Should My Baby Sleep With White Noise?


I've talked about white noise more than once, but I'm always getting questions about it (is it safe?, is it a sleep prop?) so I thought it was about time I
gave my (expanded) two cents on it.

Should my baby sleep with white noise?
In short, yes. And in answer to your "really?"... did you think I'd change my answer so quickly?  ;)

Babies have just come from an incredibly loud womb. As in as loud as busy city traffic! They are used to loud. And if you know anything about babies, you know they like what they are used to. If you want to set your baby up for the best sleep possible, use white noise.

Why I love white noise
  • It's cheap, super effective and easy!
  • It helps to calm and de-stress baby, even those are are especially fussy or those with colic (see Happiest Baby on the Block 5 S's).
  • It's been proven to help your baby go to sleep and stay asleep longer. It helps block distracting outside noise that could potential wake baby and it helps baby more easily make it through those sometimes frustrating sleep transitions.
  • If you're sleeping in the same room as baby, you'll probably sleep better too! It'll help drown out baby's loud noises so you stop waking to every little sound he makes (it is the only thing that gave me any sleep with my first child who, I swear, was as loud as a pack of animals when he slept).  More importantly, if you stop waking to every little sleep sound, you'll also stop trying to feed or comfort baby with every little noise he makes which can lead him to wake more frequently than he needs to. Plus, many of you will notice, even if you've never slept with it before, that white noise is really soothing for you too (ever notice that you are suddenly able to fall asleep when the ac/heat kicks in?). You'll probably miss it when baby moves out of your room and takes it with him! 
  • It's considerate of baby. Would you want your sleep disrupted by noise all the time? Even if they sleep through it (which they probably won't unless they're super young or way overtired), their sleep is likely disrupted at times by it. Plus, pretty much every baby thinks that playing with mom, dad or siblings is a heck of a lot more fun than sleeping. So why shove it in their face that you are having the time of your life without them while they sleep. If they can hear you, you can bet that is what they're thinking.
  • It's a good substitute for when your about to pass out from too much shushing during those fussy evening witching hours.

Is white noise a sleep prop?
I've thought about this for a while, and I've decided that it's no more a sleep prop than a lovey or crib is.  You turn it on and then leave. All done. You aren't having to go in all night long to keep it running. Yes, baby often gets used to it, but he gets used to lots of other stuff too. These are sleep associations. We all have them. I for one can't sleep without 2 pillows! Given how easy white noise is to use wherever and whenever, how much it can add to your pre-sleep routine and what a strong sleep cue it can be, I'd say it is a pretty positive sleep association.

Are you still scared it'll turn into a huge sleep prop that you'll be dragging around with you for the next 16 years? Relax! Don't worry. Most kids wean off of this pretty easily and many young babies will still sleep OK without it even if they're used to it. It's easy to wean from too. All you have to do is turn the volume down. My 2 year old still sleeps better with his sound machine, but my 4 year old sleeps fine (and has done so for a while) with or without one.


Can't I just get my baby used to loud every-day noises?
You can try, but you will likely fail. And is it really worth possible weeks, months, or in the case of kids who don't get used to the noise (which, by the way, is most) forever worsened sleep? This 'sleeping with noise' might work if you have a newborn, but you'll need lots of luck to have it work later on unless (and this is a big maybe, too) your child is totally dirt tired.

I know you've probably heard that children can get used to lots of noise, but in my experience, it isn't true for most children. Noise is simply distracting when your trying to shut off your mind and sleep. People can only get used to so much.


Is white noise safe? How loud should it be?
Generally, yes, it is safe.

You might look at this study and get a bit scared to use white noise. But notice that 1) this was done on rats which we are not and 2) white noise was used all the time. As in no breaks. If you are using white noise when a baby is sleeping and sometimes when he is awake and fussy, I doubt there is an issue as long as you have quality "noise time" when he is awake. As in you talk and read and sing to your baby.

