Infant sleep machines are designed and marketed to help infant’s sleep better. But, when a noise machine is too loud or too close, it can disrupt sleep or worse – cause permanent hearing damage.
A group of Canadian researchers measured noise machines set to maximum level. They found some machines (not all) were so loud they could do hearing damage (to a child or an adult!) if left on over 8 hours. At maximum level, nearly all the machines were so loud they could disrupt sleep even placed across the room.
The big takeaway from their research is never leave your noise machine on max volume.
How loud is too loud?
Whether it’s a noise machine or a noisy environment, background noise that’s too loud can affect the quality and quantity of a child’s sleep. Another study showed two-thirds of kids woke up after 3 minutes when background noise was 75 dB (as loud as a vacuum cleaner 3 feet away). All the children in that study woke up with 12 minutes.
That may seem obviously loud… but that’s how loud a lot of noise machines get (or even louder!).
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended a noise limit of 50dB for infants in hospital nurseries of. 50dB is as loud as a refrigerator, electric toothbrush, or the dishwasher running in the next room. In a normal home, it might not be possible to keep background noise that quiet all the time. Pediatrician Harvey Karp (author of The Happiest Baby on the Block) agrees. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to use moderate white noise during sleep, Karp says. If it sounds like a soft shower (65-70 dB) it should be safe and may be non-disruptive to sleep.
Noise machines can be safe and helpful for sleep when used with care.
In fact, a noise machine can be soothing or help mask louder noises that might wake up a baby.
Three recommendations for using noise machines
- Place the noise machine as far away from your baby as possible
- Set the volume as low as possible
- Limit how long it’s on (use a timer shut-off if it has one)
Think about setting your noise machine soft enough, not loud enough. You should be able to speak to your baby with a soothing voice and not have the noise machine overpower you. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s too loud.
If you’d like to check yourself how loud your machine is, there are sound level apps you can download for a mobile device. More on loudness and dB meters.