‘It feels like fresh air to my ears’: can brown noise really help you concentrate?

Some people use it to improve their focus while others use it to drop off to sleep. The writer Zadie Smith says she listens to it day and night. But what is brown noise? And does it work?

There’s a new buzz on TikTok – well, not a buzz exactly. It’s more of a hum, maybe waves crashing, a purring fan or steady, heavy rain. To me, it sounds like an empty aeroplane, cruising peacefully at altitude. It’s brown noise, a close cousin of the better-known white noise, and TikTok users, particularly the platform’s ADHD community, are all over it: there are 85.3m views for the #brownnoise hashtag.

One top-rated video (1.3m views) shows user @NatalyaBubb trying brown noise. She looks initially startled, then spellbound. “Where did all the thoughts go?” reads the caption over her wide-eyed face. Commenters on her and other brown-noise clips are mainly – though not exclusively – rapturous. “I closed my eyes and literally thought of NOTHING … it makes my brain feel soft in the best way possible”; “This felt like fresh air to my ears”; “Like a soft weighted blanket that I’ve safely swathed my brain in,” says one writer with ADHD.

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Noah and Olivia are most popular baby names in England and Wales

Popular culture continues to influence baby name choices, from musicians to stars of hit TV shows

Noah has ended Oliver’s eight-year reign as the most popular boy’s name in England and Wales, but Olivia continues to be the most common name for girls.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows Noah took the boys’ No 1 slot, while Olivia is top for girls for a sixth successive year.

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‘You can’t cancel me’: embattled TikTok star reinvents herself as a warrior for Jesus

Brittany Dawn Davis now serves more than a million followers Christian content after a previous life as a fitness influencer

Around 5pm in Fort Worth, Texas, as the April evening sun splashed angelic beams of light across the event space’s concrete walls, Brittany Dawn Davis began baptizing women in a horse trough.

Wearing a black sweatshirt stamped with the word “mercy” – a nod to a local megachurch, Mercy Culture – and her white-blond hair extensions tied in a loose ponytail, Davis dunked woman after woman into the cold water as cheers of “woo!” erupted from onlookers.

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I’m a 25-year-old virgin. How can I start a relationship when I don’t even know how to flirt?

People tell me I’ll find someone eventually, but I’ve been looking for 10 years – and the women I approach just want to be friends

I’m a 25-year-old man who has enjoyed reasonable successes in every area of my life, except romance. I have never had sex or a relationship, while everyone I know has. I have no idea why, but the problem must be me. Yet my friends tell me I’m fine. I don’t suffer from any serious conditions, mental or physical, and I have no problem making friends. When I was younger I might have made the mistake of being too focused on one single unrequited crush for years at the expense of other possibilities, but now I’ve broadened my view. Most women of my age who I meet are in relationships, and the few that are not told me they just wanted to be friends when I asked them out. I don’t know how to flirt, while everyone else my age has experience and knows what to do. I feel this has created a vicious cycle that I cannot escape. People tell me I shouldn’t be bothered about it, and that when the right time comes it will happen naturally. But for 10 years I have switched between trying and not trying, and still nothing ever happens.

Start with flirting. Like the sexual act itself, this is a learned experience, and – despite what your friends told you – it does not come naturally. Everyone could benefit from help and expert advice. Seek assistance to learn and practise social skills, especially those related to dating and courtship. Some people do not naturally acquire such abilities while they are growing up and becoming young adults – and it sounds as though you might need specific training. You may even be able to find groups of people who are seeking to learn the same skills under the guidance of a counsellor. Such groups can be valuable environments in which you could try role-playing and experimentation, and receive useful feedback.

Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send a brief description of your concerns to [email protected] (please don’t send attachments). Each week, Pamela chooses one problem to answer, which will be published online. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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A moment that changed me: ‘We crossed the border from Northern Ireland when I was six, and the adults bristled’

A family outing to County Mayo had a fairytale, idyllic quality. But it was underpinned by dramatic tension as we were questioned at a checkpoint heading into the Republic

I grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1980s during the Troubles. For my parents, and just about every other adult, daily life was punctuated with news of bomb attacks, incendiary devices, kidnappings, kneecappings and murders, all motivated in one way or another by a border.

Plenty of children’s lives were blighted, too, but I had no direct experience of the conflict – or even, initially, of the border. Then, one day when I was six, I ended up in a car heading south with my little brother, my parents and my maternal grandparents.

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And so to bed with Samuel Pepys | Brief letters

A literary cure for insomnia | Arts and health privatisation | Heffalump traps | Effects of Librium | Must-see theatre

Re Adrian Chiles’s cure for insomnia (I’ve tried everything and finally found the perfect cure for insomnia, 28 September), my most sleep-inducing audiobook is Samuel Pepys’ diary, read by Kenneth Branagh. Pepys is a lecherous, money-grabbing old sod, nasty to the servants and dismissive of his wife. But he is at the centre of history. After 10 minutes I am in the land of nod.
Anne Moon
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

• Charlotte Higgins compares privatisation of the arts to what is happening to the NHS (The great British sell-off: why are we allowing our arts to be privatised by stealth?, 1 October). However, rich people are donating to arts institutions, allowing them to keep their doors open to the public. The companies that “invest” in the NHS are seeking to extract public money from it, not contribute to it.
Maggie Watson
London

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Three things with Craig Silvey: ‘I wrote songs, many of them unforgivably awful’

In our weekly interview about objects, the hit Australian author tells us about moonlighting as an electric ukulele player – and the childhood stories he wrote

Craig Silvey has a knack for telling Australian stories. His second novel, Jasper Jones, was a runaway success that sold over 400,000 copies and became one of the defining local reads of the decade. In 2020, the Fremantle-born writer followed up with the tender-hearted Honeybee. Now, Silvey is back with an “all ages” book, Runt, illustrated by Sara Acton. It tells a classic Australiana story of country girl Annie Shearer and the adopted stray dog who becomes her best friend.

But before he found fame as a writer, Silvey was a self-taught musician who played “unforgivably awful” songs on an electric ukulele. Here, he reminisces about his time wielding that one-of-a-kind instrument, and shares the story of two other prized personal belongings.

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Good as new: how to resell clothes successfully and responsibly

At its best, preloved fashion can help tackle the problem of over consumption; but clothes that are resold need to be cared for and listed properly

It’s well established that one of the most pressing issues at the heart of fashion and sustainability is the underutilisation and overproduction of clothing. Too many clothes get made, too many clothes are bought and too many of us own clothes that we don’t wear. The net result is too many clothes being thrown away – a recent report suggests Australians discard 10kg per person to landfill each year.

To combat these alarming levels of waste, organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have been advocating for a circular fashion industry for years. A key pillar of this is using products more, something aided by the recent rise in popularity of resale and rental platforms such as Vestiaire Collective, Depop, The Real Real and AirRobe.

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