Does My Baby Need White Noise to Sleep?
In the womb, babies are surrounded by noise as loud as a vacuum cleaner. So you could imagine that a quiet room is not necessarily relaxing. While your newborn seemed to sleep soundly no matter the type of noise (or lack thereof), now his/her calming reflex has faded and we need to find new, healthy sleep associations to get him/her falling asleep and staying asleep easily. White noise is going to be your (and your baby’s) new best friend.
DOES IT MATTER WHAT KIND OF WHITE NOISE I USE?
Sound machines today come with a plethora of options for white noise. From light rain to jungle sounds to wind. Does it matter which one you choose for your baby to help them sleep? The answer is YES! It actually matters a lot. Not all white noise is created equal. There is a big difference between high-pitch and low-pitch white noise, and they have opposite effects on your little one’s sleep. High-pitch white noise is hissy, piercing, and harsh. A bird call or monkey screech from the “jungle” setting would be considered a disturbing high-pitch noise. They are meant to get your attention, not to put you to sleep. On the other hand, low-pitch white noise is boring and continuous. Almost hypnotic like the monotonous sound of fan or a plane engine. Low-pitch sounds are so successful at lulling your baby to sleep because while in utero, the walls of the womb and the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby filtered out high pitched frequencies, leaving them with a soothing, steady rumble. Therefore, making sure the sound you choose is uninterrupted is extremely important, such as the sound of a fan versus the in and out of ocean waves or a heartbeat.
WHEN DO I USE WHITE NOISE AND HOW LOUD SHOULD IT BE?
I recommend to all parents to turn on your child’s sound machine at the very end of your bedtime routine. Once your baby has had his/her last feeding, taken a bath or washed up, and you’ve read a book together, turn the sound machine on while you sing a song or use your soothing key phrase for bedtime. That way when you lay him/her down a minute later their brain has already associated the noise with sleep and is getting ready to relax. The sound machine should then stay on all night long until it is time to wake up in the morning. Not only will this help your baby to easily fall back to sleep if he/she wakes in the middle of the night, but it also signals to your baby that when the sound machine is on, it is time to sleep, when it is off, it is time to be awake. The same goes for nap time. Turn it on at the very end of your nap time routine, so it is on while you sing a song and say your phrase before laying your baby down for nap. It will then stay on throughout the duration of his/her nap and get turned off in between naps. It’s important not to leave it on all day long as you want your child to only associate it with sleep, otherwise it may lose it’s soothing power.
When I ask parents how loud they are turning their baby’s sound machine on, they usually say something along the lines of, “It’s on low so that it doesn’t disrupt their sleep”. To adults, we assume quiet is the ultimate sleep environment. That’s only because we have all trained our brains to think so. For your baby, quiet is anything but calming. In response to those parents that want to leave it on low, I say turn it up so that it is loud enough to fill the room but not too loud that you can’t have a conversation over it. It should be about the sound of a vacuum cleaner, between 50-70 decibels. This is for two reasons: 1. Your baby’s cry is at 100-130 decibels or more. Therefore, if your baby is crying, they probably can’t even hear it if it’s not loud enough. 2. White noise that is loud enough will drown out outside distractions such as a passing truck or the doorbell ringing. Maybe even more importantly, it will also help your baby sleep despite internal distractions like teething, mild hunger, or a minor cold. If you have twins in one room, get two and place one a few feet away from each crib.
WHAT KIND OF SOUND MACHINE SHOULD I BUY?
There are a lot of sound machines on the market these days, so it can be hard to decide which one is best for your little one. Below I’ve put together a list of my top 3 sound machines that I recommend to parents, as well as some pros and cons to each. These aren’t in any particular order, I am an equal fan of all of them.
The Hatch Baby Rest is Bluetooth Low Energy operated (100 times less energy than standard Bluetooth) so you can change the volume, type of noise, turn on and off the nightlight, etc from your iPhone or Android.
It has adjustable volume so you can turn the sound louder if your baby is crying and slightly down once they fall asleep.
While I don’t generally recommend nightlights as even the slightest amount of light suppresses melatonin, I do appreciate that the Hatch Baby Rest has adjustable brightness and color. If you need a light to see temporarily, such as when it’s time for a feeding in the middle of the night, I recommend putting the nightlight on low brightness in a red, orange, or amber light, as warmer hues do not interfere with sleep and circadian rhythm in the same way that cooler hues, such as blue, do. I also appreciate that you are able to adjust the sound and light separately so that your sound can stay on and consistent while you turn the nightlight on and off as you need it.
It has the ability to set programs that will automatically adjust the colors and sounds to the times that you choose. This is great for toddlers. I particularly like the Time-To-Rise that uses a change in nightlight color to signal when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake.
Some parents are not comfortable with any form of Bluetooth device in their child’s bedroom and while there are buttons on the bottom to control it from the machine itself, there is no way to turn the Bluetooth feature off.
There is no proper “white noise” setting. Research has proven that traditional white noise is more effective in soothing babies and children to sleep than other sounds. However, that’s not to say that you baby will not find one of the low-pitched, continuous sounds offered soothing too.
It is not portable.
The DOHM is a fan based sound machine, therefore it creates the most natural, highest quality white noise available on the market.
The DOHM is simple, with only two volumes and no nightlights, which many parents prefer to the higher-tech options with overwhelming choices of sound and light.
The HUSHH is portable and includes a stroller clip so it is great for travel or when you are out of the house.
The HUSHH also has three sound settings (I like the Deep White Noise setting) and the ability to adjust the volume up and down depending on if you are in a loud restaurant vs. a quiet home.
Neither is Bluetooth operated, which as discussed above, some parents are not comfortable with Bluetooth devices.
The DOHM only has two volume settings, so you are not able to turn it up if your baby is crying.
While some parents do not want Bluetooth devices, others find them extremely convenient. Neither the DOHM or the HUSHH have the ability to adjust the sound or volume remotely.
It is not programmable like the Hatch Baby Rest.
The Letctrofan Kinder Sleep is small and gets plugged directly into an outlet without the use of a cord making it convenient and safe for babies and toddlers. If your outlet is reachable by your little one(s), you can also plug it into an extension cord and place it on a shelf or dresser.
It has a lot of volume and sound options including a traditional white noise setting. Like the Hatch Baby Rest it also has various light options, included color and brightness. Both of which are separately adjustable through the smart phone app via Bluetooth.
Parents boast about it’s super high quality sounds, including a realistic and natural fan sound, and impressive app.
It does not have a back-up battery so it is not portable, nor will it continue working through a power outage.
It is not programmable like the Hatch Baby Rest.
While you can turn it off and on from the device itself, you can only control the sound, volume, and nightlight settings from the app. Therefore, this is not a good option for parents who do not want Bluetooth devices in their child’s room.
So there you have it! As a certified sleep consultant I cannot encourage parents enough to use sound machines every night and for every nap. They are a necessity when it comes to healthy, consolidated sleep. They are especially important when it comes to sleep training. White noise is a healthy sleep association that can become a perfect replacement for your baby or child’s unhealthy sleep prop.