In the last few years, white noise has become another option in the already overcrowded baby space. White noise machine manufacturers claim they improve baby sleep, calm fractious crying and help to establish awake/sleep cycles. White noise is also becoming popular for parents who are keen for their baby not to be disturbed by other noises.
White noise is also becoming popular for parents who are keen for their baby not to be disturbed by other noises.
But how true are the facts and can white noise actually cause more harm than good?
Read on to find out the facts and see what’s important to understand when it comes to white noise.
What exactly is white noise?
White noise is a sound which masks other sounds happening in an environment. White noise is produced by combining all the different frequencies of sound at once, so no one sound is clear and distinct from the others. It sounds fuzzy with no specific pitch. Some examples of white noise are a fan whirring in the background, a television with the sound down low or an air-conditioner humming away. White noise often sounds like a low, steady whirring, buzzing, humming or shushing and helps to block out other noises by its sound masking capabilities. There are also lots of white noise apps which can be downloaded onto a phone or tablet. Most are free and play continuously until they’re turned off.
What are the proposed benefits of white noise?
One early study (1990) found that white noise could be helpful in assisting babies to go to sleep. Since then, there have been other studies which are less positive about the effects of white noise. It’s important for parents to check current evidence before deciding what’s right for them and their baby.
It’s important for parents to check current evidence before deciding what’s right for them and their baby.
- White noise can be useful to block out other household noise. Children playing, environmental noise, dogs barking, loud music and traffic can all disturb a sleeping baby.
- Some parents say their baby soon learned to how to associate sleep with white noise and that it works as a cue for sleep time.
- White noise is under parental control, when so much isn’t. It can be turned on or off, turned up or turned down – and be individualized according to the parent’s and baby’s wishes.
- It’s another ‘thing to try’ in the process of encouraging little people to go to sleep.
- Baby specific white noise machines often have a range of sounds to choose from. Background ‘shh-ing’ noises can have an overlay of music, lullabies or even a heartbeat to mimic sounds the baby was exposed to in utero.
- Some parents find that listening to white noise helps them to focus their attention elsewhere whilst they are settling their baby. For parents struggling with anxiety relating to their baby’s sleep/settling, white noise can be a calming influence.
- Some babies become so accustomed to noise that when their environment is completely quiet, they are more wakeful. Having consistent background white noise is less unsettling than complete silence.
What are the Disadvantages of White Noise?
White noise machines can increase the risk of noise-related hearing loss as they work on the principle of accumulated noise. When they’re played at a high volume, for a long period of time, the baby is exposed to noise which their developing ears are not designed for. The anatomy of their ear is very different to adults and long term hearing loss, as well as audio processing disorders is a possibility.
- Babies can become so accustomed to hearing white noise that when it’s absent, they can’t sleep. This means it can be very inconvenient to go away for a few days or, be in a situation where it’s just not possible to use white noise.
- Buying a white noise machine can be costly. Though some are available for around $30, they can creep up in price to $100 or more.
- Many parents are big believers in minimising the assistance they give their child to go off to sleep. Boosting self settling skills in infancy can be a good thing, adopting the mantra ‘start as you mean to go on’.
- Not every baby likes white noise. Don’t assume your baby will respond positively to hearing it playing in their sleep space. Parents similarly, can become more than mildly irritated hearing a persistent ‘shh shh shh’ or sound of water running, especially mothers who are struggling with incontinence issues!
- There have been concerns raised by researchers into potential problems with white noise contributing to auditory processing issues in children.
White Noise – is it Safe?
The big issue with white noise machines is that we don’t know yet what the long term effects of using them may be. They haven’t been around for long enough to give any definitive answers about harm. But we do know that a baby’s ear is different to an adult. One study attended in 2014 by researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto found that many of the white noise machines they tested, exceeded what could be considered a safe decibel range – at that time 50 decibels. A range of sounds, emitting from a number of white noise machines were tested when placed at three distances from the baby’s head. All of those tested exceeded the recommendation of noise limits for babies in hospital nurseries (at that time). Even though this study was conducted a few years ago – there’s no proof that white noise machines currently available aren’t exceeding safe noise levels. Perhaps the recommendation at the time of this study still has relevance - to keep white noise machines at least 200cms away from the baby’s cot, as far away from the baby as possible and importantly, set to the minimum or lowest possible volume.
A range of sounds, emitting from a number of white noise machines were tested when placed at three distances from the baby’s head. All of those tested exceeded the recommendation of noise limits for babies in hospital nurseries (at that time). Even though this study was conducted a few years ago – there’s no proof that white noise machines currently available aren’t exceeding safe noise levels.
Perhaps the recommendation at the time of this study still has relevance - to keep white noise machines at least 200cms away from the baby’s cot, as far away from the baby as possible and importantly, set to the minimum or lowest possible volume.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), safe listening depends on the intensity (loudness), duration and frequency of exposure to sounds. All three of these factors combine to the sound energy level the ears are exposed to. The highest safe exposure level for adults is 85 decibels over eight hours.
