One of things I always recommend to clients when setting up the proper sleep environment for their baby is a White Noise Machine (WNM). But WHY? What do they really do?
I didn’t use one with my first born – didn’t think she needed one. With my second, I only started using one as an act of desperation when she was maybe 3-4 weeks old. And man, I had that thing on as high as it would go! Everyone told me it would help…and I was not a fan. It seemed to do nothing to help her sleep AND, since we were room sharing, it was impossible for me to sleep through it.
So what’s the deal with white noise machines? Let’s dig in!
What’s their purpose
There are two main purposes for a white noise machine:
The first, is to be a consistent background presence while your child sleeps that can help lull them back to sleep between sleep cycles. We all wake up when we transition between sleep cycles, but babies often need help getting back to sleep in one way or another. A white noise machine helps to be that consistent sound to do just this. And, as noted below in a different section, studies have shown specific noises to be soothing and sleep conducing.
The other thing that a white noise machine can help with is blurring ambient noise. Notice I was specific not to say drown out the noise. A white noise machine can help buffer the noise from the street or even from the kitchen, but it shouldn’t be SO loud that it completely drowns out the noise.
Their proper use
This brings me to my next point – how to use a WNM.
There are a few big no-no’s when it comes to using a WNM – and I was guilty of all of these things when I first started using one with my own child.
Number one – the volume should be LOW!!! This can be shocking to parents because, like me, they originally think the WNM is meant to drown out all other noise. But, we already discussed that his is not the case. The volume should be low, 50 decibels or less (usually 8-12% on a Hatch). This is partially to ensure it is not causing damage to your little one’s ears, but also because if it is too loud it then becomes a distraction to your baby vs background lulling. My general rule is that you shouldn’t really hear it on the other side of your child’s bedroom door. (TIP: If you are really wanting to drown out sound, get a second machine to put on the outside of your child’s door in the hallway).
Number Two – the machine should be at least 3 feet away from your child’s head. The ideal distance is 3-6 feet. If it is further away, you may need to adjust the volume due to distance.
Number Three – the sound should run consistently through the night. Consistency of sleeping environment (among other things) is really important. How your child goes to sleep should be the same throughout the night (i.e. in their crib and alone). And having the consistent sound of a WNM is also part of that. We initially started using a free sound on Amazon but it was only 45 minutes long – it would loop, but it was not ideal in terms of being consistent and the various volume and starting and stopping was distracting (at least to me!).
Different color noise
Recently, just like with new information about the different color wavelengths of light, there are different color sounds, too!! White Noise has been the go to and typical noise offered to help people fall asleep. And I think that people still use “White Noise” when referring to sound machines at large. But there is a spectrum of sound colors with a few having specific benefits to sleep. Many of the newer noise machines have a variety of sounds to choose from in these categories:
White Noise: contains all the frequencies of sound and usually uses a mix of intense and high pitched staticky sounds. Examples of this type of sound is a fan, vacuum, or air conditioner. This is often referred to as. “broadband noise.” 1
Pink Noise: This is another type of background noise but usually consists of deeper sounds and lower sound waves. These lower sound waves can be a bit more gentle and perhaps more soothing. Examples of Pink Noise is rain, wind in the trees, and waves crashing on the beach. This is often referred to as “ambient noise.’ 1
Brown/Red Noise: This sound is more of a rumbling sound, often deeper and bass-like. It is generally deeper and grainier than Pink Noise. Examples are heavy rainfall or a shower with good water pressure. 1
Blue, Violet, Grey Noise are not known to be related to sleep.1
In reality, as long as you are following the 3+ feet rule of machine placement, it is consistently playing all night, AND you are cautious about the volume of noise, there is not a “bad machine.” Sound machines can, however, be pricey and vary in size so finding the just right one for your family circumstance is most important in choosing a noise machine.
The two that I use and like are as follows:
My number 1 pick: Generic brand from Amazon. I love this one because it is low fuss and on the cheaper side, about $20. It checks all the boxes necessary for a great sound machine in your baby’s room.
In Second Place: The Hatch. This one is the Cadillac of sound machines. It has an app where you can control the sound, volume, light settings, from your phone and it serves as a sound machine, night light, and OK to Wake clock. This will be with your child foreeeevverrrrr. But it’s on the pricey side – about $70 (portable option for $90). And, for someone like me who is NOT technically savvy, I was overwhelmed with all the options and how to actually use it properly.
I’ve not used the Dohm, but it’s industry standard and is very popular. The Dohm is a great option specifically for in the hallway if you need more help drowning out noise.
When to stop using your sound machine
I recommend a sound machine at least until the age of 2. Once your child has solidly good sleep skills and is two or over, it becomes a bit less of a need.
But, then again, there isn’t really an answer to this because every child and person is different. Some kids will love having it for years and years and years (sometimes through elementary school or even beyond!). While others will be ok dropping it earlier. This is usually a personal preference.
My 3 year old still has her regular WNM and I have no plans to change that. My 7 year old, who never used a WNM but did listen to lullabies starting at 18 months, continued to listen to lullabies until she was 5 and now she sleeps without anything (her choice).
Do what makes the most sense for your family!
White Noise Machines offer many benefits to your baby (and to you!). Can your child sleep well without one? Yes, probably. However, I am always a fan of doing everything I can to make the sleep situation and environment ideal for our little ones and in most cases a noise machine is part of that equation.
What are your thoughts on the sound machine?
1. White Noise, Pink Noise, and Brown Noise: What's the Difference? Robinson, Kara Mayer. July 12, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/pink-noise-sleep