White Noise: The Pros and Cons of Using White Noise to Help Your Baby Sleep
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For a parent with a newborn at home, sleep may seem like a dream 🌈 . Even if you're past waking up every few hours for feedings, your baby may still have trouble falling (or staying) asleep.
To help your baby sleep better at night , pediatricians often recommend relaxing activities 😌, like warm baths. When nothing seems to be working, parents can turn to alternative measures like white noise.
Babies tend to like white noise. They are used to it. Before making her big debut, your baby spent her days and nights in the reassuring hum of human life . Your pounding heart, the sound of blood rushing around your body, and the rhythm of each breath created a comforting cacophony, much like the rumble of a void.
For comparison, maternal "dropping" sounds in utero range between 70 and 91 decibels 📣 , while a vacuum cleaner is typically 70 to 80 decibels. In other words, the womb is not a quiet place!
Once born, your little one suddenly finds himself in a disconcerting world 🌍 of felted tones and measured steps. Although designed for her comfort, this carefully guarded silence can leave her feeling detached, anxious, and isolated . No wonder your baby has trouble sleeping.
White noise can help your baby fall asleep , but it can have long-term consequences. That's why it's important to weigh the pros and cons before using white noise as a measure of sleep for your baby.
1) What is White Noise?
The sound of the sea 🌊 or soothing acoustic music are usually the sounds adults use to relax, but when it comes to babies, it's actually white noise sounds that are most effective at creating a calming environment, as they resemble the sounds they heard in the womb.
White light ☀ is obtained by mixing all the different colors of light. (The rainbow is obtained by recomposing the white light into all the individual hues). Similarly, white noise is a mixture of all the different pitches of sounds and sound that covers a wide range of frequencies. It has a fuzzy quality, with no specific pitch.
White noise therefore refers to sounds that mask other sounds that might occur naturally in an environment 🚒. If you live in the city, for example, white noise can help block out traffic noise .
White noises are similar to "static" sounds from television 📺 or radio, but constant background noises such as a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, fan or running water help also to promote sleep in the same way.
There are even machines specially designed for young children 🍼. Some are equipped with instrumental lullabies or even a heartbeat sound which serves to imitate that of the mother.
A groundbreaking 1990 study published 📑 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood showed that white noise could be helpful. Forty newborn babies were studied, and it was found that 80% of them were able to fall asleep after hearing white noise for five minutes.
Here are some examples of white noise:
- White noise for baby fan
- The sound of a fan
- The sound of running water 🏞
- A radio station that is only static
- The chatter of several voices at the same time
- The noise of a busy street
- Discover 7 other white noises
Adults notice white noise when they enter a new environment. Very quickly, the brain 🧠 decides not to analyze the incoming noise. The brain decides not to pay attention to noise anymore.
2) How Does White Noise Help Your Baby Sleep?
Whether your baby is an easy sleeper 😴 or a harder sleeper, white noise can help in many ways.
First of all, the soft and steady sound can soothe him in his sleep. You're probably used to whispering "shhh shhh shhh" 🤫 to calm your baby, an instinctive sound that mimics a mother's heartbeat, and it works.
When your baby hears this type of sound, he can focus on it, which helps him relax and - hopefully - sleep. Contrary to what you might think, the outside world can actually be quite quiet for babies, especially at night 🌙.
After spending months in the closed and safe environment of the womb, they may be stressed and overtired by unfamiliar sounds , sights and smells 👃, often causing them to cry and have colic.
When your little one was in your womb at the 15th week of gestation , your baby was starting to hear 👂. The sounds he heard were muffled by amniotic fluid, but you can use noises that mimic the sound of the womb to soothe and comfort your baby at nap time, aka white noise.
White noise is a familiar sound that keeps them calm and helps them fall asleep. Dr. Karp explains in a Huffington Post article that babies are used to the sound of blood 🩸 flowing through the placenta — and it's even louder than a vacuum cleaner .
"This sound triggers the calm reflex and helps infants fall asleep. No wonder babies fall asleep when they hear a hair dryer, take a ride or go to a noisy party 🎡", explains- he.
3) Types of White Noise for Babies Sleep:
- Shhh: Mimicking the continuous sound of blood flowing through the arteries near the uterus, shhh has long been known to calm a baby in distress 🥺, especially when combined with a gentle rocking motion.
- White Noise App: Instead of vacuuming for hours (and having to pay a monstrous electric bill!), download a white noise app 📱 that offers hundreds of noises to choose from.
- A fan: The constant noise of a fan is also a good bet for background noise, which promotes your baby's sleep.
