Sleep is a luxury for parents with newborn babies that leave them exhausted and drained. They need to attend to their babies’ needs even if it means depriving themselves of much-needed sleep. Most of the time, babies throw tantrums during sleep time, while some have a hard time falling back asleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. For sure, for a parent like you, you may have tried all means just to help your baby sleep.
Often, pediatricians recommend relaxing activities such as warm baths. Many experts and parents also recommend using white noise for parents searching for other alternatives to help babies sleep. Thus, it’s not surprising that white noise baby machines are so popular among parents struggling to get some rest. However, they still need to be careful.
“Any time you bring any sort of thing into your baby’s environment, you need to make sure it’s safe. We don’t necessarily think of white noise as being loud, but some of those machines can be very loud,” Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a pediatric emergency physician, explained.
Is White Noise Effective?
When we think of white noise, people usually think of it as television static or the serene sounds of rainfall and crashing ocean waves. Physicists and sound technicians, however, define it as random noise that has a flat spectral density — that is, the noise has the same amplitude, or intensity, throughout the audible frequency range (20 to 20,000 hertz). It is called ‘white noise’ because it's analogous to white light, which is a mixture of all visible wavelengths of light.
According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture and history, white noise is often used to mask other sounds since it includes all audible frequencies. For instance, if you’re in your room and you hear the sound of vehicles from outside, turning on the fan drowns out the noise of the vehicles and it feels quieter. Other examples of white noise include the buzzing of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner, the constant tone of a ceiling fan, and the sound of the rain.
Some people believe using white noise as sleeping aids can help drown out annoying noises in the environment. A 1990 study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood suggested that babies fall asleep quicker when under the influence of white noise. The researchers studied 40 newborns and found out that 80% were able to fall asleep after five minutes of hearing white noise. Parents also need not worry if this is safe. Experts say that it can be safely used to put babies to sleep provided it meets certain safety criteria.
There are several reasons why parents use white noise. The most obvious is that it works as an effective sleep association for babies, which can help babies fall asleep faster. Also, it helps them fall back asleep after sleep arousal, which occurs every 20-45 minutes during their sleep. According to First Cry Parenting, an online site that features all the information related to planning your pregnancy, shushing sounds can calm babies who are throwing tantrums and even give them a sense of safe space by blocking out the external sounds that are disturbing. This is extremely important as babies receive overwhelming lights, new faces, sounds, and sensations that can stress them out.
Experts say that white noise is an effective sleeping aid because babies are already exposed to something similar in the womb. Inside their mother’s womb, the sound of rushing blood through arteries and veins, the rhythmic beating of the heart, and the sound of bowel movement dominate. All of this contributes to a white noise of its own to which babies are constantly exposed.
Disadvantages of White Noise
However, experts warn parents to still be careful because white noise doesn’t always offer risk-free peace and quiet. Researchers from a 2018 study argued that exposure to the random, unstructured sounds that make up white noise can alter the brain’s neural connections that help us perceive sound. This could leave us at risk of conditions such as tinnitus and even dementia. The team even said that white noise can worsen tinnitus symptoms and possibly “accelerate the aging of the brain.”
“Increasing evidence shows that the brain rewires in a negative manner when it is fed random information, such as white noise,” lead author Mouna Attarha, a researcher with the Posit Science Corporation, a California-based company that markets brain-training games through its BrainHQ app, said.
Even white noise machines shouldn’t be completely trusted. Previous studies have suggested that many white noise machines for babies are too loud for them. The researchers found out that the loudest setting on many machines can exceed the 50-dB limit, which is enforced in hospital nurseries. Some machines can be even louder, generating more than 85 dB at typical crib-mounted distances.
A 2014 study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tested 14 white noise machines designed for infants and found that all of them exceeded recommended noise limits, which is set at 50 decibels. The researchers also discovered that using white noise not only increased hearing problems but also the risk of problems with language and speech development. Pediatricians, thus, recommend that any white noise machines should be placed at least 7 feet away (200 cm) from your baby’s crib.
Another problem is that babies might become reliant on white noise. This could be problematic if babies are in a situation where they need to sleep and the sound machine is not with them. Also, there are many babies that simply don’t like white noise. It’s important that parents find the right and practical solution for their infants’ sleep.
According to Fatherly.com, the leading digital media brand for dads, parents don’t necessarily need to avoid more powerful machines. However, they should be aware of how loud they get and always start out at the lowest setting. They also recommend sticking with relaxing activities to help babies sleep. The key is to develop a healthy sleep ritual. For the right kind of kid, white noise done right is a part of that, but if a child doesn’t need it, they simply don’t need it.