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Can I Make Noise While Baby Sleeps?

Little Man Drumming

Question From a Reader

“We have a 16-month old who sleeps great, yet my husband and I have a long-standing disagreement about how quiet the house should be kept while she is sleeping. He insists there should be no sound of footsteps on our hardwood floors or on our stairs, no microwave or ice machine being used, and I disagree. Walking normally (not stomping of course) should not affect the sleep of a baby, should it? It has never woken her so far. The baby’s room is upstairs from the kitchen and hardwood floors, and we use a fan in summer and humidifier in winter for white noise in her room. Can we make noise while baby sleeps?”

Ah….there is nothing I love more than getting drug into the middle of a good marital squabble. Presumably this woman hasn’t been allowed to use the ice machine in over a year and she’s getting tired of drinking warm tap water.

The Short Answer: She has answered her own question. “It (household noise) has never woken her so far.” If it’s not waking her up then you don’t have a problem. Or maybe you do. Your husband believes you have a problem despite the lack of empirical evidence to suggest you actually have a problem. Which technically means he has a problem. Only apparently he is making it your problem.

Ah, good times.

The Long Answer: Most of the time you could host a book club meeting full of loud-talkers who insist upon playing the accordion while discussing books and your child would sleep just fine. However if you drop a pencil on the floor at the wrong moment she’ll wake up screaming. (My best guess is that this happened to your husband at some point and it left him understandably nervous.)

Why Does This Happen and What Can You Do About It?

How You Sleep

Infographic of Adult Sleep Cycles (light vs deep)

Adults are pretty good about sleeping through household noise because a) there isn’t much of it going on when we sleep and b) we spend most of the night in a state of pretty deep sleep. There is a period in the middle of the night where adults cycle into light sleep. A quiet noise (ex. ice machine) at this time might wake you up but for most of the night you would easily sleep through general household noises.

How Kid’s Sleep

Infographic of Baby Sleep Cycles (light vs deep sleep)

However children don’t develop this sort of sleep pattern until they are closer to 10-12 years old. They cycle into light sleep far more often.

When Noise will Wake your Child Infographic

Getting back to the matter at hand, when you or your child is in a state of deep sleep you’re welcome to put on clogs and dance around your house with glee (I’m pretty sure most of my readers do this sort of thing) and your child will be none the wiser. However when your baby cycles into light sleep you’ll find that an ill-timed sneeze has the potential to wake her up.

So for the vast majority of the night you can live your life, run your dishwasher, and put ice in your iced tea with total impunity. But there are times when even quiet noises will wake your child. HOWEVER most children over ~9 months have become accustomed to “standard household noises” and will have no problem sleeping through these sounds even when they cycle through light sleep. They MAY wake up if they encounter UNEXPECTED noises. For example, garbage trucks that are relatively infrequent may wake your child up if they come when baby is in a light state of sleep. But familiar noises generally don’t pose much of an issue.

Noise Exists In the World

We cannot reliably keep our children in a cone of silence for all sleep. Oddly timed noise will in fact wake up your baby. But we can easily block most noise with white noise. It’s just that simple. Although generally thought of as a soothing tool for babies some kids use white noise to help them sleep all the way through high school. It shouldn’t be too loud – if it feels too loud to you, it probably is. When you are ready to gradually wean your child off white noise they’ll largely acclimate to normal household noise without issue.

Still Got Questions?

If your struggling with your child’s sleep you can find all the answers in the bestselling Precious Little Sleep book!