelings triggered by ASMR are likely related to an increased release of oxytocin, which is stimulated by positive personal attention and creates a sense of comfort and relaxation.
You’ll find countless ASMR triggers in real life, online videos, podcasts, even television shows, including:
- Gentle whispering, considered one of the most common ASMR triggers
- Scratching, blowing, or tapping sounds
- Repetitive sounds, like page turning or writing
- Crinkling of paper or plastic
- Water drops
- Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting”
Our Sounds of Sleep experiment ranked the best ASMR types for sleep based on TikTok views and search volume, with slime scoring highest (98 out of 100). Tapping, hair brushing, personal attention and massage also earned high marks.
The Most Popular ASMR Creators
There’s no shortage of ASMR creators on the web these days. According to our Sounds of Sleep experiment, here are some of the most popular:
- Gibi ASMR, with over 5,200,000 Spotify streams, 61,000 monthly Spotify listeners, and over 1,800,000,000 YouTube views
- FrivolousFox ASMR, with over 1,400,000 Spotify streams, 54,000 monthly Spotify listeners, and over 796,000,000 YouTube views
- ASMR Zeitgeist, with over 2,500,000 Spotify streams, 51,000 monthly Spotify listeners, and over 554,000,000 YouTube views
The Most Popular Lullabies
Our experiment dove into popular lullabies as well. Here’s what parents sometimes play for their little ones, based on mentions on Reddit:
- You Are My Sunshine
- Good Night
- Baby Mine
- Twinkle Twinkle
- Hush Little Baby
We put together a Spotify playlist of the top lullabies for sleep — check it out here!
How to Fall Asleep Quicker: Tips from the Expert
Color noises and ASMR aren’t the only way to soothe yourself to sleep. Here’s what Dr. Harris, Sleepopolis’ director of sleep health, recommends:
- Make a point of winding down before bed. “Sleep is not an on-off switch,” says Harris. “Instead, treat it like a dimmer switch and try to wind down 30 to ideally 60 minutes before bed (without screens!).” She suggests reading, listening to a podcast, practicing deep breathing or meditation, coloring, or whatever else you find relaxing in dim light. It will help calm your body and mind.
- Expose yourself to natural light first thing in the morning. “Light is highly alerting, and if you get light upon awakening every morning at the same time, you help your body know when to fall asleep at night routinely as well,” says Harris.
- Be consistent. Aim for regular bedtime and wake-up times to support a healthy circadian rhythm. “Make sure you get enough sleep routinely, but know that it is more about progress, not perfection,” says Harris.
- Minimize alcohol consumption late in the day. Harris recommends cutting off alcohol consumption within three hours of bedtime, since it can significantly impact your sleep quality.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
There’s plenty of research into the benefits of color noises and ASMR for sleep, and our Sounds of Sleep experiment confirms that people are exploring their options. You aren’t limited to white noise — the world of color noises is as varied as the rainbow, and ASMR creators are regularly sharing content designed to promote relaxation, which can make it easier to wind down and drift off. If you’re finding it challenging to quiet your mind in preparation for sleep, color noise or ASMR could be worth exploring.
Is white or pink noise better for sleep?
It can vary. “Some listeners prefer pink noise to white noise to help them fall asleep,” says Richard. That’s because pink noise emphasizes lower frequencies, which makes it less high-pitched than white noise. For some people, white noise can be outright disruptive when they’re trying to fall asleep.
Which noise is best for anxiety?
“White noise is only likely to calm anxiety if the anxiety is caused by a distant noise, like a dog barking,” says Richard. “That’s because white noise only masks external sounds.” He notes that ASMR videos and podcasts are more likely to calm anxiety because they not only mask those same external noises, they also replace the internal noise of stress-inducing thoughts with non-stressful thoughts. “For example, falling asleep to a bedtime story will distract your brain from thinking about the stressful events from the day,” says Richard.
Richard, Craig. Ph.D., Founder of ASMR University, personal interview. June 2024.
Yoon H, Baek HJ. External Auditory Stimulation as a Non-Pharmacological Sleep Aid. Sensors (Basel). 2022 Feb 7;22(3):1264. doi: 10.3390/s22031264. PMID: 35162009; PMCID: PMC8838436.
Messineo, et al. “0394 EFFECT OF BACKGROUND NOISE ON SLEEP QUALITY.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 28 Apr. 2017.
Ebben MR, Yan P, Krieger AC. The effects of white noise on sleep and duration in individuals living in a high noise environment in New York City. Sleep Med. 2021 Jul;83:256-259. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2021.03.031. Epub 2021 Apr 6. PMID: 34049045.
Samantha M. Riedy, Michael G. Smith, Sarah Rocha, Mathias Basner. Noise as a sleep aid: A systematic review, Sleep Medicine Reviews, Volume 55, 2021, 101385, ISSN 1087-0792, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101385.
Poerio, G. et al. More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. 2018 June. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196645.