By Robin Noe
A good day always starts the night before.
Quality sleep is extremely important to our physical and mental well-being. But what exactly is high-quality sleep?
Before I come to the eye-opening results of my little self-experiment, let’s dig into science a little.
It’s not all about quantity.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention state an adult between 18 and 60 should aim for 7 or more hours of sleep per night. Some need more, some need less, but the question of quantity seems to be answered fairly easy.
To understand sleep quality we have to take a look at the human sleep cycle. There are 4 sleep stages. (We’ll leave out the REM stage or stage 5, where dreams are most vivid. If you want to know more about that stage click here.)
Stage 1 is a transition phase between wakefulness and sleep and makes up for only 2 to 5% each night. Disruptive noise wakes us up easily during that stage.
Stage 2 lasts between 45 and 55% of the time. Brain activity starts to slow down, it becomes harder to wake up again. Research indicates that stage 2 also contributes to the consolidation of memories.
Stage 3 (3 to 8%) transitions us to the queen of sleep stages — the start of a real deep sleep phase, also related to as Stage 4.
Deep sleep accounts for only 10 to 15% of sleep each night, but this is where the action takes place. You can call it your beauty sleep.
In Stages 3 and 4, our bodies fall into recreation mode, hormones flood our system, done damage is repaired. Cell regeneration, energy restoration, repairing of tissue and bones, growth of muscles, and strengthening of the immune system all peak in this stage. Our brain gets the necessary rest as brain activity is the lowest (that’s why this stage is called “slow-wave sleep”).
A solid amount of deep sleep in a night is the main reason why we feel fresh in the morning.
A lack thereof makes us feel hit by a car. It decreases our capabilities during the day. It’s also linked to playing a role in the development of mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Luckily, there is a simple way to increase deep sleep duration instantly, without any practice.
“Pink noise” can massively boost deep sleep stages.
I don’t want to bother you with definitions and technicalities. Here are just some basics.
Sound waves can be deconstructed based on two components: frequencies and amplitudes. The first refers to how quickly the sound vibrates, the latter to the power or energy of the sound.
The distinction between white, brown, black, and pink noise is based on how the energy is distributed over different frequencies. And the energy of pink noise is high at lower frequencies.
Examples of typical pink noises are:
*Gentle ocean waves
Pink noise can work wonders on sleep quality. It puts us into deeper sleep giving easier access to all the benefits of quality sleep mentioned above.
It extends and stabilizes actual deep sleep duration per night. The constant background noise blocks out other noises that would usually pierce the night’s silence and wake us up. Pink noise can work like an “acoustic camouflage” and block out sounds that would raise red flags in the brain’s vigilance system. We simply don’t wake up as often.
The result is longer, better, healthier sleep.
It can’t be that easy to improve sleep quality, can it?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing the effects of pink noise on my sleep. It just needs two things: a smartwatch that can track different sleep stages and a music box of any sort.
For preparation, I searched pink noise-playlists on Spotify until I found a proper sound. Rain always had a soothing effect on me, so I settled on the song “Light Rain”. Choosing the right sound is super subjective, though. So choose whatever you like most. For me, steady rain works best, followed by gentle ocean waves.
Every night for the past 4 weeks I connected my phone to the music box on my nightstand and played the sound all night on repeat. I fell asleep with it and I woke up with it. To make the transition a little softer when the song ended and began anew I enabled the “crossfade” function in my music app and set it to 10 seconds.
The overwhelming results:
Before using pink noise to enhance sleep my March statistics in the smartwatch app read as follows:
Average sleep per night: 7h 23min
Average deep sleep per night: 1h 29min or 20%
Average light sleep per night: 5h 54 min or 80%
Average time to fall asleep: 32min
Here are my April sleep statistics playing the rain sound every night:
Average sleep per night: 6h 55min
Average deep sleep per night: 2h 12min or 32%
Average light sleep per night: 4h 43min or 68%
Average time to fall asleep: 16min
Even though I slept less in total, my deep sleep time increased from 20 to 32%. The time I need to fall asleep once I lie down was almost cut in half. The statistics might speak for themselves, but I am even more awed by the physical implications.
I feel more rested throughout the day. Before my little experiment, I had a huge dip in concentration and productivity around 2–4 p.m., always craving a power nap (which I rarely have the time for, and it kind of leaves the wrong impression to sleep with your head on your desk in the office). Now I easily survive the day, seldom feeling the need for additional sleep.
Awesome side effect: Since I have enough juice for the whole day now without feeling tired, I work out a lot more.
Before, once I sat down on the sofa after work, I rarely had the willpower to get up again and do some sports. I felt too tired.
Now, I do some running or bodyweight work out 4 to 5 times a week. As a result, my overall fitness and health improved.
I am not wondering I need only half the time to fall asleep. When in bed, I tend to start thinking about everything and anything. Since I have the soothing rain sound to listen to, I relax a lot faster and turn off the thought-merry-go-round almost immediately.
In a nutshell: I fell in love with pink noise. It enriched my sleep and my life.
Now it’s your turn to try…
*Robin Noe is a Passionate surfer & ocean lover, sports enthusiast and hobby scientist in the U.S. He first published this in Medium