Mother and Baby

What is white noise and how can it help your baby sleep?

Section: Sleep

Does your baby struggle to drift off? Commonly known as 'white noise', these relaxing sounds can help turn on a calming reflex and when played in the background, they might even help babies drift off for a few hours if they're struggling to settle down.  

The sound of the sea or calming acoustic music tend to be the go-to sounds for adults when we want to relax, but when it comes to babies it’s actually white noise sounds that are more effective in creating a soothing environment, as it resembles the kind of sounds they heard in the womb.

What is white noise?

By definition, white noise is a sound that contains every frequency within the range of human hearing in equal amounts.

White noise sounds similar to TV or radio 'static', but constant background noises such as a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, fan or running water also help promote sleep in the same way.

Tips for using white noise

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1) Choose a noise you can tolerate

There are so many different options of white noise to try, from rain and nature noises to static or the sound of hairdryers, so get experimenting and see what works.

Search on YouTube to find what types of noises you find relaxing, and try these on your baby.

Once you’ve discovered what works, invest in an app or sleep toy with that type of sound.

You need to make sure it’s a noise that you’re happy to listen to as well as you’ll be hearing hours of it too!
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2) Get the noise just right

Maximum volume can be incredibly loud on some white noise machines so use your common sense to make sure it's not too loud for her delicate ears.

Experiment with the volume to fine-tune how well the white noise works.

Don’t raise the sound level any louder than the noise of a shower in the next room, though, and position the device well away from your baby.
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3) Only turn it on when they're ready to sleep

It can be tempting to turn white noise on in the hope it will make your baby sleepy but this won’t work and will actually just reduce its effectiveness.

Once she shows signs of being relaxed and tired, then turn on the white noise.

As soon as they wake up, turn the white noise off so it doesn’t mask the normal everyday noises which teaches them things they need to learn while alert.
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4) Think pink

Studies have found that ‘pink noise’, which is fuller, deeper or richer than white noise, actually does an even better job of improving your baby’s sleep because of its subdued quality.

Examples of pink noise include a heartbeat, rainfall and rustling leaves on a tree.

Pink noise is generally gentler on the ear and creates a more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere compared to white noise which are all a higher pitch and slightly harsh.

Like all of us, babies are individuals so take the time to find the best match for your baby.
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5) Use it as a sleep cue away from home

Your baby will soon begin to associate white noise with sleep, so choose a portable sound that you can use when your away from home and little one is in a travel cot.

This will help her settle when she’s in an unfamiliar place and give you a better night's sleep too.
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6) Keep the same noise

Once you’ve found a winner, stick to it! Use this noise exclusively and it will become part of the background as a familiar sound and your baby will accept its quiet, almost hypnotic rhythm.

Things can change though so keep an eye on your baby in case she might respond to something else in a few months’ time.

How does white noise help baby sleep?

Whether your baby is an easy sleeper or a more challenged sleeper, white noise can help her in several ways.

Firstly, the gentle, consistent sound can soothe her to sleep. You’re probably used to whispering 'shhh shhh' to help calm your baby, which is an instinctual sound that mimics a mother’s heartbeat, and it works.

When your baby hears this type of sound, she can focus on it, which helps her relax and – hopefully - sleep.

baby sleeping on mum

Contrary to what you might think, the outside world can actually be quite quiet for babies, especially at night time.

After spending months in the enclosed, safe environment of the womb, they can become stressed and over-tired with the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, which often leads to crying and colic.

When your little one was in your womb at 15 weeks of gestation, your baby was starting to hear.

The sounds she heard were muffled by amniotic fluid, but you can use noises that mimic that womb sound to soothe and comfort your baby at nap time, AKA white noise.

White noise is a familiar sound that keeps them calm and helps them drift off to sleep.

Dr. Karp explains in an article in The Huffington Post, that babies are used to the loud whoosh of blood rushing through the placenta – and it’s even noisier than a vacuum cleaner.

"This sound switches on the calming reflex and helps infants drift into slumber.

"No wonder babies fall asleep when they hear a hair drier, take a car ride or go to a noisy party," he explains.

One study found that white noise helped 80% of babies fall asleep within five minutes so it’s really worth trying – with older babies and toddlers as well as newborns.

Types of white noise for baby sleep

Baby asleep

There are plenty of different kinds of white noise, and some, you can even create yourself with things you might find in your home or through sounds you can make with your mouth. 

Shushing: Mimicking the continual whooshing sound made by the blood flowing through arteries near the womb, shushing is a long-known method of calming a distressed baby – especially combined with a gentle swinging motion.  

A fan: The constant whooshing noise of a fan is also a good bet for background noise, aiding your baby’s sleep.

Vacuum cleaner: Are they stirring from their afternoon nap? Stick the vacuum cleaner on and do a clean of the house to help your baby drift back off to sleep. 

Hair dryer: This one is a great trick for the morning if you need to dry your locks and want them staying asleep. 

Struggling to recreate a relaxing sound? These helpful apps and YouTube videos should help you out. 

Our favourite white noise apps 

  • myNoise - Great for grown-ups and babies, there are plenty of sounds to choose from including white noise, rain noise and ocean sounds. Available on the App Store and Google Play. 
  • White noise lite - Choose from over 40 relaxing sounds including air conditioning, cat purring and blowing wind. Available on the App Store and Google Play.
  • White noise baby - These calming sounds have been designed with baby sleep in mind and you can choose from sounds such as car rides, train rides and dripping water. Available from the App Store and Google Play. 
  • White noise generator - This easy to use app gives you a range of time settings so you can customise how long a sound is played out for. Available on Google Play. 
  • White noise deep sleep sounds - Featuring sounds from nature and other noises that you might hear in your home, there are plenty of sounds to choose from with this app. Available from the App Store and Google Play. 

The best white noise YouTube videos 

10 hours of white noise 

Celestial white noise 

White noise for infants 

Sounds of the woods

There are pros and cons of using white noise for your baby - we investigate some of the good and bad things below:

Pros of white noise for babies:

  • Babies can fall asleep faster
  • Can be comforting for newborns
  • Can block out background noise or noise of older siblings

Cons of white noise for babies:

  • Some machines could exceed the recommended noise limit for babies
  • Babies can become dependent on the white noise machine to sleep, so they could struggle to nod off without it in the future
  • Not all babies like or respond well to white noise

Popular reads

  • Author: Emily Thorpe Emily Thorpe
  • Job Title: Digital Writer

Having written for Mother&Baby magazine for four years where she wrote news, product pages, features and interviewed celebrities such as Paloma Faith and Fearne Cotton, Emily now works as Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online where she specialises in travel and product reviews. 


Other contributors

Lorna White - Digital Writer

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