Sound is measured in Decibels (dB). The farther you get from a sound, the less the decibles. How loud the sound is along with how long you hear the sound determines if your going to have hearing damage (there can be other things that add to this too, like antibiotics, but I'm not going to get into those rare instances). The current recommendation is that a sound machine should be no louder than 50 db and that you should use them for the least amount of time and at the lowest volume necessary.

You can buy devices that measure decibels (remember to take in account distance from the object) and there are even apps that'll do it for you. Or you can buy a sound machine like the marpac that has two settings-- 50 dB and 70 dB (from 6 inches).

Dr. Karp (you know, the happiest baby on the block guy) suggests you keep your shushing or white noise as loud as baby's cry, which can be quite a bit louder than 50 dB. Remember that dB, as well as length of exposure, is important so keeping a sound a little above 50 dB for a short time is fine. Many sounds around your house on a daily basis will be above 50 dB.

How to effectively use white noise to help your baby sleep
First off, it needs to be loud enough, but not too loud. So keep it below 50 dB but keep it loud enough that it blocks out sounds. Use a little trial and error to see what your baby likes best.

Next up, it should be played continuous while baby sleeps. If you buy a sound machine, make sure it can be run without a timer. You can try it with the timer, but it might not work so well, especially with older babies. Once the machine turns off, baby often wakes up.

What is the best kind of white noise?
I personally prefer a sound machine. I like how portable they are (my family travels a lot) and how easy it is to adjust their volume. Be sure to measure how loud they are as many of them are apparently much louder than 50 dB. For a mid-range price, my new favorite sound machine is the LectroFan (keep in mind that it is not battery operated). For really cheap, I prefer the HoMedics (runs on batteries or via plug and is sometimes glitchy--you get what you pay for).

  • Box fans are one of the cheapest options. And they are loud enough that your baby won't even know you've just had the neighborhood over for a party. But they can make baby cold and aren't the most convenient to port around to the babysitters. I keep one of these on hand as a back up for when we have lots of people over.
  • Overhead fans. My overhead fans aren't loud enough to make much noise, but the ones I grew up with sounded like an airplane. If you're using a fan, you can also potentially reduce your child's SIDS risk.
  • Cds work OK but you need to be able to play them continuously on repeat. 
  • Static radio is a favorite of many people. Obviously it has the benefit of being free. The sound has always irritated me and I have a hard time finding a station with no interference (outside of the static!) so it isn't my personal first choice.
  • Your own voice shushing (not recommended as your only method unless you want to pass out after 10 minutes!) 
  • Humidifiers. The ones with fans aren't especially loud for newborns, but they work well for some young babies and many older children.
  • Youtube has some white noise you can play. And you can of course find plenty of apps with white noise.


What do you think about White Noise? Love it? Hate it?

30 comments :

  1. Abby @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    Hi! We've used a noise machine since day one with our 6 month old. I think it's a Brookstone one from the 90's that was given to us before he was born (for free... a big plus). I have to admit, I don't know if it actually 'works', or if Matty is just a sound sleeper. In fact, lately I've been afraid of using it... he's going through his 6th month growth spurt, and a part of me thought/thinks that the noise will further wake him if he wakes up. Before this growth spurt started, he was almost sleeping through the night without the noise machine and able to soothe himself back to sleep. Should I start using it again through the night until the spurt subsides? On a similar note, I've NEVER used it during his naps, which are usually 45 minutes... I wonder if it'll help him take longer naps?

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Abby,
      I doubt the noise will wake him up more when he wakes. His ears have been hearing it as he sleeps so it'll just be a continuation of the noise. In fact, many kids will suddenly wake up if the noise is turned off in the middle of their sleep.

      As for naps, it might help. I don't think it could hurt. BUT, many kids that age struggle with short naps so don't be surprised if there is little to no change. Make sure to check out the troubleshooting post on short naps.

      Rachel

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    2. Roopa Hemanth @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      My baby sleeps with a stand fan ON... But now since the weather is getting colder, my husband worries that there is lot of air in the room which makes it colder for my girl...
      She is 10 months old now and has started waking up a few times in the night... My husband thinks this could be one of the reasons.... Not sure if this is the case and if I should the source of white noise!!!
      Please let me know

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    3. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Roopa,
      It's possible she's waking from the cold. You could always try a white noise machine (one that doesn't blow air :) and see what happens.

