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Why Babies Love White Noise

Baby Sleeps Through the Night

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

Why You Should Use White Noise with Babies?

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?

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.


147 Comments


  1. Hiya Alexis,

    Hoping you, or one of your more experienced readers, come across this comment soon.

    Im in a similar situation to the previous commenter – my 6 month old has reflux, and developed really poor sleep habits as a result. I totally take responsibility for this – he was failing to thrive, and I believe part of that was due to poor sleep. We made a choice to get him to sleep however we could, and deal with the consequences later.

    Well, it’s now later, and time to deal with those consequences.

    He takes 30 min naps, and only if held. Short naps mean he can only manage to stay awake 1h30 before needing to snooze again. Thinking he may be UNDERtired, I have tried extending his time between naps to 2h, but it has made little difference to the nap duration. I have also tried extending his naps after he wakes up, with no joy.

    Nights are not much better, with wakings as frequent as every 45 – 90 mins.

    I tried white noise briefly for a nap or two when he was about 8 weeks old, with no success. I know now that I didn’t try it long enough.

    Do you think it’s likely to help now? He’s recently developed a phobia of certain loud noises (like the hair dryer), and I’m worried he’ll not only continue to wake up, but wake up terrified.

  2. I use rain noise for my two kids 5 and 3 as it blocks out street noise and there dad who stays up late. It just got a free app on my iPhone called sleep machine and it stays on all night. I’ve found I sleep better when I hear it too! X

  3. It’s been 55 days since we’ve CIO. Our baby’s now 8m. Many times our baby goes down quiet in the 8:00 hour. But sometime he cries for a bit. Rarely, he’ll go on for 25m. He’s not yet weaned at night. So I nurse him around midnight. Then he wakes between 4-5am. I change his diaper, nurse and bring him to bed w/ us. Then he sleeps till 8:30-9 🙂 Works for me (he use to wake every hour)! Anyway we use loud white noise and recently my hubby started thinking this was a crutch for him (easy for him to say, he wasn’t waking up!). I’m frustrated because it hasn’t even been 2 months since CIO and everything’s going awesome. But he wants to remove the wn. Keep in mind the crib is in our bed room. Alex, any advise I can give to the hubby to reassure him? I already read your article about reducing it at 1yrs old.

  4. I know this is an old article but hopefully someone can help. I am only starting using white noise now at 8.5 months. Is this too late to start? She doesn’t seem to like the hair dryer. In fact she has cried before when I use it.

    Do both these facts look bad for white noise being my magic saviour?

    • I don’t have the answer if white noise will work for you but my 5.5 mo old has had white noise for several months now but he also cries at the hair dryer. So don’t let that part deter you from at least trying!

    • Update – she’s fine with it, and while it’s not been a miracle answer it does help. She still wakes but not to general environmental noise like us on the stairs, the neighbours dog etc.

      • I still use one and my LO is 16 mos. I thought about stopping it because I don’t want him to get used to it, but he sleeps SO well with it?! The reason I use it is because he will wake up with the other noise going on in the house. When is it TOO late to take it away before they need it forever is my question?! LOL

        • Hey Tamra,
          So he’s 16 months old and sleeping like a champion with a fan on (it is a fan right?). And you’re worried that he’s going to need it forever. Like 40 years from now your baby will be an accountant who can’t sleep without white noise and he’ll be there at bedtime saying, “For crying out loud Mom, why did you have to saddle me with this stupid lifetime white noise habit!!!”

          No no no – embrace it. He’s got a strong sleep association with it. For starters if it aint broke don’t fix it. Secondly? If you had a different source of white noise (say a radio or a white noise machine) it would be easier to gently wean off by lowering volume gradually.

          That being said I would embrace it. It’s a GREAT sleep association. You’ve got ample time to worry about it. Enjoy the naps. Enjoy that it’s working for him.

          So that’s my vote…

  5. Hi, my bub is nearly 8 months old and needs help resettling at least 3 or 4 times a night. This is in addition to feeding once or twice a night. I’ve never tried white noise before, is she too old to start?

  6. 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).

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. First of all, this site is AWESOME!!! 🙂 Second, my husband and i found that our tablet works really well for the white noise. We downloaded a couple apps that have white noise for baby and just some nature sounds, and my baby sleeps great with it!! 🙂 In the days where technology is so big, I thought I would just suggest using your tablet if you have one. (Or iPhone, or Galaxy, or Droid, whatever it is you own.) 🙂

  19. Would a sound machine that plays a lullaby (at a higher volume then the sleepy sheep) work as well long term? We use the lullaby setting on her munchkin sound machine and my daughter (6mos) seems to respond well but will white noise work better in the long run?

