Brown Noise and ADHD: Can It Really Help?
Aug 7, 2023, 7 min read
Have you heard that brown noise could allegedly help with the symptoms of ADHD? This possibility has been floating around social media after several viral videos claimed it made a difference — but do these anecdotal examples mean there is a chance it really works?
Here, we are digging deeper to find out what brown noise is, what it can supposedly do to the brain, why it could be helpful, its effects on ADHD, and what to do if you think you might have ADHD.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about ADHD or its symptoms, we’re here to help.
What is ADHD?
In adults, symptoms of ADHD include issues with focusing, impulsive behaviours, and inability to pay attention, and more. With these symptoms, many people with ADHD will find their everyday activities affected. This could mean learning, studying, working and organising could be disrupted, as well as managing time, remembering things, or getting tasks done.
Children with ADHD might struggle with things like playing quietly, and taking instructions without becoming distracted. They can also be hyperactive. ADHD tends to present differently in girls than in boys, so be aware girls may present less features of hyperactivity and more of inattentiveness.
What is brown noise?
There are actually several types of noise, including pink noise (deeper than white noise as it contains a bass sound) and black noise (a term used to describe a lack of noise, like silence or almost silence). You may be more familiar with the term ‘white noise’ as it is discussed more frequently than other types of noise. White noise is a mix of all audible frequencies where the sound is equally distributed across all frequencies.
Brown noise is often described as sounding like the roar of a river or the strong gusts of wind. It is generated with random sound signals that change from one moment to the next, producing a static-like effect. The name doesn’t come from any colour - it is literally named after Brownian motion, as discovered by Robert Brown and used to describe the randomised movement of particles in water, which is why it has such a distinctively “random” signal pattern.
How is brown noise made?
Brown noise has a high energy but is played at a lower frequency, so it is much deeper than other noises. Examples of brown noise might be things like a low roaring sound, a gushing waterfall, or rumbling thunder.
To the human ear, this might sound very similar to white noise, however it’s all about the underlying frequencies the brain picks up. The frequency is the subtle difference in pitch that produces things like musical notes. White noise contains all frequencies playing simultaneously, while brown noise puts more emphasis on the lower frequencies, giving a slightly bassier sound that can be soothing to listen to.
What are the benefits of brown noise?
We know that white noise has been said to help induce sleep in both babies and adults, but what are the benefits of brown noise? Unfortunately there is not yet enough decisive evidence to back up the claims that brown noise can be effective for sleep or focusing attention, however there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this theory.
“Every morning, within the first five minutes after I sit down to work, I place my head in a giant wind tunnel that magically muffles all of my intrusive thoughts.” - Samantha Vincenty, writer with ADHD
For those who struggle to concentrate, such as people with ADHD, brown noise is said to offer a frequency that helps improve focus. On the social media platform TikTok, there are around 85.3m views for the hashtag #brownnoise, and brown noise has become popular with online ADHD communities, which has caused the theory to spread. Many people with ADHD claim brown noise causes their brain to feel calmer and less ‘noisy’ in terms of their typical internal monologue.
Ultimately, if you listen to brown noise and find it helps you, it may be useful as a tool for focus and relieving stress, but it is important to remember that just because something is gaining prevalence on TikTok does not mean it is grounded in science!
Could any type of noise be beneficial for those with ADHD?
Aside from brown noise, one study found evidence white noise can have a positive influence on verbal memory, while other studies have found it could enhance moderate arousal regulation in the brain, and the cognitive processing of children with ADHD.
White noise has even been discussed as a possible therapeutic option for children with ADHD, as it has been seen to improve certain tasks affected by the symptoms, such as speech recognition, reading speed and writing speed.
Another study found white noise was beneficial for preschool-age children with ADHD by improving their intrinsic attentional performance and decreasing their extrinsic hyperactive behaviours.
In another study on young adults with ADHD, white noise at a level of 45 dB led to better cognitive performance by way of sustained attention, accuracy, speed, enhanced creativity and lower stress levels. Interestingly, white noise at a level of 65 dB led to improved working memory but with higher stress levels, which shows the nuance that would be involved if using types of noise as potential therapeutic options for those with ADHD. This also suggests other noise frequencies (such as brown noise) may be more beneficial for those with ADHD depending on symptoms.
Preliminary studies on the effects of white noise on those with ADHD, carried out by a researcher at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, found people with ADHD perform better on memory and language tasks when listening to white noise. Although brown noise has not yet been studied, it is believed this could also have promise as a tool for people with ADHD.
Why might brown noise work for ADHD?
Speculation about the potential effectiveness of brown noise for ADHD symptoms may be rooted in its connection to dopamine. We know that higher levels of dopamine help to regulate focus, but in those with ADHD, persistent dopamine release appears to be altered.
The theory is that when listening to certain noises, those with ADHD may find the brain attempts to mimic the effects of dopamine. White or brown noise may help control the many neurons firing in the brain, which could help to focus attention and quieten a noisy mind.
Can brown noise have a negative effect on ADHD?
Possibly. Another theory is that brown noise taps into the optimal arousal theory that underlies the symptoms of people with ADHD.
Optimal arousal is needed to achieve optimal performance, and as children with ADHD can sometimes have a level of arousal that is too low, brown noise could help to raise arousal levels which leads to an improvement in attention and focus. However, children with ADHD can also have a level of arousal that is too high, and in these cases brown noise could cause adverse effects on their symptoms.
There is unlikely to be any danger when listening to brown noise for a long period of time, unless the volume is too loud. According to the Centers for Disease Control, noise above 70 dB for a prolonged period of time can begin to damage hearing, and loud noise over 120 dB can cause immediate damage.
What is the best way to find and use brown noise?
Perhaps the easiest way to find and try using brown noise is to look for playlists on apps like YouTube and Spotify. There are also specific phone apps offering many different frequencies and types of noise to try out. However, if you suffer from ADHD, you may wish to buy a sound machine to avoid using your phone too often, as this can cause further distractions.
If you want to incorporate types of noise into your ADHD therapy, it is best to speak to a professional who can help guide you in the right direction and provide advice on the best ways to improve focus and encourage relaxation.
What to do if you think you might have ADHD
How to treat ADHD
We believe advice and support for those with ADHD should be bespoke and individualised, so each person receives the care and support that works best for their circumstances. If you believe you may have ADHD it is best to speak to a healthcare professional who can listen to your unique experience and symptoms, and recommend the best ways for you to work through the symptoms causing you the most distress.
Treatments for ADHD may include medication, which you can read more about in our article; Your Guide to ADHD Medication in the UK. Plus, therapies can be useful in treating ADHD, as well as treating comorbid conditions like anxiety disorders. These might include:
- Psychoeducation: In this type of therapy, the patient is encouraged to discuss ADHD and its effects on their life, with the goal of coping better with their condition.
- Behavioural therapy: This type of therapy includes the whole support unit such as carers and teachers, and rewards are used to help children control their symptoms.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This talking therapy helps people with ADHD manage issues in day-to-day life by changing the way they think and behave.
Often, a combination of medication and therapy is recommended for ADHD, but you have a question about this or any other mental health condition, like antenatal depression, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from a private ADHD assessment or review, to broader private mental health care.