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Is White Noise Really That Great For Baby Sleep?

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Heather,

My friends all swear by white noise machines and apps. They claim their babies sleep better and longer with them. Should I get one and try it? Or is this all a bunch of mom noise?

Willing to Try

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Dear Willing,

Yes, white noise is great. But with a few caveats. In the first three to four months, white noise can be soothing for babies—that's why you'll hear so many parents say that odd noises like hairdryers or static between radio stations and so forth seem to magically make their baby stop crying. You might even notice that your newborn likes to sleep in a busy coffee shop. Researchers are not sure why, but background humming and activity can trigger a calming response and help little babies settle. It could be that they were so used to constant noise from being in utero or that audio input helps to balance and organize the nervous system (similar to the way motion makes babies suddenly calm).

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In any case, it makes sense to use white noise in your baby's bedroom.

Don't crank the volume, though. I've been in many baby nurseries to help families with sleep, and I always ask to hear the white noise. I sit quietly and listen to it and tell parent to do the same.

Don't crank the volume, though.

"Imagine you are sleeping in here," I say. "Is it peaceful and calm?" Often, the machine is set to too loud—which can be harmful to a baby's ears over time or become too grating. If you'd like the noise in your own bedroom, it's probably a good one for your child. Usually, that means a nature sound, like rain or the ocean, rather than a static sound. Even a low fan can do the trick.

After the newborn period, white noise can still be helpful as a sleep association, as long as it doesn't turn off in the middle of the night (the change could make your baby disoriented).

Happy Sleeping!

Heather

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Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her Los Angeles-based sleep consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

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