  20. Hi my daughter is six months old, she was a great sleeper/napper. Until about four months started to cat nap, her napping is getting better, but at night I set my Ipad to two hours and shes waking up. So do you think she’s waking up because its to quite once the app stops? I feel like we have made it to where she cant sleep in quite. Also she slept in our room in a bassinett for four months and my husband sleeps with the TV on. So is she just use to sleeping iwth noise?

  21. Did someone try with music? Not pop but rock or symphony.

  22. Fantastic article! This has given me new found hope!
    As I type my little one is sleeping soundly listening to ‘Rain’ on my free app – it’s free for 30 min stretches and after readings his I shall be coughing up the £2.99 to get the full version…..turns out I had been using White noise incorrectly!
    My baby definitely responds well to WN and I’ve used it from birth but I have been starting to worry about the dependency it may bring…thanks for putting my mind at rest!
    Thanks for clarifying, can’t wait to try properly this evening and (hopefully!) have a decent night sleep 🙂
    Oh, just a thought… If baby needs feeding/changing/has a pain, will he still wake through the White noise?
    Many thanks again.
    X

  23. My absolute favorite white noise app is White Noise HD: http://www.whitenoisehd.com.

    It’s by far the best white noise app out there. We use it consistently during nap time on an old iphone hooked up to some speakers. It’s so simple to use and does’t have a million different settings or confusing options, unlike all the other one’s I’ve tried. Plus, it’s free! Hope you find it as useful as we have.

  24. I have used music since the birth of my boy, around 13 months ago, for all daytime naps. By the time I realised (when I found your amazing site Alexis) how great white noise was he was already 6 months old & it wasn’t nearly as soothing for him as David Bowie belting out ‘Changes’. Although we laugh that when he goes to his first rock concert he will, inexplicably, fall asleep I guess what I’m saying is I do see merit in the article, but I can’t help but feel the reality is that a consistent & familiar background noise is, or will become, what is comforting for your child at nap time. Whether that means white noise, music, household noises or even a busy highway. It all sort of comes under the heading of vague background buzz after a while anyway. But hey, I’m no scientist, just a mum & just out of curiosity, did the study compare soothing talk with singing? I know it took me a while to learn the art of the one sided conversation whereas singing to my new little man was easy.

  25. Hi, my 6 month old is sleeping well at night but, despite showing signs of tiredness, won’t nap in the day. I’m thinking of introducing white noise for his daytime naps but will he become dependent on it and struggle to sleep without it at night? (At the moment he sleeps in silence at night)

    Thanks

  26. We have a 9 month old that has been an on again off again bad sleeper. Never napped much in the afternoon from day one, unless on us. We did sleep train her around 3 months and noticed a major difference in her morning naps and sleeping well at night. We are going to be weaning her off the boob shortly as she almost always needs it to fall asleep.

    We live on an acreage where it is quite quiet and our home is large and soundproofed to some degree room to room. My wife is adamant about not making too much noise but it’s inevitable some times. Especially with the work I’m always doing in the yard and on the house. My long winded question is is this a good time to try and introduce white noise or have we sort of missed our mark? Will it just be another thing we’re changing for her along with everything else or could we still see some benefits?
    Thanks.

  27. The combination of our industrial strength dehumidifier, an old-school, wind- up metronome with its rhythm set really slow (ticks longer that way) and crib set up near a 40 gallon aquarium has been an epic sleep zone. After reading your fascinating article I realize I’ve created a soothing womb-like sonic cacophony – perfect sleep for baby girl!
    Now, if only it worked for my “princess & the pea” husband’s sleep too.

  28. The combination of our industrial strength dehumidifier, an old-school, wind-up metronome with its rhythm set really slow (ticks longer that way) and crib set up near a 40 gallon aquarium has been an epic sleep zone. After reading your fascinating article I realize I’ve created a soothing womb-like sonic cacophony – perfect sleep for baby girl!
    Now, if only it worked for my “princess & the pea” husband’s sleep too.

  29. Hey, i found this one really good too, kinda similar to these.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU0IO9KWFg4

  30. When I was a baby I was a terrible napper. We lived across the street from the high school and one afternoon she’d just gotten me down and my mom walked across the street and told the director that she’d just put me down for a nap, apologized and asked the entire marching band to go back into their indoor room. They did. White noise to the rescue. She stopped being the crazy woman across the street!

  31. Hello, my 2 months baby is hysterically responding to the white noise, whenever he cries I just turn on the kitchen air filter and he gets calm and sleep so deep also when we have lot of people at home and lot of talk and noise, I highly recommend white noise also you can try Quiet baby application for smart phones, it includes lot of voices that babies like…
    thanks for the article it is really useful//
    goodbye

  32. Came here to say thanks. We had some problems with CIO because we fell into the SleepSheep-Trap. Thanks to your tip (the radio tuned to static!), our LO sleeps so much better, wakes up less and normally only needs one feeding a night (Hh’s 7Months old). It was a small but extremely effective change to his sleeping environment. Thank you so much!

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