You may have heard about the use of white noise to help babies sleep, and you are probably desperate for any extra sleep you could possibly get as a result. The concern that parents face is whether or not the use of white noise can impact behavioral and mental development. Make an informed decision for your household based on an objective look at your environment and goals.
Types of White Noise
White noise is available in many forms, from mobile crib attachments that play ocean sounds or wind noises to portable sound machines. The latter comes in a range of prices and options. The low-end choices provide a simple fan sound with multiple noise levels, while the higher-end machines offer a variety of background noises, such as waterfalls, heartbeats or "summer nights." If you are looking for a trial before making an investment, try a white noise CD or an online white noise station.
Infants experience more shallow sleep cycles than adults, so background noise can help them achieve a more restful sleep. White noise is also calming for many babies, which is believed to be due to its similarity to the sounds they hear in the womb. Using a noise machine can be especially beneficial if your baby is easily disturbed or wakened, or if you share a bedroom. Vigilant new mothers know the "light sleeper syndrome" of waking up every 15 minutes to the sound of baby’s unconscious sighs. The truth is, a well-rested mommy makes for a happier home. You and your baby will both have more energy and be more pleasant during the day if you have a good night's sleep.
Some white noise machines pose a safety issue if they operate at a higher decibel level than is safe for your baby. Normal conversation stays in the 60-decibel range, so the ideal level for a white noise machine would be half that -- enough to block out small noises but not loud enough to prevent you from hearing when your baby wakes. From a behavioral standpoint, consider that babies with constant white noise exposure can grow to rely on external sources to calm down or fall asleep, rather than developing an internal calming ability. When weaned from a sound machine, your baby may become overly sensitive to typical nighttime noise, creating an unwanted ordeal for you.
A 2003 study conducted by the University of California suggests that continuous exposure to white noise may postpone language and hearing development in infants. In the lab tests performed on rats, the study directors discovered that once the subjects were no longer exposed to white noise, their brains’ hearing centers eventually escalated to a normal level of growth. Edward Chang, the study coordinator, did suggest that constant white noise may have lasting implication, but occasional white noise exposure should not have a significant impact.