When it comes to settling fussy babies and helping them sleep, white noise is pretty magical. Research has shown that white noise can help 80% of infants fall asleep in just 5 minutes. Plus, the soothing sound significantly decreases the duration of crying and increases sleep in colicky babies, according to research in the Journal of Clinical Nursing. The icing on the cake: The American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends white noise to help improve Baby sleep. This, of course, is why white noise (aka shushing) is an essential element of the groundbreaking 5 S’s for soothing little ones. White noise helps turn on your baby’s innate calming reflex, or their built-in “reset button” to calm crying and bring on sleep. But…what is white noise? Will you know it when you hear it? To be sure, here’s an easy white-noise cheat sheet to help you land on the perfect sounds to get your baby to sleep.

What is white noise?

White noise defined: White noise is the sum total of all the frequencies the human ear can distinguish mashed together at the exact same intensity.

While you’d think that would cause a headache-inducing racket, it instead results in a sound very much like the static that an untuned radio or TV would produce.

Benefits of white noise for sleeping and bedtime routines

The consistent staticky din of white noise creates a blanket of sound that not only mimics the familiar and comforting sounds of the womb, it works to mask other sounds, too…which can help babies, toddlers, everyone, fall asleep and stay asleep. (It can even distract from internal discomforts, too, like teething and mild hunger, further bolstering ZZZs.)

Think about it like this: When two people are talking at once, you can usually distinguish one voice and tune into what that person is saying. Add a third person to the mix and, while more of a struggle, you’d likely still be able to hear them. Now imagine everyone in the world was talking at once. Your brain simply is not designed to pick out just one of those voices to listen to. It’s impossible! White noise is the entire world talking at once, but in a non-annoying way. When white noise is on, other sounds—like a passing truck or a loud television—almost disappear. 

White noise vs Pink noise

What is pink noise? Essentially, pink noise is a “cousin” to white noise. Like white noise, pink noise contains all the frequencies that we can hear…but the higher frequencies are turned down in pink noise, making it sound less intense than white noise. Some examples of pink noise include the sound of wind blowing through trees or rustling leaves. While there are some promising studies on pink noise (it’s been found to help treat tinnitus, or ringing in the ears), right now, white noise is still the go-to for better sleep.

What are examples of white noise?

People tend to be a little fast and loose with the term “white noise,” attaching it to virtually any background noise there is. But the truth is, while there are lots of white noise machines and apps out there that feature over 20 different sounds…many of those sounds aren’t white noise at all. White noise is not chirping birds, or crashing waves, or gentle lullabies. Instead, white noise is continuous, monotonous, and low pitch. And the very best white noise to help Baby’s sleep mimic the loud rumbly sounds they heard in the womb. Here are some examples of white noise that work best to help sleep:

  • Radio or television static

  • Vacuum

  • Whirring fan

  • Hum of an air conditioner

  • Strong hair dryer

  • Steady running water

  • Shushing

  • Steady rain

What’s the best volume for white noise?

When your little one is actively upset, white noise should be just as loud as your baby’s crying, which can reach 100 to 120 decibels. (Research has shown that the sound inside the womb can extend over 90 decibels, or about the intensity of a hair dryer.) Then, once your baby has fallen asleep, slowly reduce the intensity to 60 to 70 decibels, which is roughly the sound of a running shower. At that level, white noise can be safely played all night. Fun fact: SNOObear’s white noise turns off after 30 or 60 minutes—your choice—and SNOO automatically adjusts its white noise intensity based on your baby’s calm or crying state.

Is white noise played through the phone effective?

It can be…if you’re using the right white noise sounds, like our pediatrician-designed SNOO sounds download. But keep in mind that phones release microwave radiation, so you need to put your phone on airplane mode when you place it near your baby. At the same time, white noise through a phone speaker sounds more hissy or tinny, which is decidedly not the deep, rumbly sound that best mimics the womb and boosts sleep. When a portable white noise machine is needed, consider SNOObear, which features the same effective white noise sounds babies love in SNOO, plus a few extras. And if you want something even more portable than a cuddly bear, SNOObear’s white noise sound box is removable and perfectly sized to tuck into a diaper bag.

How do I use white noise to help Baby sleep?

To start, simply play white noise in the background during your baby’s bedtime routine. After a short while, white noise will start to signal to Baby that their sleepytime is just moments away. This continues to work beautifully even after your baby’s calming reflex slowly disappears by 3 to 4 months. By then, the “white noise means sleep” imprint has been made, so, every time your baby hears the telltale white noise, they think, “I know that sound…that means it’s time to have good sleep.” Like magic!

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.