There are pros 👍 but also cons to using white noise for your baby - we look at some of the good and bad things below:
4) The Benefits of White Noise for Baby
- Babies can fall asleep faster with white noise in the background.
- White noise can block household noises , like those of older siblings.
- Some baby white noise machines have a heartbeat setting that mimics the mother, which can be comforting for newborns.
A- White Noise Reduces Stress in Babies
Why are babies stressed? Almost everything. They get stressed out when they're overtired, they get stressed out because their world is more challenging 🌃 than they're ready to handle, they get overwhelmed with lights, faces and excitement. White noise creates a safe space for them by blocking out this stimulation.
B- White Noise Helps Babies Sleep
They fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer. Babies have what are called "awakenings from sleep" , usually about every 20 to 45 minutes. Have you ever wondered why your baby only takes 20 minute naps at a time? Well, that's because when he reaches awake after about 20 minutes, he's unable to fall back into deeper sleep and so his nap is over ❎.
White noise helps babies gently navigate between these awakenings to get longer ⏰ and more restorative naps . It also helps block out life noises (older siblings, doorbells, garbage trucks, etc.) that can interfere with naps and nighttime sleep.
C- White Noise Helps Babies Cry Less
Did you know that shhh is a sound that people universally understand and make with babies? Shhh is simply white noise that you make yourself 🙂 . The key to using white noise to help calm a crying baby is that it needs to be louder than the crying.
There's no point in holding a crying baby while whispering like a nice librarian 📚. Your baby can't hear the shh over his own cries . You have to quiet the baby loudly (sounds a bit silly, I know) so that the calming noise can penetrate above the crying.
You may also need to keep doing shhh for a while. A sustained, loud shhh can be a challenge. If you're starting to feel dizzy and/or see stars, it's time to turn your shhh over to an electrical 🔌 white noise device .
D- It Reduces the Risk of Diseases
A relatively famous study (famous if you read a lot about baby sleep, so honestly you should be a little proud 😃 if you haven't heard of it) showed that babies had a significant reduction in the risk of SIDS Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) if they had a fan in their room.
Nobody knows why the fan helps - it could be the fact that it moves the air 💨, although many believe it has to do with the white noise the fan makes. We know that white noise reduces active sleep (which is the sleep state in which SIDS is most likely to occur).
E- White Noise Will Help You Sleep Better
Parents are notorious for waking up whenever the baby growls or gurgles. Newborn swings can also be very noisy, especially when placed a few inches from your bed 🛌. White noise will help mask those little noises so you and your partner can sleep better.
F- White Noise is Easy to Wean
When your baby is older (usually after their first birthday 🎂), you can start to gradually decrease the white noise volume . If he continues to sleep well, you're done.
5) Disadvantages of White Noise for Babies
- White noise machines may exceed the noise limits 👎 recommended for babies.
- Babies can become dependent on white noise machines to help them fall asleep.
- Not all babies like or respond well to white noise.
A- The Problems of White Noise Machines
Despite the potential benefits, white noise doesn't always offer risk-free tranquility.
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tested 14 white noise machines designed for infants. They found that all exceeded the recommended noise limits , which are set at 50 decibels.
In addition to increased hearing problems , the study found that white noise use increased the risk of language 🗣️ and speech development problems.
Based on the findings of the AAP, pediatricians recommend that any white noise machine be placed at least 2 meters 📏 from your baby's bed . You should also keep the device volume below the maximum volume setting.
B- Babies Can Become Addicted to White Noise
Babies who respond positively to white noise may sleep better at night and during naps, but only if white noise ⚪ is constantly available . This could be a problem if your baby is in a situation where he needs to sleep and the sound machine is not with him.
Examples include vacations, a night at Grandma's 👵, or even daycare. Such a scenario could become extremely confusing for everyone involved.
C- Some Babies Don't Like White Noise
It is important to realize that white noise does not work for all babies .
Every baby has different sleep needs 💤, so white noise might be a trial and error process. If you decide to try white noise, be sure to do so safely .
6) How Long Does Your Baby Need To Sleep?
To address the effects of sleep deprivation, it's also important to know exactly how much sleep your baby actually needs . Here are some guidelines for each age group 🎒:
- Newborns: Up to 18 hours a day in total, while waking up every few hours for feedings.
- 1-2 months: Babies can sleep 4-5 hours at a time.
- 3 to 6 months: Total hours of sleep during the night can vary from 8 to 9 hours, plus short naps during the day 🌞.
- 6 to 12 months: 14 hours of sleep in total, with 2 to 3 naps during the day.
Remember that these are recommended averages. Every baby is different . Some babies can sleep more 💫, while others don't need as much sleep.
