Why Babies Love White Noise

Why Babies Love White Noise

White Noise Helps Baby Sleep Flickr@Kekka

Babies love white noise. Let’s start with looking at it from baby’s perspective. They’ve just spent their entire life in the womb. And the womb is deafeningly loud. It is just slightly less loud than a lawnmower. Loud is normal to a baby. Life outside the womb is uncomfortably quiet. White noise sounds like “home” to a baby.

The Volume Inside the Womb

The Noise Level Your Baby is Used To

Why You Should Use White Noise with Babies?

Baby Sleeps Through the Night

White Noise Helps Baby Sleep Flickr@Kekka

All babies, ALL, should have loud white noise when they sleep all the time until they are at least 1. White noise is hands down the most effective, easiest to implement, inexpensive sleep aid for babies. It is also the sleep aid that parents most frequently DON’T use or they don’t use it CORRECTLY. I’ve had parents tell me they don’t want to use white noise because they are afraid their baby will become addicted. Or they don’t want to have to invest in a $70 white noise machine from the Sharper Image catalog. Or they think they are using white noise, but whatever device they are using barely makes enough noise to drown out a library whisper (yes I’m talking about you sleepy sheep – these don’t work, please don’t buy one).

White noise is hands-down the best and easiest thing you can use to help you and your baby sleep better.

1

White noise reduces stress in babies.

What do babies get stressed about? Just about everything. They’re stressed when they’re over-tired, they’re stressed because their world is more stimulating than they’re ready to handle, they’re overwhelmed with lights, faces, and excitement. White noise creates a safe space for them by blocking out that stimulation.

2

White noise helps babies sleep.

They fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer. Babies have what are called “sleep arousals”, usually about every 20-45 minutes. Ever wonder why your baby only naps for 20 minutes at a time? Well it’s because when she hits her sleep arousal at the ~20 minute mark she is unable to fall back into deeper sleep and thus her nap is over. White noise helps babies gently navigate these arousals to get longer, more restorative naps. It also helps to block out the noise of life (older siblings, doorbells, garbage trucks, etc.) that can interfere with naps and night sleep.

3

White noise helps babies cry less.

Did you know that shushing is a sound that people universally understand and make with babies? Shushing is simply white noise that you make yourself. The key to using white noise (sushing or from a radio) to help calm a crying baby is that it needs to be LOUDER than the crying. Holding a screaming baby while shushing like a gentle librarian is useless. Your baby can’t hear the shushing over his own crying. You need to shush LOUDLY (sounds a bit ridiculous I know) so that the calming noise can penetrate above the crying. Also you may need to continue to shush for a while. Loud sustained shushing can be a challenge. If you’re starting to feel dizzy and/or see stars it’s time to outsource your shushing to an electric white noise device (radio, et al).

4

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. Nobody knows why the fan helps – it could be my moving the air around although many believe it has to do with the white noise the fan makes. We DO know that white noise reduces active sleep (which is the sleep state where SIDS is most likely to occur).

5

White noise will help YOU sleep.

Parents notoriously wake up every time the baby grunts or gurgles (and babies are NOISY CREATURES). Newborn swings can also be quite noisy, especially when they’re banging away mere inches from your bed. White noise will help mask these small noises so you and your partner can sleep better.

6

White noise is easy to wean off of.

When your baby is older (generally after their 1st birthday) you can gradually start to decrease the volume of the white noise. If they continue to sleep well, you’re done. If they wake up more frequently then they used to turn the white noise back on.

How to Use White Noise?

White Noise from Boom Box Radio

Boom Box for Baby Flicker@istopcrappics

You don’t need to buy ANYTHING – no sleepy sheep, no Sharper Image white noise generators, no mystical baby white noise CDs. Any old boom box, stereo, or alarm clock will work. In fact you can probably use the alarm clock in your your bedroom. You have a baby now, you no longer NEED an alarm clock. Simply set it to static (if you have a hard time finding a good static station on the FM dial, try searching on AM), turn up the volume, and you are all set. Put your radio where the baby primarily sleeps (probably your room). When the baby moves into his/her room, the white noise device goes too.

