You may have heard that a sound machine making white noise can help your baby sleep - and it’s true! The right sound can help your baby, and you, fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and block out outside noise. That’s why we recommend including a sound machine in your baby’s sleep space.
Pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Greg Stasi, PhD, tells us: “Studies have shown that children, infants, and adolescents benefit significantly” from sound machines. And they can help adults, too: “In adults, they can reduce sleep onset – the time it takes to fall asleep – by up to forty percent.”
But sound machines make more than just white noise. There’s an entire rainbow of colorful noises: pink noise, brown noise, and others - each with their own distinct sound and effect. This article helps you understand the different types of noise and which one to choose to help your baby snooze!
Since you’re researching noise machines, you may have other questions about improving your baby’s sleep. For help establishing healthy sleep habits and setting up the best possible sleep environment, consider downloading the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. Co-developed with pediatricians, sleep experts, and other parenting professionals it takes the guesswork out of sleep, helping parents sleep train their baby, and fast: many users see results within a week.
Is a Sound Machine Good for Babies?
Yes – studies show that sound machines help babies fall asleep faster and sleep for longer periods without interruption. We’ve known about this for years – in fact, one small study, published in 1990, found that 80% of babies fall asleep within five minutes of hearing white noise.
While the precise science of noise is still being investigated, the likely reasons are two-fold:
- Sound machines block out outside noises that could wake your baby.
- Sound machines mimic the sound of the womb.
But there’s an entire rainbow of sonic hues out there, so let’s explore each individually.
What Are the Different Colors of Noise?
There’s a rainbow of colorful noises out there. Here we survey them and discuss how they can help your baby sleep.
As the name implies, white noise is the sound version of the color white.
Just as white is all colors balanced together, white noise is all sound frequencies made with the same intensity. A common example is “Static.”
So, does white noise help babies sleep?
The answer is “yes”! As mentioned above, a 1990 study 80% of newborns fall asleep faster while using a white noise machine, and a separate 2017 study from the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that for colicky babies, white noise is a more effective soothing device than rocking the child back and forth. white noise is proven effective in relieving colicky babies, too.
While we’re not sure how precisely white noise helps babies sleep, the most popular theories are that white noise neutralizes other noises, like a barking dog, and because white noises mimic the constant humming of the womb.
Tip: If you don’t have a sound machine, you can also create your own white noise by shhhing, using an electric fan or air purifier in your baby’s room, tuning the radio between stations so that it plays static, or running the shower. Even vacuuming in the next room can work in a pinch.
Deeper in tone than white noise, pink noise is often compared to the whooshing of wind, the sound of a steady rain, or rustling leaves.
While there haven’t been many studies on whether pink noise helps babies specifically sleep, research on adults shows that pink noise encourages deeper sleep and can improve memory – a great help for parents suffering sleep deprivation!
There’s also evidence suggesting pink noise reduces stress levels, which may be helpful in calming your baby before bed, during their bedtime routine, or if they wake up at night and experience separation anxiety, which is completely normal .
“Togetherness is our preeminent need,” says Dr. Gordon Neufeld, PhD, a retired clinical psychologist and head of the Neufield Institute. “We are creatures of attachment. We long for contact, connection. This is what life is about.
“Bedtime is probably one of the first separations, at least on a repetitive basis, that a child is going to face.” Luckily, sleep training with apps like the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ can make bedtime easier, faster, and teaches your baby how to self-soothe themselves back to sleep if they wake at night.
Brown Noise, aka Red Noise:
Whatever you want to call it, brown/red noise is deeper in frequency than pink noise. It’s often described as a “roar” or “rumble,” much like thunder.
Does brown noise help babies sleep? The answer: We’re not sure.
The whole field of “sonic hues” and psychoacoustics is relatively new, so there aren’t studies on brown noise’s specific impact on babies’ sleep, but a lot of pediatric sleep experts, including our resident Sleep Coach Mandy Treeby, recommend brown or red noise to soothe babies.
Blue noise is in many ways the opposite of brown/red noise. Where brown noise is a low rumble, blue noise has a higher pitch comparable to adult “baby talk” - the way we raise our voice tone when talking to babies.
Since babies are accustomed to this tone, and often make higher pitched noises themselves, some believe blue noise could be great at helping sleep train babies. Again, though, every baby is different, even siblings: one baby may love blue noise, the next may not. As with so many aspects of parenting, there may be some trial and error as your learn your baby’s preferences.
Violet Noise/Purple Noise:
Now we’re getting further into uncharted territory – Violet Noise, a sonic hue that’s even higher in pitch than blue noise.
A common example of violet noise is an open sink faucet – that higher pitched sound you hear behind the water, that’s violet noise.
Violet or pink noise can be kind of grating, so may not be the best sleep aid for tired babies, but, again, all babies are different. Even if violet noise doesn’t work for your baby, this sonic hue can be used to treat tinnitus or ringing ears in adults - just an FYI.
Another lesser-known sonic hue that may not be best for sleep training but that is worth knowing about is grey noise: computer-engineered noise like white noise except here all frequencies are at the same volume, rather than just the same energy level.
It’s a bit more varied in the ear than white noise but, as with violet or red noise, there’s no conclusive evidence that grey noise helps babies sleep.
Tip: If your baby’s a light sleeper, it may help to post a note on your doorbell asking people to call or text when they arrive/deliver a package to avoid any unnecessary interruptions.
Tips on Sound Machines for Babies:
- Keep the Volume Down: Loud noises can hurt babies ears, so keep your noise machine or music to 50 decibels or lower. Loud enough to drown out unwanted sounds, but not so loud it hurts your baby’s delicate eardrums.
- Choose wisely: The American Academy of Pediatrics found over a dozen baby noise machines that can do more harm than good - so take time to do your research before making a purchase.
- Go the Distance: Place a noise machine at least 7 feet away from the baby for safest use.
What Do I Need to Help By Baby Sleep?
In addition to a sound machine, there are a few things you should have on hand to nurture your baby’s sleep, especially when sleep training:
- Blackout Curtains: Darkness helps babies sleep. Even a little light can counteract this natural process, so blackout curtains are essential for sleep training.
- Flat, Firm Mattress: Babies should sleep flat on their back on a firm mattress with only a fitted sheet. Pillows, blankets, and even stuffed animals can harm your baby.
- Temperature Control: Babies – and adults – sleep best in rooms that are 68-72°F.
- Calming Scents: Lavender, jasmine, and chamomile are all great options to create a relaxing, soothing environment to calm your baby during their bedtime routine.
What is a Baby’s Bedtime Routine?
A bedtime routine is what you do before your baby heads to bed – they can be anything if they’re calming, quiet, and, most importantly, consistent: bedtime routines need to be the same each night to help teach your baby it’s time to sleep. It’s about creating a habit – one that will serve them well for years to come.
The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers can help you set up your baby’s bedtime routine, and so much more: from 1-click sleep tracking to mini-articles explaining the science of your baby’s sleep to customized sleep coaching methods, this easy-to-use app is proven to help babies fall asleep faster and fall asleep longer.
How We Wrote This Article:
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
“Infant Sleep Machines and Hazardous Sound Pressure Levels,” Pediatrics.
“Pink noise: effect on complexity synchronization of brain activity and sleep consolidation,” Journal of Theoretical Biology.
“Acoustic Enhancement of Sleep Slow Oscillations and Concomitant Memory Improvement in Older Adults,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
“White noise and sleep induction,” Archives of Disease in Childhood.
“Comparison between swinging and playing of white noise among colicky babies: A paired randomised controlled trial,” Journal of Clinical Nursing.