7) The Importance of Sleep for Babies
When adults think about lack of sleep, they often picture grumpy, rundown days filled with many cups of coffee ☕ to get through it. The effects of sleep deprivation may not be as obvious in babies and children.
Here are some of the concerns associated with sleep deprivation in toddlers :
- the restlessness
- frequent inconvenience 😡
- extreme behavioral fluctuations
- hyperactivity ⚡
8) How to Use White Noise for Your Baby's Sleep?
A- Choose a Noise You Can Tolerate
There are so many different white noise options to try, from rain and nature sounds to static electricity or the sound of hair dryers 👩, so experiment and see what works.
Search YouTube for the types of noises you find relaxing, and try them on your baby. Play around with the sounds a bit. Every baby reacts differently to different sounds. Lower and rhythmic sounds 🥁 can be better.
Once you find out what works, invest in a sleep app or toy with that type of sound. You also need to make sure it's a noise you're happy to listen to and will be hearing for hours too!
B- Choose the Right White Noise for your Baby
Not all babies will need to listen to white noise, but for those who do, safety 👷 must come first !
"Whenever you bring something into your baby's environment, you need to make sure it's safe 🚨 ," says pediatric emergency physician Dr. Elizabeth Murray. "We don't necessarily consider white noise to be loud, but some of these machines can be really loud."
Recent studies have suggested that many white noise machines for babies are, in fact, too loud 📢 for babies. The loudest setting of many machines can exceed the 50 dB limit imposed in hospital nurseries. Some machines can be even louder, generating over 85 dB at typical crib distances.
So use common sense to make sure it's not too loud for your baby's delicate ears. Try adjusting the volume to see if white noise works well. But don't turn up the sound level louder than the sound of a shower 🚿 in the next room and place the device away from your baby (minimum 2 meters away).
C- Start with the Lowest Sound
Parents don't necessarily need to avoid more powerful machines, but they should be aware of their noise level and always start with the lowest setting 👇.
If the baby can't hear the machine while crying 😭 that defeats the purpose, but in the long run a few nights of interrupted sleep while the effective minimum volume is established is a reasonable price to pay for future rest (and a child without hearing impairment).
It is also important to keep some perspective. The thing is, no one really sleeps through the night 🌝 . As many fitness and sleep-tracking apps have shown, even adults have periods of light waking. The key to sleep training is to develop a healthy sleep ritual that helps children fall asleep.
For the right kind of child, good white noise is part of it, but if a child doesn't need it, they just don't need it . It is worth letting a baby calm down 😔 as much as possible in order to find the right path to sleep.
D- Do Not Put Objects In Your Baby's Cradle
There are other security issues. White noise machines mounted on a rail and hidden in a stuffed animal 🧸 may be cute, but there is a great temptation to place them too close to the mattress , which makes them dangerous.
In general, babies should have nothing in their crib during the first year except a flat mattress and a fitted sheet; foreign bedding and stuffed animals 🐘 can be very dangerous for a child who is too young. Find out from what age your baby can sleep with his cuddly toy .
E- Only put on White Noises when your Baby is Ready to Sleep
It may be tempting to turn on white noise in hopes it will put your baby to sleep 👶, but that won't work and will only reduce its effectiveness.
As soon as he shows signs of relaxation and fatigue, turn on the white noise . As soon as he wakes up, turn off the white noise so he doesn't mask the normal sounds of everyday life 🛀, which will teach him the things he needs to learn while staying alert.
F- Think Pink
Studies have shown that "pink noise 🌹", which is fuller, deeper or richer than white noise, improves your baby's sleep even more due to its poor quality.
Examples of pink noise include heartbeats, rains 🌦, and the rustling of leaves on a tree. Pink noise is generally softer on the ear and creates a more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere than white noise, which is all higher pitched and slightly harsher.
Like all of us, babies are individuals, so take the time to find the best match for your baby.
G- Use it as a Sleep Away From Home Signal
Your baby will soon start associating white noise with sleep , so choose a portable sound (like an app) that you can use when you're away from home and your little one is in a travel cot 🛫.
This will help him settle down when he is in an unfamiliar place 🐪 and will also help you sleep better .
H- Keep the Same Noise
Once you find a winner , stick with it!
Use this noise exclusively and it will become part of the background as a familiar sound 👨👩👧👦 and your baby will accept its tranquil, almost hypnotic rhythm. But things can change, so keep an eye on your baby in case he reacts to something else in a few months.
9) Does White Noise Damage a Baby's Hearing?