Turn the volume up to roughly 50 db (approximately the volume of somebody taking a shower if you are standing in the bathroom). It should definitely be louder than you think. It shouldn’t be UNCOMFORTABLY loud (if it bothers YOU, it’s probably too loud). Leave the white noise on whenever your baby will be sleeping. Whatever you are using to make white noise should be continuous. Any CD or Sleepy Sheeps (have I mentioned my loathing of these things?) won’t work well because they will TURN OFF at some point.  While this may not cause problems for newborn babies (under 3-6 months) eventually you will find yourself with a child who wakes up crying every 45 minutes when the Sleepy Sheep turns off.

If you have a particularly fussy baby or are looking for ways to survive the dreaded witching hours, you may want to bring your white noise maker out into living room (or wherever you like to grind through the fussy part of the day) to help create a calming environment for your fussy baby. Simply move the radio back to the bedroom when it’s time to sleep.


132 Comments


  1. Best sound machine money can buy, if buying one is your thing. This one is loud, runs both on batteries (in case of power outage, which has saved my butt during the night three times this summer!) and plugin, has timers but you dont need to use them, will run continuously. The waterfall noise is perfect for my little one and helps with drowning out our creaky old house noises and day to day life and I SWEAR she sleeps better because of it (well and because of sleep training).

  2. Best sound machine money can buy, if buying one is your thing. This one is loud, runs both on batteries (in case of power outage, which has saved my butt during the night three times this summer!) and plugin, has timers but you dont need to use them, will run continuously. The waterfall noise is perfect for my little one and helps with drowning out our creaky old house noises and day to day life and I SWEAR she sleeps better because of it (well and because of sleep training).

    http://www.amazon.ca/HoMedics-SS-2000-Relaxation-Machine-Nature/dp/B000F3QG0U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376183870&sr=8-1&keywords=homedics+sound+spa

    and PS its cheaper at Walmart!

  3. White noise, really? Are you sure it’s not pink noise?

    Pink noise (equal amount of energy per octave) sounds way more “natural” than white noise. I’m pretty sure that what is described here as “white” is in fact “pink”…

    • Yeah white noise is much too harsh and doesn’t conform to the freq/volume curve the human ear hears.
      We don’t hear volume along frequencies linearly, rather logarithmically. So as the frequency gets higher, we don’t need as much volume of it to perceive the same volume level as a lower frequency. For this reason we hear more high pitch hiss than the deeper / lower tones. With Pink or brown noise there is a nice tapering off of the high frequencies and these sound oh so much more calming.

      There are many new articles on white noise being BAD for babies, in that most generators play them too loud. Just get an app or software to do this, it’s been around for yonks!

  4. I recently tried to wean my 17 month old off white noise. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I lowered the volume until I couldn’t lower it anymore. Then at its lowest volume, I set the timer to turn off after 1 hour. She woke up crying within minutes of the room going silent. Do I need to worry about this? Did I go about it the wrong way?

    • Hi

      She is addicted to the white fan noise. I think you should just leave it on ,and she is addicted, its no big deal. Ive used a fan to sleep my whole life. I feel soo upset and cant sleep without it. I have a friend like that, too. Shes already used to it, please don’t pull it from her now.

  5. My Previously decent night sleeper has started consistently waking between 3 and 5 am. My DS is 7.5 months old and until about 3 weeks ago he pretty consistently slept from 8:30 or 9 ish until about 8:00 am… Is 7.5 months to old to introduce a white noise machine if we have not been using one before?

  6. You don’t need to spend any money on white noise sound machine you have an application for your mobile phone Baby Lullabies & White Noise application
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babyLullabies which is safe, easy to use, and extremely effective and the most important think my baby cry less and sleep better.

    This application include white noise sounds, ocean surf, relaxing river, running water, electric fan, vacuum cleaner.

  7. My daughter just turned 9 months and we’re going crazy trying to get her to take long naps and sleep through the night. I really want to try white noise, but is she too old to start??? Or could it still work?

  8. I tried white noise last night for the first time with my 6 1/2 month old. (Didn’t spend a cent; just tuned a radio to the static between stations.) He did fall asleep nursing (oops), but I moved him to the crib after just a minute or two instead of ten like I had been doing. I said some goodnight words and left. He woke up and started to fuss, but a few minutes later he was quiet. Overnight I heard him twice, but it was more like moaning or whining, not even crying. He quieted down (and I assume went back to sleep) within ten minutes the first time, twenty minutes the second. So I woke up twice, but I got to stay in bed all night! I put him to bed like that again tonight — no fussing at all!

