The sweet sound of silence. Your baby has finally fallen asleep, only to be awakened by the sound of a trash truck outside or your two-year-old shouting from the other room. These are the moments that exhausted parents dread. Thankfully, you can use white noise to help your baby sleep! But how loud should white noise be for a baby? And should you keep white noise on all night? We have the answers to these questions and more.
Why White Noise Can Help Put Babies to Sleep
For new parents, asking if white noise is bad for babies is a legitimate question. Fortunately, the answer is no. It can actually be beneficial and soothing to your infant when you follow a few simple tips. Why does white noise help babies? We break it down.
It Can Block Out Background Sounds
White noise is a steady sound that contains all frequencies. Similar to the static on your television or the hum of a fan or vacuum, this noise essentially blocks out other background sounds by filling in the missing tones. This makes a white noise machine an ideal sleeping tool that parents can use from the moment they bring their baby home from the hospital.
It Can Help Babies Fall Asleep Faster
Research shows that by using this sleep aid, a person will not only fall asleep faster, but it will also allow them to stay asleep for longer. In fact, additional experiments show that white noise helped 80 percent of babies fall asleep in as little as five minutes!
It Can Be Soothing to Babies
Why do babies like white noise, anyway? You may not realize it, but you instinctively make this noise regularly in order to soothe your little one. Every time you shush your baby while rocking them, you're creating white noise. White noise (or pink noise, which is similar but has a quieter tone) can have a soothing effect, which helps to block out other sounds and allows your baby to more effectively fall sleep.
Potential Downsides to Using White Noise
There are lots of upsides why sleeping with white noise might be a good choice for your baby. The only downfalls to this sleeping tool are:
- Some children can become dependent on the sound to fall asleep.
- It needs to be used at the correct volume: When used incorrectly, it can cause harm to a child's hearing.
- Every baby is different; white noise might not be as effective for every baby.
How to Use White Noise for Babies Safely & Effectively
White noise is a great sleep aid, but using it the right way is key. Here are a few tips to make the most of this tool.
Keep White Noise at a Safe Volume Level
How loud should white noise be for a baby? Sleep machines are a wonderful tool for blocking out other noises and enhancing sleep. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that the sound levels should not reach greater than 50 decibels (dB). If they do, it can "be damaging to infant hearing and auditory development."
What exactly is a decibel? It is the measurement of a sound's intensity. In terms of levels, steady rain normally measures around 50 dB, whereas a hairdryer has an output of about 90 dB. This means that it doesn't take much to harm your baby's ears.
To protect your baby's ears, also:
- Place your white noise machine at least seven feet from your baby's sleep space.
- Choose a machine with volume controls and set the machine on the lowest volume setting.
You can raise the volume on your white noise machine when your baby is crying, but as soon as they settle, lower it back to 50 dB or less. If you are concerned about the specific decibel level of your machine, simply download a decibel meter app on your phone to check the noise output on your specific device.
Choose the Right White Noise Machine for Babies
In addition to volume controls, look for products with features that include an automatic shut-off function and compatibility with your smart devices. This last qualification can allow you to adjust the settings on your sound machine remotely, ensuring that you don't accidentally disturb your baby's slumber when trying to turn it off.
Parents might also wonder what type of noise is best. Babies all respond differently, so choosing a white noise machine with multiple sound options is a good bet. Parents can also look for machines that include pink noises. In nature, pink noise is equivalent to the sound of wind, rain, ocean waves, and rustling leaves. Studies have shown that these sounds can also help people get to sleep faster and they can improve and lengthen restorative sleep.
Look for sound machines that include both pink and white noises to help get your baby to sleep.
Know How Long You Should Keep White Noise On
Should you keep white noise all night for baby? This is another common question parents ask. The best option is not to leave it on all night. Here's why:
The intent of a white noise machine is to help your child to go to sleep and stay asleep. This makes it a useful tool for while your baby is settling down and during time frames when environmental noises are most disruptive. However, long-term use of unstructured white noise can "undermine the functional and structural integrity of the central auditory system."
Since sleep is when our brains recharge, silence is required. Therefore, turn the machine on while you are getting your little one ready for bed and keep it on while you and your spouse continue to function around the home. Then, when you head to bed and most disruptive sounds cease, turn the machine off.
When to Stop Using White Noise for Baby
Millions of American adults use sleep conditioners, like noise machines, every day to help facilitate a better sleep. This means that your child can essentially use this device throughout their entire existence.
However, most parents note that these devices are most beneficial for infants and toddlers. Why? These are the ages when sleep regressions occur. It is also the time when teething, growth spurts, and big developmental milestones happen, all of which can interrupt a child's sleep.
While your toddler's sleep will probably improve soon after their second birthday, it's important to note that sleep disruptions can continue into elementary school, making this a useful tool for kids experiencing sleep issues at any age. Therefore, even if you choose to stop use as they enter preschool, keep this device handy for when issues arise.
Sound Machine Alternatives
One of the biggest issues with using a sound machine is that many times your child becomes dependent on the device. This can make sleeping in different environments difficult. These instances can include when visiting grandma and grandpa's house or when taking a nap at daycare or preschool. Fortunately, there are some alternatives to white noise machines that most people likely have available around your home.
Air filters and fans can be great noise blockers and the steady sound output makes for a natural white noise. Conversely, for families who are always on the go, there's an app for that! Simply look for options that offer white and pink noises and are made for a baby.
Getting Good Sleep Takes Time
Just like with everything else in life, you need to give your baby time to get used to your white noise machine. In other words, repetition and consistency are key. Not only that, but it may also take some time to find the noise that is best suited for your baby. Some kids may prefer white noise and others may require the sound of gentle rain to get to sleep. Give each noise at least a week before switching to the next. Over time, you will find what calms your baby best!