      I don't know your situation, but you can also take a look at the night time sleep post and see if it helps you troubleshoot the night wakings.

      Rachel

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  2. Sharon @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    That is one cute Camila baby. I know someone that actually just uses an old radio and puts it on static for their white noise and they say it works great!

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      I think that's my favorite picture of Camilla, Sharon.� So adorable! Yeah, I know lots of people that like the radio noise. Nice and cheap, if you still own a radio! I'm sure our kids will think we're ancient if we own one!

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  3. Nicole @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    We have used the free WhiteNoise app on an iTouch iPod for our 14 month old for almost his entire life. We keep the volume pretty low just to provide a small amount of ambient noise, but if we have guests over, we turn it up a little in anticipation of voices being carried upstairs. He was a chronic 45 min napper, and the white noise definitely makes a difference helping him transition! I agree and feel like it is similar to a lovey and will be easy to wean him off of in the future :) I love your blog btw...It has been a great source of info for me and my difficult little sleeper! :)

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Thanks so much for sharing Nicole, especially about the short naps. I'm so happy you like the blog! It's great to hear feedback from readers.

      Best of luck with your difficult sleepers. I feel for you, I've had them myself!

      Rachel

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  4. Jean @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says..

    My son didn't care much for white noise as a baby but he did love the sound our fan made which is similar. I wish there was an iPhone 10 years ago with the app Nicole mentioned in a previous comment!

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Jean, one of my children actually seemed irritated by the white noise at first too. He ended up liking it eventually. He's a picky one!� It's amazing how much technology and things with sleep change. They didn't even have a lot of the stuff they have now when my first was born, and he's not quite 5 yet!

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  5. galoo @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    with our first baby we tried white noise (vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, laundry machine) and she seemed to calm down for a while.. with second baby there was no time for trying these things :)

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Galoo,
      Yes, time does get a bit tight the second time around--you have to start using things that don't require so much of your energy!

      Delete
  6. Sam @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    Hi there! Thanks so much for your great website, I'm a first time mum of a 51/2 month old and it's been a massive help regarding sleep issues. If only babys came with their own manual huh!

    One thing I have used for quite some time now is white noise (which happened one night out of desperation!) which I find works great for blocking out all those other outside noises. If it is of help to anyone, I use an old mp3 player sitting on a speaker dock beside bubbys cot and I created a 20 minute 'rain on the roof' sound file that I have on repeat. I made the sound file at this website: http://gomix.it/ which has all sorts of different background noise options for you to use. You can create your own or I think you can download someone elses creation. It was easy, I downloaded it to my laptop and then transferred it over to my mp3 player and it was free when I did it (and hopefully it still is). I hope this is of help to someone looking for white noise files... :o)

    Also, my bub hates the vacuum cleaner and the hair dryer. The vacuum cleaner made her fall asleep for the first few months but now they both just upset her terribly, so if one type of white noise doesn't work keep trying other things - e.g. she doesn't mind the 'rain' file I made for her (which I guess is much more soothing!) :o)

    Thanks again! Sam

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Thanks for sharing your experience Sam!

      Rachel

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  7. Leah @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    We've used a white noise for both of our sons, and will definitely use one for our daughter when she is born in a couple of weeks. I love how it blocks out extra noise. At what point/age, though, do you think a baby stops sleeping through anything? I'd like to try and keep our noise level in our home that same as it's been, since that's what she's been used to all 9 months in my belly :o) But I'm thinking that at a certain point it's good to try and keep my other two a bit quieter around her room, as well as keep other noises to a minimum (vacuuming, etc). Any thoughts?

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Leah,
      It depends on the baby when they'll stop sleeping through things. With my youngest, he never slept through any noise. With my oldest, he stopped at about 2 weeks. Most babies seem to be more like 6 weeks -4 months.�

      Actually, if you think about it, in the womb, she's used to things sounding like a sound machine with a little outside noise :) �You can try things without the sound machine and see how it goes. In my experience, it isn't worth it. A sound machine helps almost every child sleep better and it isn't a big deal to use. With outside noises (kids etc), just see how baby does. If she's waking from noise, then be more careful about it. Some kids sleep pretty deeply and sound never is an issue.

