Does a white noise machine help your baby sleep?

by | May 9, 2023 | Blog, Establishing an Optimal Sleep Environment, Podcast, Sleep Challenges | 0 comments

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I know firsthand how tough it can be as a new parent desperately trying to get your baby sleeping well at night. That’s why I want to talk about a popular sleep tool- white noise machines. These handy little devices emit constant, ambient sounds that are meant to help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep.

But is it really worth using one?  Does white noise REALLY help babies sleep?

The short answer is a resounding YES.  In this article, I’ll explore what the scientific research says about white noise machines and I’ll discuss the benefits of using one.  I’ll also mention my top tips for introducing a white noise machine to your little one, as well as my recommendations on what to look for when purchasing one.

Why white noise DOES help babies sleep

White noise is a fantastic tool that helps babies sleep by drowning out background noise and creating a calming, soothing sleep environment.  The benefits of white noise cut across different ages for babies and children.

For newborn babies:

Newborns are used to the constant noise and movement of the womb.  This can make the quiet of the outside world feel very unsettling. In fact, newborns are used to very loud sounds inside the womb that are thought to be as loud as a vacuum cleaner!  

White noise helps recreate a womb-like environment and mimic those familiar sounds of the womb. This is why white noise feels comforting for your little one and is especially calming for fussy babies. And when your newborn is calm and comfortable, they can relax and fall asleep more easily.

For infants:

When your little one is officially an infant, baby white noise machines continue to be extremely beneficial.   White noise machines drown out background noise and block out other sounds that may be disturbing to a baby, such as a noisy neighborhood, your barking dog, older children in your home who are playing or talking loudly, as well as any sudden loud noises.  

This makes white noise VERY helpful because infants often have very sensitive hearing, which means they can be easily awoken by background noise.  We don’t want your little one’s nap to be interrupted by the sound of your neighbor’s lawnmower or the snowplow!  By masking these sounds, white noise machines do a great job at creating that peaceful sleep environment for your baby.

The use of a white noise machine is also beneficial for your baby’s sleep because it acts as a sleep cue. By turning it on, we’re letting your little one known that it’ll be sleep time soon.  This is why I love incorporating the use of white noise into your baby’s bedtime routine.  

For toddlers:

You will be amazed at how beneficial a white noise machine can be for your toddler and even older children.  

First of all, many toddlers are still sensitive to background noise, even at this stage.  On top of that, some toddlers might have a wild imagination and can feel scared around bedtime and nighttime, especially if they’re able to hear that gust of wind or the creaky floor.  When white noise machines drown out this background sound, it’ll be easier for them to relax and fall asleep.  

For all of these reasons, having a white noise machine for your newborn, infant or toddler is very beneficial!

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What does the scientific research say about whether white noise helps babies sleep?

Thankfully, there’s scientific research on the safety and effectiveness of white noise machines.

One of the earliest studies on white noise and infant sleep was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood in 1990. The study found that white noise helped babies fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer than when they slept in silence.

However, it’s important to note that a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that white noise machines can cause hearing loss if played at high volumes for extended periods of time. The researchers recommended using white noise at a lower volume of 50-60 decibels and to ensure the white noise machine wasn’t placed next to the baby’s crib.  

“But Eva- isn’t my little one going to become reliant on it?”

It’s understandable to be concerned about your child becoming dependent on a white noise machine to fall asleep. After all, if you rely on something to fall asleep every night, you might have a hard time to sleep without it.

You might even be picturing your baby as an 18-year-old going off to his college dorm still sleeping with his white noise machine! Don’t worry- there’s very little to worry about here.

First of all, white noise machines are not addictive. Unlike certain medications or substances, there is no chemical dependency associated with white noise. So, while your baby may come to rely on the soothing sound of white noise to fall asleep, there’s no risk of them developing a physical addiction to it.

Furthermore, I always recommend using white noise machines for babies and toddlers PRECISELY because they can help your little one sleep better! By using white noise consistently, your baby can learn to associate that sound with sleep.  

Don’t worry about the white noise machine becoming a sleep prop.  This association can actually HELP them fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer (in addition to drowning out the background noise that could easily wake them up).

Now look, there’s always the possibility that your child will become reliant on white noise to fall asleep. If this happens, don’t sweat it. Fun fact- you can gradually wean them off of white noise by lowering its volume each night until they no longer need it.

As my kids like to say- easy peezy lemon squeezy.

However, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing inherently wrong about your child relying on white noise to sleep. If it helps them sleep better and more consistently, then it’s doing its job!

Why you shouldn’t use classical music instead of white noise

While classical music can be a soothing and enjoyable part of your little one’s bedtime routine, I don’t recommend using it as a replacement for white noise when it comes to helping babies and toddlers fall sleep. 

Firstly, classical music tends to be more dynamic and varied in terms of volume, tempo and melodies than white noise. While music is enjoyable to listen to, it can be stimulating and distracting for babies who want to fall asleep. And even though music with a slow tempo and low volume can be relaxing, the brain may still try to process the melody and lyrics, which can keep babies awake.  

Ambient noise, on the other hand, is consistent and predictable, which helps create that calming and reassuring sleep environment we’re aiming for.

Now, you can always expose your little one to classical music or other genres that you enjoy. Music is a wonderful way to bond with your child and promote cognitive development.  And of course, it’s an especially great addition to any relaxing bedtime routine.

However, for these reasons, I ALWAYS recommend shutting off the classical music and turning on the white noise when it’s time for your little one to go to sleep.  

White noise machine recommendations

Here are my biggest tips for choosing a white noise machine, as well as using it:

– It really doesn’t matter which brand of white noise machine you use, as long as it stays on until you want it turned off…likely when your baby wakes up!  See, there are lots of junky noise machines that stay on only for 20-30 minutes before shutting off.  Not only can these jolt your baby awake by shutting off halfway through their sleep cycles, you also lose out on its soothing benefits when the sound shuts off mid-sleep! Remember that white noise only helps babies sleep if it’s on the entire time they’re asleep.

– Make sure that the white noise machine you buy has a volume control setting.  This way, you can ensure that the sound level stays at 50-60 decibels maximum.  You’ll also want to be able to adjust the machine’s volume depending on outside noise levels.  

– Place the machine away from your baby’s crib and use it at a lower volume. You don’t want the sound to be too loud or too close to your baby’s ears.

-With toddlers or preschoolers, get a white noise machine that has different sound options such as ocean waves or raindrops.  This way, you can let your little one choose which sound he prefers. He’s going to have an opinion on the matter!

On a personal note, we have always used the Homedics white noise machine as it meets all of above criteria.  On top of that, it’s very reasonably priced! 

*I may earn a commission from links on this page at no additional cost to you, but I only recommend products I love.

My final thoughts

So, there you have it!  According to the scientific research we’ve got, white noise DOES help babies sleep by recreating the comforting sounds of the womb and by blocking out background sounds that may be disturbing to your little one.  If you’re considering investing in one, talk to your pediatrician first and make sure you’re using it safely. With some caution, white noise can be a great tool for helping your baby sleep through the night.

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Other articles and resources on baby and child sleep

The truth about your teething baby and their sleep
How to fix your little one’s early rising problem
The Snoo bassinet- what you need to know before you buy it
Pacifiers- the good, the bad, and when to use them
Why you don’t need to let your little one cry-it-out
How much sleep does a 15 month old need?
6 month old wake windows and sleep schedules

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