The researchers warned that if played at this intensity for 8 hours straight, this amount of noise (85 dB) would exceed safety standards and could reach a level that could harm hearing 🦻. They advised:
- to move machines as far as possible
- to play them at 50 dB
- to stop the sound after the baby has fallen asleep
10) How Loud Does White Noise Need To Be?
As you can see in the figure below, 50 dB white noise offers absolutely no benefit 🔇 for your baby's sleep. The sound only begins to stimulate sleep when it reaches 60 to 65 dB.
11) Does the White Noise Volume need to be Adjusted?
Needless to say, don't play the sound at maximum volume...all night long...right next to your baby's head. However, a loud sound for minutes (not hours) is very helpful in calming crying . And it's much less traumatic for your baby's ears than his own crying 🙃!
12) Are White Noises Safe for Babies?
The answer is yes. White noises are beneficial for the baby by promoting sleep. However, it is important to keep the noise level safe for babies and adults 👩💼. If white noise machines produce sound above safe decibel levels, they may be harmful.
Conclusion: When your baby cries, increase the volume for several minutes to reach the level of his crying. After he's been asleep for 5 or 10 minutes, reduce the sound to the level of a gentle shower 🧼, or about 50 dB.
13) Healthier Alternatives to White Noise Machines and Soft Toys
White noise machines are available online and in most stores. But they can damage a baby's hearing and cause further developmental delays 🦽 since they are almost all over 50 dB. So if you're on a budget, white noise is also easy to produce at home.
There are many sources of white noise, from fans to vacuum cleaners 🧹. Fans produce soothing sounds and have the added benefit of reducing your child's risk of SIDS. You can also get a free white noise generator app like White Noise Baby or Bruit Blanc for your smartphone - a great option for on the go!
If you decide to buy something, keep it simple. According to Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, popping and rhythmic noises are more effective than heartbeats or light rain.
Another potential downside: Battery-powered machines or machines that only work with a timer ⏳. Many babies will wake up when their machine stops working, so choose a model that you can leave on overnight if needed. A fan or a smartphone is fine.
14) Put Your Baby To Sleep Without Using White Noise
White noise can be a temporary fix for sleep time, but it's not a magic bullet to help babies sleep.
White noise is not always a practical or always available solution, combined with potential dangers, it can be more problematic than beneficial for your baby 😲. Remember that babies who wake up at night, especially those under 6 months old, probably have discomfort that needs to be relieved .
It's not always reasonable to expect young babies to sleep well through the night without needing a bottle , a diaper change or a few cuddles 🙌. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby has trouble sleeping on his own as he gets older.
15) 6 Amazing Ways White Noise Can Help You Sleep Better
White noise is known to help babies sleep better, but it also has an impact on you! With daily distractions and technological overstimulation 💻, our need for sleep and personal well-being is more necessary than ever. White noise is quickly becoming a popular way to help the body and brain relax for a good night's sleep. Here are six simple ways your sleep benefits from white noise:
A- It Helps Establish a Bedtime Ritual
Especially if you have trouble falling asleep, but even if you don't, it's good to establish a bedtime routine 🌇 (both for kids and adults). Make sleep hygiene a habit!
B- Keep the Room Quiet
For optimal sleep, you need an optimal sleep environment . White noise dampens disturbing sounds and creates a cocoon of calm 🕯, regardless of your environment or sleeping situation.
C- White Noise Turns Off the Busy Brain
Have you ever had trouble falling asleep because your to-do list keeps buzzing, or because personal worries are keeping you up at night? 🥵 White noise can help - it's even been proven to relieve symptoms of anxiety . There's a reason some people use it to meditate!
D- Once You're Asleep, You Stay Asleep
By masking sounds that could interrupt sleep, white noise protects and guarantees a peaceful sleep 🌳. And if you wake up, it's often easier to go back to sleep.
E- You Sleep Deeper with White Noises
You may not realize how many times you wake up every night. But even if you don't remember them in the morning, these little interruptions affect the quality of your sleep . So try white noise and see if you don't wake up feeling refreshed 😁.
F- You Can Take White Noise Anywhere
Although you can't rely on your surroundings, you can manage the noise factor if you have a sound machine (or your phone with an app). And many are compact and portable, making them easy to pack in a suitcase, diaper bag, or purse 👜. (This one is especially useful when traveling. Hotel room doors slam and hallways are noisy.)
Now that you know everything about white noises, you can try on yourself and/or your baby and refine as you go until you succeed in putting your baby to sleep easily and healthily. In the meantime, you can always buy a blanket 🐰 for your baby; babies love cuddly toys ! Soft toys reassure them and allow them to sleep better at night.