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White Noise for Babies – Pros and Cons

by BetterSleep
Mar 30 2022 • 4 min read

You’ll not often hear someone talk about how easily their baby fell asleep the night before. Which leads almost every new parent to look for the answer to the question, how can I help my baby get a better night’s sleep?

Of course, each person’s answer will be different, and there’s (sadly) no one perfect answer that will work for everyone. However, there are things you can try to help fussy babies get the sleep they need. One of them? White noise.

Many people, including babies, find the constant, low hum of background noise soothing and restful. For some, it’s a practical way to block out environmental sound. Babies can also benefit from the buzz of soft white noise at naptimeand bedtime, with few drawbacks. Keep reading to learn more about white noise machines’ pros and cons in helping your baby sleep.

What is white noise?

Before we get into how white noise can be helpful (or harmful) to your baby, let’s go over what white noise is.

If we’re getting technical, the dictionary defines white noise as “a steady, unvarying unobtrusive sound, as an electronically produced drone or the sound of rain, used to mask or obliterate unwanted sounds.” With white noise, every audible frequency that plays is playing at the same volume, which creates a calming background noise for the listener.

You’ve probably heard of people using white noise for things like sleeping, traveling, meditation, etc. According to Sleep Foundation, researchers have even found that whitenoise can help reduce crying in infants, help counteract symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and improve work performance.

Fun fact: there are other colors of noise, like pink, brown, and even black. Unlike how white noise plays all frequencies evenly, other colors may play specific frequencies louder than others to produce a different soothing effect.

Why is white noise helpful for sleep?

Research shows that hearing white noise improves sleep by blocking disruptive background sounds. Loud and intermittent sounds trigger arousal and cause you to awaken. White noise replaces those sounds with even background sounds to help you stay asleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, white noise can also help.

How does white noise help babies sleep?

There are endless benefits of white noise, but what about babies? Some people believe that white noise machines produce similar whooshing sounds to the ones babies hear in the womb. White noise machines are said to make babies feel safe by recreating that womb-like environment they were used to for nine months.

Additionally, according to Verywell Family, when babies sleep, they cycle between light and deep sleep about every twenty minutes. When they are in the lighter sleep cycle, it’s easier for them to be woken up by other environmental noises (like loud noises) in their environment. Enter white noise machines. Remember that masking effect we talked about earlier? White noise machines aid sleep by masking possible background noise that can wake up your sleeping baby.

Are white noise machines bad for babies?

Before using any new device or sound with your baby, you want to ensure it’s safe. One of the biggest concerns parents have is; if using a white noise machine will damage babies’ hearing and auditory development.

Positive studies have shown that white noise machines can help infants (6 months to five years old) fall asleep and reduce the number of times they wake up at night. Some people argue that the long-term use of white noise machines could lead to dependence or hearing damage; however,there haven’t been specific studies proving those side effects. In a paper examing the use of white noise in improving sleep quality by Huizi Cao, Cao said, “Notably, white noise has been shown to have no significant side effects in infants and young children.” However, it seems that more long-term studies are still needed to help determine the safety of white noise machines over time.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), background noise should not exceed 50 decibels for an infant. Because of this study, many believe that white noise can be safe if you ensure it isn’t any louder than this. But be careful if purchasing a white noise machine or Bluetooth speaker, even if it’s designed for babies. The AAP tested several models and found that some produced sound as loud as 85 decibels when put on the maximum volume setting. Based on the findings done in this study, the common rule became to keep your white noise machine at 50 decibels or lower and keep it several feet from the baby’s crib. They also recommend turning it off after the baby falls asleep.

On the other hand, one study found that white noise machines that played sound at 75 decibels for the whole night helped one-year-old toddlers sleep better. Additionally, an article on Happiest Baby recommends playing white noise around 60 to 70 decibels to help your baby sleep (60 decibels being the same volume as a general conversation in restaurants or an office, and 70 decibels being similar to the noise from a vacuum cleaner). The safety limit set by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for workers exposed to that level of noise for 8 hours is 85 decibels (it should be noted that this is the limit for adults, not infants, who may be more sensitive).

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to use your common sense, ensure the white noise machine is not too close to the baby’s ears, and not blast your white noise or sound machines. When in doubt? Stick to a lower volume.

We all want to avoid hurting a baby’s hearing. That’s why important to do your research and talk to your doctor or care team before starting to use a white noise machine. It may also be helpful to ask for your doctor’s opinion on safe decibel levels for your baby.

What are the pros of using white noise for a sleeping baby?

The most important benefit is simply that it works for many babies to help them fall asleep faster White noise machines became popular with parents aftera 1990 study. The groundbreaking study used white noise with several infants and found that 80% fell asleep within five minutes. White noise could speed up the process if you have a baby who fusses at bedtime and takes a long time to fall asleep.

Babies wake up often, during naps and at night. Even in a quiet environment, natural processes cause arousal that wakes them. They often then find it difficult to fall asleep again. White noise can block any outside, disruptive sounds but also provide a soothing background for when they awaken naturally (in whatever sleeping space they’re in, whether at home in their crib or at grandma’s house).

Dream Dive Crying- Learn More

It’s important to note that two kinds of white noise are high and low-pitched. It’s recommended to use low-pitched white noise for sleep because it is more calming.

Are there any cons to white noise?

Is white noise bad for babies? While we can give a definitive yes or no to that million-dollar question, it’s generally agreed that when used correctly, white noise is safe for babies and can help them fall asleep.

As we mentioned above, always talk to your healthcare provider for advice based on your baby’s specific needs/health concerns.

One big reason not to use a white noise machine is if it just doesn’t work for your child. Some babies won’t like it, which might do more harm than good in getting them to sleep. Another potential downside is dependence. If your baby finds the sound soothing, they might come to depend on it to fall asleep. If you can’t have white noise playing, your baby could struggle more than usual to sleep.

The Happiest Baby recommends against playing white noise on a constant loop. Instead of playing it 24/7, try playing it only to help your baby fall asleep or when you need to calm them down.

Do I need to buy a white noise machine?

Newborn white noise machines are easy to find, but you don’t need one to get the benefits. The BetterSleep app has everything you need to create a soothing mix for your baby. The app has white noise with adjustable volume, but don’t stop there.

You can also experiment with brown noise, green, and pink noise. Try other sounds similar to white noise that your baby might like: a dishwasher or quiet air conditioner, a shushing sound or soft humming, even sounds from the womb. Easily create a mix or only use white noise through the app.

Explore the Pros and Cons of Sleeping with a Fan.

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