If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m an advocate for white noise in the nursery (and kiddo bedrooms). Whether you have a busy household, noisy neighbors, or just a little one who startles or stimulates easily while sleeping, white noise can be the answer. While you may have read some of the negative press surrounding noise machines, I implore you — please don’t throw out your noise machine!
What is white noise?
If you’ve ever seen the movie Poltergeist, the snow screen on the television is an iconic example of white noise. And then there’s the movie, White Noise, which has an even more frightening take on white noise. Despite the scary movies and alarmist headlines, white noise isn’t terrifying.
White noise is created by combining sounds at various frequencies, at equal intensities; the result is a constant or static sound. The blended noise white nose machines create is capable of masking background or environmental noise — this is why many people sleep with fans in their rooms or add them to their children’s rooms. With so many Americans facing sleep deficits, disruptions, and dysfunction, it’s not abnormal to find adults using white noise in their bedrooms.
Why white noise?
You may be wondering why I’m advocating introducing an item into your nursery, let alone one that creates noise, but bear with me. While I am a proponent of a stark and uncluttered sleep environment for babies, the addition of a white noise machine will not create any stimulation for your little one.
If your newborn has a sensitive startle reflex, as most do early on, the slightest noise can cause your baby to react and wake themselves with physical movement. Adding white noise to the nursery can help muffle environmental sound, reducing the possibility of your baby’s startle reflex being triggered.
White noise machines can also help drown out household noises while your little one is napping throughout the day, as loud noises can stimulate your baby into alertness. An alert baby is the last thing you want when you’re trying to get your little one’s daytime naps on-track [setting them up for healthy nighttime sleep].
Is white noise bad?
Okay, it’s time for me to address the elephant in the room. After significant studies in the 90s showed that white noise could help babies fall asleep faster — and stay asleep — inevitable alarmist headlines have appeared in recent years. Much like the caffeine debate — it’s terrible for you, it’s good, it’s bad — splashy headlines denounced white noise machines and scared parents across the globe.
One particular study, published in 2014, discussed the possibility of white noise machines contributing to hearing loss in infants, which set the news media on a white noise witch hunt, and scared parents enough to make them throw out their noise machines. Those who took the time to research the findings realized that the study tested fourteen sound devices on the market, and each exceeded the maximum noise level recommended for infants in hospital nurseries. And three of the noise machines tested exceeded safe levels, registering more than 85 decibels. What the study didn’t say — despite news media proclaiming in clickbaity headlines — was that hearing loss is possible in your infant if you have your white noise machine volume set to its highest level and balanced next to the crib.
The American Academy of Pediatrics shared the results of this study, reiterating the study’s recommendations, “Even though the maximum output levels were measured in this study, the authors encourage parents to move infant sleep machines farther away than 200 centimeters and to lower the volume to protect infants’ hearing.”
In short, just be smart about your white noise machine’s placement and volume level. Keep your machine more than seven feet away from your baby’s crib, and know that white noise doesn’t need to be set to a high volume to be effective. Most importantly, don’t throw out your noise machine!
Still unsure about a white noise machine and whether you should introduce one into your nursery? I offer a complimentary 15-minute sleep assessment so I can get to know the specifics about your situation.