Neurosurgeon Shares Why He Didn't Use White Noise With His Kids

But some parents are having none of it.
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White noise machines have become something of a miracle-worker for parents who want nothing more than to get a good night’s sleep.

The premise is simple: you turn the machine on while your baby is asleep and the low-level noise helps to drown out any background sounds – your other child screaming, next door’s dog barking, the police siren wailing down the street – that would otherwise wake them up.

But Dr Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon and scientist, isn’t a fan.

In an episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, host Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford School of Medicine, asked Dr Chang whether white noise is bad for young children, to which the expert responded we don’t have an answer yet.

That said, he did go on to say parents are using white noise machines almost universally now, so it’s an important question to address.

“I’ve got three kids of my own and was very tempted to think about how to use some of these tools to just soothe them and get them to bed, especially when I was so tired and exhausted,” said Dr Chang.

“But I think that there is a cost, you know, to think a little bit about. We’re not exposed to continuous white noise naturally.”

So, did he use white noise with his kids then? In short, no.

“There is a value to having really salient, structured sounds that are part of our natural environment to actually have the brain develop normally. So, whether or not that has an impact while you’re sleeping, it’s not clear. I don’t think that those studies have been done,” added the expert.

He did suggest that when baby rats have been raised in continuous white noise – “not super loud, but just enough to mask the environmental sounds” – it kept the auditory cortex (the part of the brain that hears) in a “really delayed state”. And this could slow down the development and maturation of the brain.

When a TikTok account called @braingeniusinsights shared a short clip from Dr Chang’s interview, some parents were having none of it.

“If my baby can sleep 12 hours straight with a white noise machine, those hours of peaceful sleep will do wonders for their brain,” responded one parent, whose comment racked up over 1,800 likes.

Another said: “I used white noise machines with both my kids and they are both very bright, capable adults. One was valedictorian of his HS.”

“White noise gives my baby 12 hours solid sleep and a happy non-tired mummy she can play with all day. I’m keeping it,” another mum said.

Studies have found white noise can help settle babies quicker compared to silence – so it’s no wonder so many parents have relied on it. But other studies suggest the noise could harm a child’s hearing if played too loudly.

Dr Amee Revana, associate medical director of Texas Children’s Sleep Center, tells families they need to be conscious of the volume of their white noise, in addition to other audio devices used around the home.

“Keep in mind that a whisper is usually about 30 decibels, and we like sounds to be less than 60 decibels, which is [the level of] normal conversation,” she told Romper.

That said, the expert suggests you can play white noise all night long for your child – but the machine should be placed 7 feet away from where they sleep and shouldn’t be set too loudly.