Some researchers claim that white noise can lead to children developing auditory processing disorders. This is because the brain quickly adapts to the sound and stops acknowledging it as something worth listening to. The long term effects of this can lead to issues with learning, speech and language.
Audio processing disorders can contribute to a range of developmental and learning problems. In addition, it’s felt that exposure to white noise machines may put babies at risk of developing noise induced hearing loss or, as noted above, maldevelopment of the auditory (hearing) system.
How to Safely Use White Noise
First, think about other ways to soothe and settle your baby. Ideally, try not to use white noise but other ways to support your baby to go to sleep.
- Always read the manufacturer’s directions and safety warnings.
- Never put a white noise device, phone or tablet inside your baby’s cot.
- Make sure the volume is set to low or the minimum sound level and never louder than this.
- Use white noise only as a background sound, never in the foreground.
- Be mindful of the intrusive nature of high volume sounds, especially when your baby is trying to sleep.
- Aim for white noise level not to exceed a quiet conversation or a shower running.
- Turn the white noise off once your baby is asleep.
- Never place a white noise machine near your baby’s head or ears.
- Place the white noise machine as far away as possible from your baby’s cot.
- Turn the volume down or alternately, don’t turn it up to maximum.
- Only use for settling periods, no longer than an hour and turn off white noise once your baby is asleep.
- Try not to use a white noise machine for every sleep.
- Speak with your Child Health Nurse, GP and/or baby’s paediatrician about current research around white noise and the risks of using it.
Written for Safe Sleep Space by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.
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Is it OK to use white noise for babies? ›
The answer again, is YES, white noise machines are safe for babies. And white noise machines benefit babies (and parents) by promoting sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that white noise can help improve babies' sleep. A study out of London found that white noise helped 80% fall asleep in just 5 minutes.What are the dangers of white noise? ›
What are the Disadvantages of White Noise? White noise machines can increase the risk of noise-related hearing loss as they work on the principle of accumulated noise. When they're played at a high volume, for a long period of time, the baby is exposed to noise which their developing ears are not designed for.Can you leave white noise on all night for baby? ›
It's tempting to keep the white noise going through the night, but it's really not recommended. "Operate the infant sound machine for a short duration of time," Schneeberg advises. She recommends using a timer or shutting it off once your baby is asleep, provided you're still awake.What level of white noise is safe for babies? ›
When asked how loud should white noise be for baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested the volume be set to no louder than 50 decibels (about as loud as a quiet dishwasher) to avoid potential hearing damage.Can white noise damage baby hearing? ›
Conclusion: Excessive white noise exposure has the potential to lead to noise-induced hearing loss and other adverse health effects in the neonatal and infant population.Does white noise prevent SIDS? ›
White noise reduces the risk of SIDS.
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 if they had a fan in their room.
Not only will falling asleep become difficult, it could have an effect on your brain. "Some side effects or things that can be a negative of white noise include an impact on brain cells that causes ringing in the ears from having heard the sound constantly and/or too loudly," Dr.Is it better to sleep in silence or with noise? ›
Often, having a 'standby' sound keep your brain company as you fall asleep is better than silence because silence is more easily and effectively broken with random sounds. When you have sounds playing, the interruption is less noticeable and may not interrupt your sleep at all.Can white noise make you sick? ›
Your experience of feeling sick to your stomach in response to the “white noise” of the computer servers in your workplace is interesting – pressure waves produced by low frequency noise can cause nausea and heart palpitations.Does white noise affect brain development? ›
It turns out, the continuous background noise also known as white noise which comes from machines and other appliances, can harm your brain, it does so by overstimulating your auditory cortex– the part of the brain that helps us perceive sound. And it's even worse in children.
What month is SIDS risk? ›
SIDS risk by age
SIDS is more likely to occur at certain ages than at others. The NICHD notes that SIDS is most common when an infant is between 1–4 months old. Additionally, more than 90% of SIDS deaths occur before the age of 6 months old. The risk of SIDS reduces after an infant is 8 months old.
