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 in another room. These are the moments that exhausted parents dread. Thankfully, you can use white noise to help your baby sleep soundly through the night! Best of all, you can use this simple sleep solution almost immediately.
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.
What Is White Noise and Does It Help Babies Sleep?
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. 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 longer.
What you may not realize is that you instinctively make this noise regularly to soothe your little one. Every time you shush your baby while rocking them, you're creating white noise. Interestingly enough, this is not the only color noise that you can use to facilitate a better rest.
Pink and Brown Noises
Pink noise, otherwise known as ambient sound, works in the same way as white noise, but it prioritizes lower frequencies. This gives off a quieter tone. 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.
Conversely, brown noise is a stronger form of pink noise. What this means is that the sounds are deeper and more intense. Thus, steady rain turns into a thunderstorm and a babbling brook transforms into a roaring river. While these can help to improve sleep for some, these sounds are better suited for improving focus and relaxation.
Tips for Using a White Noise Machine to Help Babies Sleep
White and pink noises can be a fantastic way to help your baby settle down and drift off into dreamland. Here is how to get the most out of these devices.
Select the Right Machine
Not all sound machines are created equal. When shopping for this sleep aid, do your research. You need a machine that has both white and pink noises. Also, look for products with features such as volume controls, 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 do not accidentally disturb your baby's slumber.
Keep the Decibel Level Low
Sleep machines are a wonderful tool for blocking out other noises and enhancing sleep. Unfortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that regular exposure to sound levels greater than 50 decibels (dB) can "be damaging to infant hearing and auditory development." (A decibel 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.
How do you ensure that your baby's sound machine is safe for their little ears? Place these sleep tools at least seven feet from your baby's sleep space and set the machine on the lowest volume setting. You can raise this when your baby is crying, but as soon as they settle, lower it back to 50 dB or less. If you are concerned about what 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.
Don't Let it Run All Night
The intent of a white noise machine is to help your child to go to sleep and stay asleep. However, there is mixed research on whether you should leave these devices running all night long. Recent research has found that 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.
What this equates to is that sound machines are a useful tool for while your baby is settling down and during time frames when environmental noises are most disruptive. 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. However, once you head to bed and most disruptive sounds cease, turn the machine off.
When Should I Stop Using a White Noise Machine?
This question will depend on your child, but 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 occur, all of which interrupt your 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
The biggest issue 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 you 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 is 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. Be patient - research shows that white noise can help 80 percent of babies fall asleep in as little as five minutes - so it's well worth the wait!