💡 White noise: harmful for kids?

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Portable, long-charge sound machine

Yogasleep Hushh is the highest rated portable white noise machine on Amazon. It lasts over 6 hours on a single charge. If you’re wondering whether these are actually helpful, read on below.

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STRATEGY

White Noise: Harmful or Helpful?

sleeping baby

White noise has a polarizing reputation. Many parents swear that their little portable puck or bedside tower white noise machine gets everyone in the house significantly more sleep. On the other hand, a vocal group of parents, especially on Instagram, warn that these may be harmful to kids, causing hearing loss.

Does white noise enhance sleep quality?

The most accurate answer seems to be “probably.” There aren’t any large, randomized trials that explore this question, unfortunately.

Of the existing research, there is a 1989 study that examined two groups of 20 2-7 year olds in a randomized trial. The researchers found that 16 (80%) of the children exposed to white noise fell asleep within five minutes compared to only five (25%) who fell asleep spontaneously in the control group. The conclusion suggests that white noise may settle children quicker.

Other evidence also suggests a potential benefit in getting children to sleep faster, though there isn’t much evidence regarding quality of sleep or the long-run effects.

Everyone’s experience will be different, but it shouldn’t be surprising that white noise machines are so popular with parents.

Can white noise be harmful?

The primary concern associated with white noise machines is that they’ll damage children’s hearing. Extended exposure to loud noises can absolutely cause hearing loss.

But how loud and for how long are dangerous? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards say that hearing protection (e.g., ear-plugs) should be worn if someone is going to be exposed to 85 decibels or more for over 8 hours because that level and duration can cause hearing damage. 85 decibels is about as loud as a noisy restaurant.

If 85 decibels for 8 hours is too much, then what’s safe? It’s hard to draw a line at exactly what is too loud vs what isn’t. The study referenced at the top used noise at approximately 70 decibels. Note that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, so 70 isn’t just a little quieter than 85, it’s a lot quieter. 70 decibels seems like a decent heuristic that you can certainly tune down to your preference.

Action item

A 2014 study in Pediatrics found that some children’s sound machines are capable of getting too loud, over 85 decibels.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to check the volume of a white noise machine with a smartphone. Any number of apps will give you a decibel reading. Simply take a reading from where your child sleeps, with the white noise machine on. Adjust the machine’s volume until you get to the decibel reading you want.

Stay safe and sleep well.

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YOUR OPINION

Do your kids use a white noise machine?

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