Is White Noise a ‘Sleep Prop’?

Infant Sleep · Toddler Sleep

The quick answer, in my experience, is no. White noise is not required to actually help your little one fall asleep.  However, sound machines can be lifesavers when it comes to helping children stay asleep.

Environmental noises are not a great combination with sleeping children.  They are, however, a fact of life.  You cannot control when the door bell rings, busy traffic days, your noisy neighbors, or birds chirping.  Sometimes you cannot even predict when big siblings are going to come roaring through the house as they play either.  When we do not have control over the entire environment, we strive to manage factors that are within our control.  One way we can increase our children’s ability to sleep through noise around them is by using white noise.

Our Recommendation

There are lots of options out there and many reputable products available.  I most often recommend the Dohm machines.  These small, simple-to-use devices use natural sound to block out a lot of day-to-day noises.  Thus, disruptions in the surroundings are less likely to startle and wake a sleeping child.

Although it might seem unnatural to create noise for sleep times, remember that it wasn’t exactly soundproof in the womb!  Your child is actually quite used to noise by the time he’s born.  Listening to you talk, the sound of your stomach gurgling, your family’s laughter, and the car radio music, happened daily in utero.  Believe it or not, complete silence can actually be more unsettling to a newborn than some background noise.

The Dohm is a great solution for simple white noise.  It produces a natural fan-based noise versus a pre-recorded sound, which is ideal.  It’s been a Sleep Wise favorite for years!

Pros of White Noise

One of the biggest benefits of utilizing a white noise machine in your little one’s nursery is blocking out noises around them.  If your baby wakes between sleep cycles, getting back to sleep is more likely without distracting environmental noises.  Babies with independent sleep skills are typically able to put themselves back to sleep in a non-stimulating, quiet, dark environment.  Thus, their nap times last longer, and they will be less likely to have prolonged disruptions through the night.

White noise is also effective as serving as a signal that sleep time is coming.  Turning on the sound machine together as a concluding step in the bedtime or nap time routine can signify that it is time to get ready to sleep.

Potential Concerns

The main concern parents have about using white noise is usually about their child becoming “addicted” to it.  It is a valid point!  We are often asked if a baby learns to sleep with white noise, will they ever be able to sleep without it?  The short answer is yes!  In all of our years of sleep consulting, we can confidently say there’s absolutely no need to fret over this worry.

Unlike external sleep aids that must be replaced throughout sleep when wakings occur between sleep cycles, a white noise machine stays on throughout the full nap or full night of sleep.  Thus, by definition, it is NOT a “sleep prop.”  Conversely, a soother or being rocked and sung to will not remain through a baby’s sleep cycles transitions, so waking for the replacement of the prop often occurs.

Rather than requiring a caregiver’s intervention during wakings, white noise can simply block out noises to prevent unnecessary wakings.  The benefit is that a sound machine can help prevent short naps and early mornings.

Using White Noise Safely

In order to use white noise safely, ensuring that it is not too loud and not placed too close to the crib/ bed is important.  It does not need to be right next to a child’s bed to be effective.  Instead, place the sound machine closer to the window or the door, about 7 feet or so from the bed or crib. The sound machine is most effective near where the bulk of the external noise may be coming from.

Further, adhere to the AAP’s recommendation for long-term white noise usage.  Do not allow your child’s sound machine to exceed 50 decibels.  If you need to check the level in your child’s room, download a free decibel reader on your smart phone, turn the sound machine on, and place your phone in your child’s bed.  Checking the volume allows you to avoid unintentional damage to your little one’s hearing. Lastly, use a continuous natural sound with no fluctuation in volume or frequency.

Weaning from the Sound Machine

A child may eventually ask to stop using the sound machine, which is absolutely okay.  If you’re ready to wean your child off the sound machine sooner, you can simply turn the volume down a little every night until you’re not using the sound at all.  The process is smooth, fast, and generally doesn’t cause any major hiccups in sleep!

Whether you prefer a sound machine, a box fan, or a silent sleep environment, we wish you all the best sleep ahead!

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