The 411 On White Noise and Baby Sleep

I honestly never thought a lot about white noise before having a baby. I have always been a pretty heavy sleeper who never really struggled to fall asleep, so sleep aids weren’t something I’d put much thought into. When I saw a ton of people recommending white noise machines as a must have item for a new baby I thought – why? Not why are they recommending it, but why is white noise needed? Does it help babies (or people) sleep? What are the benefits? So, let’s take a look at what I was able to find.

If you’re reading this and are honestly not 100% sure what white noise is – it’s just a mixture of different frequency sounds basically – if it’s coming from a machine. White noise can be background noises too – like the whir of a fan, which is essentially also a different mixture of sound frequencies.

Disclaimer: I am an Amazon associate so I do earn from qualifying purchases.As always, this blog is for informational purposes only. This is not medical advice.

No surprises here: there are not a ton of studies on white noise and sleep. There are more on its use in adults, but still not a lot.

Is white noise safe for my baby?

A study done in Toronto found that many of the devices currently available on the market are actually too loud for infant ears! They actually may be so loud that they cause damage and hearing issues. You can reach the article here, where they do suggest some things to limit potential damage to the ears/hearing:

The authors advocate for better labelling and warning/instructions on these machines so parents are aware of this potential risk. I can certainly get behind that – I personally think there are many baby/child products that need to have better warning signs!

Verdict: there isn’t really one. You can reduce risk of white noise by following the recommendations above. Talk to your provider if you have specific concerns or questions.

One fun fact:

A study done by Sezici and Yigit (2017) found that white noise may be especially helpful for getting babies experiencing colic to sleep. It was shown to decrease crying from colic related pain, and increase length of sleep. This is potentially good news for the colic mamas out there! But I’d say it is a good idea to follow the above recommendations too.

What do the adult studies say about white noise?

A systematic review (again – a review looking at many studies on one topic) from February 2021 found that continuous white noise may not be related to improved sleep.It is important to note (as the authors do in the review) that many of the studies didn’t present results of statistical significance and many also had tiny samples of often under 10 people. They conclude that more research is needed overall, because the evidence is minimal and somewhat conflicting.

Re: safety, the review also suggests that white noise may be damaging to the ears when it is played too loudly.

Since this review touched on most of the other studies I found during my search, the adult studies did not contribute much valuable information to this topic.

So what do we know?

From what I can tell, a lot of the recommendations for white noise are actually based on a study from 1990 that suggested it may be a helpful way to get your child to sleep. Unfortunately, this study only looked at 20 neonates. It’s also dated – and newer studies to date aren’t the best. There are other studies regarding white noise out there (many were picked up by the review I mentioned) that suggest it may be helpful for getting to sleep in different scenarios but clearly we need more studies to be done to know for sure. One thing you can go off though is people’s experiences – I’ve heard mostly positive stories about the use of white noise machines for helping babies sleep. My own experience included.

I’d say the Sick Kids article cited above is probably the most reliable information regarding safety at this time. There definitely seems to be consensus in the data that white noise, when played too loudly, can be bad for the ears. We know this about any noise really. Our ears (and our babies) are so sensitive!

Regarding continuous playing of white noise – it’s harder to say what is the best. An obvious issue is that many babies will wake up if you turn it off (mine included). So, I play ours on the lowest volume and I don’t have it near her head, but on a nearby table. It’s really just supposed to be background noise.

The jury is truly out on this one – there is some information, but nothing is really clear. Decision making as always is up to you – get further opinions from your provider.

Our Personal Experience with White Noise Machines

I know that *personally*, it seems to help Maggie sleep. We started using it when we were having a lot of sleep issues back in that dreaded 7-9 month window, and we have used it since then. She even takes our white noise machine to daycare for nap time, and she takes a 3 hour nap daily so…

I follow the precautions – I admit one of the reasons I didn’t use white noise from the beginning of her life was because I was nervous about the sound being too loud or “not good for her”. I know that my white noise machine did include some warnings in the box about proximity to baby and volume – which is reassuring. Maybe with all the hype on white noise machines in the past few years we will see more research done into the topic. I’d be curious to see more for adults too, as someone who has constant background noise during sleep in the form of a fan.. is that helping or hindering? Not sure yet, but maybe we will know one day!

I can share that the machine we currently use (and have been using for months) is the Dreamegg. This is not sponsored – and I really do love this machine. Adjustable volume, different sound selection options (you can do “shh” noises, as well as a variety of calming sounds and white noise sounds), a little light on the device for night feeds (good for the early days when you’re less accustomed to getting up and navigating the nursery in the dark) and it’s small and easily portable with a good battery life. It is available on Amazon too – always a bonus! It is way more affordable than the Hatch, but I have never owned that one so I can’t speak to how it compares as a device. Anyways – we love the Dreamegg, and I have not had any issues with it thus far after over 6 months of use.

As a note: prior to getting the Dreamegg (which I did get through a gifted collaboration with the brand just as a disclaimer – this still is NOT a sponsored post, this collaboration was many moons ago and does not impact my opinion) we used Alexa as a white noise machine! Many people have concerns about this because it has to be connected to your phone – FYI that Alexa actually has a white noise extension you can add, so you don’t have to stream white noise from your phone. It honestly works great – if we hadn’t got this machine in this collaboration, we would have continued to use Alexa.

As always, talk to a provider if you’re concerned and follow the guidance above as well to minimize risks. Happy Zzzzs!