Most SIDS deaths happen in babies between 1 month and 4 months of age, and the majority (90%) of SIDS deaths happen before a baby reaches 6 months of age. However, SIDS deaths can happen anytime during a baby's first year. Slightly more boys die of SIDS than girls.What are the side effects of white noise on babies? ›
A study from researchers at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children found that many white noise machines go up to unsafe levels, with some maxing out at 85 decibels—that's as loud as a hair dryer. Having the machine on that loud puts babies at risk for hearing loss over time.What noise is best for baby sleep? ›
White noise is a key tool in the Happiest Baby sleep approach. It helps turn on your baby's calming reflex, or their built-in “reset button” to calm crying and bring on sleep. The best sound for calming fussing is a rough, slightly harsh noise that's as loud as your little one's crying.Do babies sleep better with white noise? ›
No wonder, then, that so many newborns and babies find a low hum comforting and need white noise to fall asleep. White noise — the steady, unobtrusive kind that masks other noises, like sirens and barking dogs — can also help adults doze off.Should you sleep with white noise all night? ›
Although there was some evidence that continuous noise reduced the amount of time it took individuals to fall asleep, the quality of the evidence was extremely poor, and at least one study suggested the noise may lead to more disrupted sleep. “If these apps or devices could only do good things, I wouldn't really care.Should I use white noise at night? ›
Sleeping with white or pink noise in the background has been shown to help us fall asleep faster, lower our anxiety, stay asleep throughout the night, and get a better night's sleep overall.Why should we not wear socks while sleeping? ›
“There may be an increased risk of skin infection, especially if the socks used are made of synthetic material like nylon. Body temperature can rise due to excessive use of socks,” he said.What are the benefits of white noise? ›
White noise has many benefits. Listening to it can help you concentrate while working and studying and help you fall asleep. It is also widely used by parents to calm their babies and it can also help you if you have ADHD, if you have learning difficulties or if you suffer from Tinnitus.Is a fan considered white noise? ›
Technically, the whirring sound of a fan is not white noise. By definition, white noise contains all frequencies of sound that humans can hear. A fan doesn't provide this, but it is similar.
How much white noise is too much? ›
Is there such thing as too much white noise for baby? There is absolutely a volume level you need to pay attention to the white noise being at. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended level is 50 decibels and for the noise to be at least 7 feet away from baby's ears.What are the benefits of white noise for babies? ›
White-noise machines create a comfortable, womb-like environment that calms infants, encouraging them to stop crying and fall asleep faster. White-noise machines also help babies stay asleep longer. It may seem like it works like magic, but the trick can be easily explained.Can white noise cause seizures? ›
Anyway, noise can possibly cause seizures. There is electricity that is flowing in human brain which can respond to different things in environment. So, if that electricity start firing out irregularly it can cause seizure.Are white noise machines bad for kids? ›
A study from researchers at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children found that many white noise machines go up to unsafe levels, with some maxing out at 85 decibels—that's as loud as a hair dryer. Having the machine on that loud puts babies at risk for hearing loss over time.Can white noise cause psychosis? ›
Background. An association between white noise speech illusion and psychotic symptoms has been reported in patients and their relatives. This supports the theory that bottom-up and top-down perceptual processes are involved in the mechanisms underlying perceptual abnormalities.What is the number 1 cause of SIDS? ›
While the cause of SIDS is unknown, many clinicians and researchers believe that SIDS is associated with problems in the ability of the baby to arouse from sleep, to detect low levels of oxygen, or a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood. When babies sleep face down, they may re-breathe exhaled carbon dioxide.What are 3 causes of SIDS? ›
- Brain defects. Some infants are born with problems that make them more likely to die of SIDS . ...
- Low birth weight. ...
- Respiratory infection.
Results: The majority of SIDS deaths (83%) occurred during night-time sleep, although this was often after midnight and at least four SIDS deaths occurred during every hour of the day.What temperature should room be for SIDS? ›
Overheating may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies one month to one year of age. Many experts recommend that the temperature in the room where a baby's sleeps be kept between 68–72°F (20–22.2°C).Why does sleeping in the same room as baby reduce SIDS? ›
Goodstein said, when babies sleep in the same room as their parents, the background sounds or stirrings prevent very deep sleep and that helps keeps the babies safe. Room sharing also makes breast-feeding easier, which is protective against SIDS.
Does a fan help prevent SIDS? ›
The results found that running a fan in a sleeping infant's room lowered the risk for SIDS by 72 percent. That risk was lowered even further when the infant's sleeping conditions put him or her at higher risk for SIDS, such as sleeping in a warm room or sleeping on the stomach.What age should you use white noise? ›
You can introduce white noise at any age. It can be safely used with newborn babies. It is also really effective with older babies and toddlers, even if you have never used it before.When should I use white noise for newborn? ›
White noise should be used during your baby's bedtime routine, throughout their naps and night sleeps, and whenever you need help to calm crying. When you use a white noise machine to help stop crying, make sure it's turned up just as loud as your little one's wails.Are you supposed to play white noise all night? ›
As with swaddling, white noise isn't meant to be used 24 hours a day. That's because you want to give your baby's ears and brain a break for several hours—every day—to learn the normal sounds of your home and your voice. So, save the white noise for calming your baby's fussies and to improve naps and nighttime sleep.How long should baby be on white noise? ›
For instance, research shows that white noise can help 80% of infants fall asleep in just 5 minutes, it can increase sleep in colicky babies, even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends white noise to improve Baby sleep.Should babies sleep to music or white noise? ›
Soft music can help children fall asleep. White noise or rain sounds might soothe your child if they wake easily. These can also block out sudden noises. Try dimming the lights as you get your baby or young child ready for bed.