Some people find comfort in the strangest of things. The feeling of a satin clothes tag, the smell of an old jumper, the noise of passing traffic outside. But these sensations and senses share a common element – they feel familiar somehow; they evoke nostalgia.
And even if it might sound odd that a person can be lulled to sleep by the sound of a hairdryer, or even a vacuum cleaner, it really can work.
The same goes for your little ones. Because what can be the most comforting for them, the most soothing, may not always be that playlist of lullabies, the CD of nature noises or even the sound of your voice that you use to create a safer sleeping environment.
No, they may find the most solace in some white noise.
What is white noise?
Basically, it’s the noise that’s produced by combining sounds of different frequencies together. If you took all the possible sounds and tones and pitches that a human being could hear and mashed them together, you’d end up with white noise. It sounds a little like radio or TV static and in fact, isn’t all that pleasing to the ear!
FYI, it’s called ‘white’ noise because of the way in which light works. As you may or may not know, light is actually made up of several different colours in the spectrum (or ‘frequencies’), which combine to form light. In the same way, white noise is a combination of the different frequencies of sound.
Why is it so soothing?
For one, white noise can be useful for blocking out other sounds. Since it is in fact a combination of all the possible sounds, listening to it alone can prevent a baby getting disturbed by other everyday sounds like traffic, or the TV, or doors slamming, or the rest of the family chattering/laughing/fighting in the next room.
The process is called ‘sound masking’. And even though adding more noise into the mix might sound counterintuitive, the fact that it drowns out other, varying, noises and itself remains constant can be pretty comforting. The brain can no longer pick out individual sounds so it stops trying and learns to settle down.
Our sense of hearing is a little like an alarm system; when we pick up an unfamiliar signal we become more alert. It’s all about the context and continuity of the sound, not the volume or nature of the sound itself. That’s why babies can fall asleep in a noisy cafe, while the sudden (yet much quieter) barking of a dog three houses over can wake them from their slumber. It’s unexpected, and it’s not part of the fabric of their environment.
So if you find that your baby can’t get to sleep, or wakes up easily because of noises in the surrounding area, give white noise a try. It could be the solution to helping them fall into, and maintain, a deep and sound slumber. (If you need more sleep tips, check out the free advice from the Sleep Advisors).
White noise and the womb
Another reason why white noise can be so comforting for tots is because it reminds them of a time when they felt most safe, comfortable and nurtured; in the womb. The noise itself might bring to mind the sounds they experienced then, like your heart beating, your blood flowing, your breathing, the muffled sounds of your voice, and so on.
These womb-like sounds can be a source of great comfort for your baby, particularly if they’ve get to get to grips with the overall newness of the outside world. Not to mention its repetitive nature…and repetition has a power of its own in helping both kids and adults drift off. (If you’ve ever listened to a particularly boring speech, with the main points repeated over and over, you’ll understand!)
Types of white noise
Although traditional white noise (of the static-sounding variety) can only be produced electronically, more recently it’s become a catch-all term for any kind of constant, unchanging background noise. These include nature sounds like rain, birds or waves, machinery noises like washing machines and vacuum cleaners and ambient noises like the crackling of a fire or murmur of a crowd.
If genuine white noise doesn’t work for your baby, and if you feel the sound is a little too harsh, you could try playing one of these options instead.
Ready, set, sleep…
Now that you know a little more about white noise and the types available, why not give it a try? You might find that your tots feel more comforted, more secure and more sleepy when it comes to laying down their heads, at nap time and at bedtime, too. Meaning you can be the happy, rested family that you deserve to be!
In collaboration with The Sleep Advisor