      Rachel

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  8. Karri @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    What white noise machines do you recommend? I am looking and there are so many to choose from.

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      I've always gotten the $20 ones.

      I like this one because it remembers the last sound you were on and you just have to turn up the volume to turn it on. Very nice and easy to teach grandparents how to use when they come over :) Also has a wide range of sound

      I've also tried this one and like it, but not as much as the previous one.

      I'm sure some of the expensive ones are good (I hear the best things about the Marpacs), but I've had such good luck with cheap ones I haven't felt a need to spend more.

      Rachel

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  9. Karen @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

    Hi Rachel, at what age can you start using a white noise machine? My 3.5 mo son is a terrible night waker. Bed time is around 7pm and he goes to sleep by himself with no props but around the midnight mark (and sometimes earlier!) the night wakings start. I usually wait at least 5 minutes before going in and using a pacifier. He will then usually sleep for another hour or two until 1.30/2am, before I will then b.feed him. He feeds well, goes back to sleep but more often than not is up again within 1-1.5 hours, insert the paci, down another 1-1.5 hours and then wakes at 7am. I'm going nuts with this and don't understand why he can't self settle through sleep transitions when he can put himself to sleep just fine and wonder if maybe a white noise machine might help? Many thanks, Karen.

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    1. RachelStella @ My Baby Sleep Guide - Says...

      Karen, you can start white noise at any age, but I usually start it when a baby is a newborn. White nose may help some, but it sounds like you've got a sleep prop issue going on-- meaning you and the pacifier have turned into sleep props. Many kids will be ok if they can put themselves to bed initially, but not all. You are one of the unlucky ones ;)

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  12. Thank you so much for this! My baby girl is 5 months old and is a terrible
    napper and sleeper. Is it too late to try white noise with her since I haven't done it since day one?

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    1. Mathew&Laura,
      I don't think it's too late to try white noise. I'd probably start with it pretty quiet then make it a touch louder. And I'd turn it on during your sleep routine so she has time to get used to it with you in her presence.

      rachel

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  13. I use an app on my ipad called relax melodies. It allows you to combine different types of white noise to find the perfect noise for your baby to fall asleep too. I used to use a radio set to static, but there would be the occasional crackle that would disrupt sleep. I also have it downloaded on my phone for emergency naps :D

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    1. Thanks for the info Kaye Nicol! I'm not a huge radio static person either, I've never had luck finding a static channel that was consistently smooth.

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  14. Love the white noise app for iPhone! Used it for every nap and night with my son. It's easy to wean off of--just reduce the volume by one notch every few days until at the desired level. Later we switched to a small fan. White noise makes a great portable sleep cue. Perfect for traveling, the car, and any naps in different places. Provides something familiar. My baby can be inconsolable in every other way but will calm instantly whenever I turn it on, LOUD! Then when he is calm I can slowly reduce the noise. He also will not take a pacifier until the white noise is on. Then he will soothe.

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  15. Love the white noise app for iPhone! Used it for every nap and night with my son. It's easy to wean off of--just reduce the volume by one notch every few days until at the desired level. Later we switched to a small fan. White noise makes a great portable sleep cue. Perfect for traveling, the car, and any naps in different places. Provides something familiar. My baby can be inconsolable in every other way but will calm instantly whenever I turn it on, LOUD! Then when he is calm I can slowly reduce the noise. He also will not take a pacifier until the white noise is on. Then he will soothe.

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  16. Great blog!

    What are your thoughts on TV in the background? The tv is usually on from 10pm-2am in the next room over and the sound bleeds through. Does this have deleterious effect on sleep quality? Thanks!

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    1. Slivers,
      If baby seems to not be woken up or distracted by it then I'm guessing it is fine. I think it would be equivalent to just hearing people talk in the background.

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