ne common tool parents use for infant sleep is white noise. In this blog, we are going to tell you when you should use it, and when you shouldn’t.
White (or even brown or pink – more on that later) noise is a combination of different sound frequencies blurred into a shush sound which can be soothing and masks other disturbing noises. It has its pros and cons which we will explain in a moment.
It can help with sleep, but it can also be a “sleep aid” where it hinders sleep. Let’s discuss more how it should be used and why.
WHEN SHOULD WHITE NOISE BE USED?
So many families use it as a tool to help a baby settle to sleep or back to sleep. And for newborn it’s definitely a very useful tool as they transition out of the noisy and cocooned womb, and the shushing sound of white noise can be very comforting.
Many white noise machines play heartbeat sounds – such as Ewan The Sheep shown below – which mimic the sound of Mum’s heartbeat, which again can be comforting to the baby when still in side their Mummy’s tummy.
However, it can become a sleep aid which babies become dependent on for sleep and that’s what we would always recommend you trying to avoid.
Longer-term, we believe white noise has its best use in blocking out external noise to stop a child waking such as the noise from siblings, pets, traffic or birds tweeting in the morning, all of which can disturb a child’s sleep.
HOW LONG SHOULD THE WHITE NOISE BE PLAYED FOR?
White noise should ideally be part of the environment and play all night, i.e. before the baby goes to sleep until they wake up in the morning.
If white noise is only playing for 20mins, it is helping your baby get to sleep but it’s not helping your baby stay asleep once they hit the end of their sleep cycle (~45mins) and the noise has stopped. Often babies will wake up at the end of the cycle because the sound which helped them get to sleep, has since stopped. And they are seeking that same noise to help them get back to sleep. That’s where it becomes a dependency.
It’s also the same for any white noise machine which has a crying sensor and starts automatically shushing when it hears a crying noise from your baby.
With these machines, it means the baby is being helped back to sleep when they wake up in the night crying. For many of you, this might seem like a nice outcome that a machine is helping your baby back to sleep rather than you having to do it, but this can still lead to night wakings, broken sleep and general self-soothing issues. As such, it’s always better that a baby can put themselves back to sleep without the aid of a noise machine.
Therefore, if you are using white noise that only plays for short periods, we would recommend you switch it to playing all night (if you do need it).
WHITE NOISE VS. BROWN NOISE VS. PINK NOISE
Similar to how people can determine the colour of light, colour can be used to describe the frequency of noise. And pink, white and brown noise refer to varying frequencies of noise.
The 3 options encompass all frequencies of noise that are audible to the human ear, with white noise containing all frequencies with equal distribution, pink noise having more power at lower frequencies and less at higher frequencies, making it deeper.
Brown noise is the deepest of the three and because of this, is said to be the best at calming the mind and body. And recently, we’ve been introduced to green noise which sits around pink noise in the frequency range, and is all about the sound of nature such as a gentle waterfall.
Examples of white noise include TV, radio static, and ventilation systems. Examples of pink noise include heartbeats, steady rainfall, and rustling leaves. And examples of brown noise would be heavy rainfall, thunder and crashing waves.
WHAT TYPE OF WHITE NOISE MACHINE SHOULD YOU USE?
We typically don’t recommend a family buy a white noise machine to save costs, instead recommending that they use YouTube, an Alexa or Google Nest or the white noise function on their phone or tablet.
If you do wish to buy a specific white noise machine, we’ve used the Tommee Tippee Dream Maker Machine and would recommend it. The volume is good and the sound is clear. And it’s small and compact, which is great for taking with you on trips or on holiday.
SETTING YOUR WHITE NOISE MACHINE VOLUME
When using white noise to block out external sound, it’s important that it’s loud enough to actually achieve this goal, but not too loud to cause any hearing issues with the baby. The recommended limit is 70 decibels (there are free Apps which can help you test the sound level) but we would recommend staying much lower than this, and you can usually achieve that by moving the white noise machine as far away from the cot or bed as possible.
Where Should You Position Your White Noise Machine?
We always recommend that you try to position the white noise as far away from your baby as you can. This is to keep the decibel level as low for your baby as possible.
To optimise the use of the white noise – blocking out external sounds – it should be placed close to where the sound is coming from. For example, this might be near the window to block out traffic; or it might be near the bedroom door to block out the noise from your TV, your pets or other children banging about the house.
In fact, you can even put the white noise by the door OUTSIDE of the nursery to help provide a layer of sound protection over the room door, but maintaining a healthier distance between the white noise machine and your baby.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FORGET TO PUT YOUR WHITE NOISE ON
If you forget to put your baby’s white noise on, maybe it’s time that they don’t need it! However, if there is lots of outside noise and you know your baby will need it later in the night, then it’s probably best to switch it on, even if it disturbs their sleep initially.
It’s much easier to get a baby back to sleep in the earlier part of the night when the sleep pressure is high, than it is in the early part of the morning when their body is preparing to wake-up.
One tip we have if you use an Alexa for your white noise and you forget to put it on, is to activate ‘whisper mode’. Alexa will then reply in a whisper whenever you whisper at her.
CAN YOU USE LULLABIES INSTEAD OF WHITE NOISE?
We wouldn’t recommend lullabies as a direct replacement for white noise. Lullabies are lovely for being part of a bedtime routine, or a short nap routine, but once your baby goes into their cot or sleep space, we recommend that those sounds should be switched off (and, if needed, replaced with a constant white noise sound to block out external noise).
The reason being that lullabies and ambient music have an up and down melody which is more likely to disturb your baby’s sleep as the sounds change throughout their period of sleep.
BABIES MIGHT BECOME RELIANT ON WHITE NOISE
It’s safe to say that babies can become reliant on white noise. However, it there is noise waking them up, we think it’s worth the downside of creating that dependency.
If you do want to stop using white noise, we would recommend you drop the volume gradually over a few nights, until you no longer play it. It’s a very simple, but effective approach to removing white noise from the sleep environment.
You may also be interested in: This One Tip Could Resolve Your Early Wakings
We a husband and wife business, and are leading sleep consultants based in the UK. If you are having issues with your little one’s sleep, have a look at our sleep plans which range from an online plan to one-to-one coaching. If it feels like you’ve tried everything, then come and try the one thing you haven’t which we know works – that’s our proven sleep method Comforting Through Change™.
We also train people to become sleep consultants. So if you fancy a career change, one where you can be at home ALL the time, contact us via our Academy. We would love to hear from you.