    My question is: The radio I’m using also makes a high pitch sound with the static. It sounds very similar to ringing in the ears. I’ve tried fiddling with the dial, but it still makes the sound. Is this a problem? I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop (it’s only been a night and a half), but as it stands now I’m so sold on white noise that I would definitely consider buying an actual white noise machine if need be.

    • That’s great news!

      As for the noise on your radio, it’s hard to say because I am not there, obviously :) There are plenty of free apps of MP3s that work great so if you have a smart phone or ipod and sound dock that would be an option? Or try the radio on a different station (sometimes AM works better). Lots of people use a humidifier or fan so that’s another option if you have something like that lying around.

      Good luck!
      Alexis Dubief recently posted..Pediatrics Study on White Noise: Sounding Off on Sound MachinesMy Profile

  9. Hi! The JSTOR link for “White noise creates a safe space” doesn’t seem to work for me. Would you be able to share the name/author/year of that study? I’d like to have a look at that. Thanks!

  10. We Never Used the White Noise Until About 2 Weeks Ago Because We Gave AnOther One ComING Soon So We Want Him To Get Used To The Noise AND Sleep it out. He is 18 months old. How loud should it be. I use it on a iPhone all night. But he has been sleeping thru the night after 6 months. We just started now because of the little one coming soon. It was on loud. But it was loud for me. So I put it on volume three. Idk if thats ok.

  11. I don’t know if this is still moderated, but I wanted to share this article that my husband just brought to my attention and that has me concerned because we took what you said to heart and turned the sound up loud and close to our daughter to soothe her. And it worked! But now I’m concerned. I’d love your thoughts on this if you are still monitoring comments. Article in question: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/03/health/infant-sleep-machines-at-maximum-volume-reported-as-hearing-risk.html

    • Hi Rachel,

      Give this a read:

      http://www.troublesometots.com/pediatrics-study-white-noise/

      I used to play the white noise loud (too loud I think) and I briefly worried about it but my son has VERY acute hearing!!

    • Hi Rachel,

      In the article you linked, they found the noisemakers produced sounds between 68.8 to 92.9 decibels. Alex says white noise should be no louder than 50. 50 decibels is also the limit in hospital nurseries, according to your link. I bet you can download an app that tells you the exact volume of sounds around you if you are still worried.

  12. I am a father of newborn triplet girls. While I understand why the white, pink or brown noise is so important, it does not work for me. My girls spent the first 3 weeks of their lives in the NICU. They were not using any type of noise to help them sleep at the hospital. In fact, I feel as though I should I should have machine that mimics the sound of crying babies and monitor beeps and alarms. They all slept much better in the hospital than they do at home. They all become more restless when I try to use a noise generator and as an audio engineer, you best believe that the one I own is quite accurate. Oh, and the shush routine only leaves my wife and I aggravated and with sore teeth from doing so. Three out of five of the S’s that is taught have sort of been working, of those being swaddle, swing and suck. I am pretty sure that it is pink noise and not white noise that you are looking for. Since white noise is all frequencies at the same volume and pink noise is all frequencies set at the human ear response or the Fletcher – Munson curve. So to say that ALL babies must have this in their sleep diet is quite inaccurate. End of rant.

    • Hey Les,

      As the father of triplet girls I can totally understand you feeling a bit chuffed about things. But I will say that there is a solid body of evidence that white noise has numerous benefits for babies so I think it’s fair to say that it helps, at least nominally, “all” babies. There is further evidence that it’s particularly useful for preemies who are:
      - at higher risk of SIDS
      - cycle through sleep cycles more frequently

      There’s tons of research about preemies and the deafening volume of the NICU but it’s hard to say why they slept better there than at home. Maybe your home is too quiet?

      Anyway you aren’t the first person to bring up pink, white, brown, etc. noise and truthfully it’s a topic I don’t fully understand. A different sound engineer made his own “noise” that he felt was optimized for babies. All the academic research has been focused on “white” noise. But if we can come up with a compelling case for a different sort of noise that’s beneficial for babies, I’m all for it!
      Alexis Dubief recently posted..7 Sleep Lessons from a Stanford Pediatric Sleep SpecialistMy Profile

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