There are so, so many different products on the market all with the promise of better sleep for your baby. While not all of these live up to the hype there are definitely some that are better than others. Over the last couple of years there has been increased interest in white noise machines so I am going to break down for you what these do and how they impact on sleep.
What is White Noise?
White noise is basically equal amounts of all the different frequencies within the range of human hearing! Think of the static you get from the TV or radio as opposed to the sounds of the ocean or the rainforest.
It is thought to help calm and relax babies for 2 reasons. The first is that they have been in the womb for 9 months where is it extremely loud and noisy. The second is that white noise in particular is supposed to mimic similar sounds to those in utero such as blood whooshing through the umbilical cord. White noise machines or apps emit this constant noise that masks or drowns out other sounds that are happening in the environment. So for example, if you are living in the city or on a major road, white noise can help block out traffic noise.
Shouldn’t My Baby Get Used to Every Day Noise?
Babies don’t need their sleeping environment to be completely silent but on the whole, a quiet sleeping space is more conducive for sleep. While some babies seem to have a higher tolerance to external noise and manage to sleep through pretty much anything, you may well have a baby that is quite sensitive and wakes up to dog barking down the street. If your baby is more like the latter, white noise can help to protect your babies sleep as they come into lighter stages of sleep or when they transition between sleep cycles.
Are they Safe?
In 2014, the University of Toronto tested 14 popular white noise machines. They found that if the machine was placed 30 cm from the head (equivalent to being placed in the rail of a cot) all of them exceeded recommended noise limits, which is set at 50 decibels.
BUT, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use these machines safely. Based on these findings, the new recommendations for safe use are:
- Don’t use the machine in or attached to the baby’s cot
- Don’t use the machine on full volume
- Place the device at least 200cm away from your baby’s cot
- Don’t leave it on continuously for the entire night
So in summary, some babies will find the familiarization of white noise to be soothing and in turn can help calm them down and help them settle off to sleep. If your baby is particularly sensitive to noise or you have an external noise, such as the garbage truck every Tuesday morning at 5am that is regularly waking your baby, white noise may protect the continuity of sleep. From a safety perspective, always follow the manufactures instructions and have the machine a good distance from your baby’s cot.
Kate has worked in the field of Sleep Medicine for over 15 years. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne and has since worked extensively both here in Australia as well as most recently in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is passionate about working with families to help children sleep better and is the founder of Babysomnia. She currently lives in Melbourne with her husband and four young children. If you have a question for Kate you can ask it on the Facebook page or for more information check out the website at www.babysomnia.com