Think of a time when you’ve felt soothed by nature. Perhaps you’ve walked along a quiet path, covered in luscious trees, inhabited by boisterous birds.
Maybe you’ve spent some time by a body of water, listening to the waves lap, or the trickle of a stream in the distance.
Those feelings of serenity are not just part of your personal experience — they’re science.
Researchers have associated nature sounds with a decrease in the body’s sympathetic response, which causes our fight-or-flight signals to go off, and an increase in the parasympathetic response, which helps the body relax and function normally.
And underneath all of those layers of birdsong, babbling brooks, and burrowing squirrels, there is a frequency of sound we hear outdoors that helps us find our zen: Green noise.
What is green noise?
Green noise, according to Dr. Alex Dimitriu, the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, is a particular subset of white noise, and sounds similar to the sound of running water, or wind, which can be quite soothing, and does occur naturally outdoors.
White noise is all frequencies, whereas other subsets or spectrums of noise have different pitches that can be more or less pleasant to our ears, depending on our individual preferences.
“Different types of noise, whether pink, white, brown, or green, share in common the sound of static noise, or random frequencies,” Dimitriu explains. “They each differ, however, in whether the random noise has more treble (higher pitch), or more bass (lower pitch.)”
Green noise has a lower frequency at 500 Hertz and sounds more akin to nature soundscapes, whereas white noise might sound more like a humming fan at a higher tone.
“Many of us have experienced the relaxing sound of rain, a flowing river, or a humming fan — all of which are essentially noise generators, but of slightly different types,” Dimitriu says.
Green noise can even encompass those other types of noise, like brown noise, which emulates deeper, thunderous tones, or pink noise, which sounds like falling rain.
No matter the gradient of color or the array of soundscapes, green noise can be identified by its connection to the natural world.
What are the benefits of green noise?
Research has primarily shown that white noise was helpful in getting people to sleep sooner, and ongoing studies into various types of noise continue to show benefits across our listening ears.
Because of the natural elements of green noise, it can create a calming effect and also help with sleep, Dimitriu said.
Most research has explored white noise, which can help improve concentration and help us relax — that’s a big reason why you’ll hear ocean waves in the background of a guided meditation, or why “Box Fan Sound” has over 145 million listens on Spotify!
Evidence also suggests that various types of sounds can be helpful for folks with ADHD, as having background noise can reduce mind-wandering, help improve focus, and even boost dopamine.
Amy Sarow, a Doctor of Audiology, and Audiology Lead at Soundly, says that while there’s not a large body of research on green noise, one theory about why people find this sound particularly relaxing is because babies begin hearing in the womb around 19 weeks, and the low-frequency portion of the cochlea forms first.
Thus, connecting us back to that safe, cozy atmosphere of the womb might make green noise especially soothing. This is similar to how weighted blankets or deep pressure therapies remind our nervous system of what it’s like to be swaddled.
Dimitriu warned, however, that it’s important to remember that along with frequency, volume matters, too. The goal is not to drown out one’s thoughts, but rather, provide a background track.
All in all, green noise is no more helpful than any other frequency of white noise, and it’s all up to personal preference.
“Green noise sounds natural, and many people may be drawn to it for this reason,” Dimitriu said.
“However, besides white noise for insomnia, or brown noise for ADHD, there is no strong evidence that one type of noise is better than the other. I believe they can all be helpful, and it really is a matter of personal preference, and likely that all types of noise will have a positive effect.”
If you plan to use green noise as a method to help you sleep, Dimitriu encourages other sleep hygiene practices, too, like regular bed and wake times, turning off technology, and more.
“If you do use a noise generator, be sure it doesn’t get you playing on your phone when you should be winding down for sleep,” he urges.
How to listen to green noise
There are loads of Spotify playlists, albums, and tracks out there for you to find your ideal green noise soundscape. Feel free to turn it on before bed, while you’re studying, or even as you try to relax from a stressful day.
Similarly, you can find recordings and playlists full of relaxing green noise on Apple Music — along with all kinds of other “colors” of noise!
Your home for hours of recorded sound frequencies, YouTube is a great place to find green noise videos — some lasting for as long as 12 hours! Find a favorite, turn that baby on, and sink into a relaxing slumber.
Meditation apps like Calm are also great places to find green noise soundscapes. While you may have to pay or sign up for a free trial to access these, meditation apps also provide a number of other soundscapes and resources to explore.
While Earth.fm does not provide specific “green noise” playlists, it is a hub for nature sounds from across the globe! Seriously, users can record nature sounds and upload them for your enjoyment.
If you’re looking for something a tad bit livelier than a green noise sound generator, but you still want to feel soothed, this is a great option for you!
From chirping cicadas, to storms in the mountains, you can tune in and hear the vast array of sounds from our natural world.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is green noise good for sleep?
Green noise helps block distracting sounds, create a calm and serene environment, and encourage relaxation, which all helps us fall asleep. That being said, green noise is no more important for sleep hygiene than any other kind of noise, and it all depends on your personal preference.
White noise vs. Green noise
White noise has equal intensity at all frequencies, giving it a constant "shhh" sound, like that of a fan or even a vacuum cleaner. Green noise has a lower frequency and is often compared to sounds found in nature, like wind, water, or rustling leaves.
Brown noise vs. Green noise
Green noise has a frequency of 500 Hertz, while brown noise has an even lower, deeper pitch. Brown noise is steady, like a rolling thunder or rumbling waterfall. Green noise has a more balanced spectral density, however, which may make it seem more soothing and less intrusive to some listeners.
Pink noise vs. Green noise
Green noise is a subset of pink noise, which also emulates natural soundscapes. Pink noise creates a more steady sound, like that of a constant rainfall, rather than the less balanced green noise, which might sound more like a “pitter patter.”