Can You Teach Your Baby to Sleep Through Noise?

Can You Teach Baby To Sleep Through Noise

There is lots of conventional wisdom out there that says parents should teach their babies to sleep through noise, from day one. We hear this sometimes from our consultation clients – friends and family members blame them (the parents) for their babies’ short naps and nighttime waking, saying that they (the parents) simply need to teach the baby to sleep through noise. Because then, the baby wouldn’t wake up so much!

Oh, if only it were that simple. 😉

How Noise Affects Baby Sleep

During the newborn stage, your baby will spend lots of time in deep sleep and will likely sleep through just about anything. This is nice for us parents – it makes it much easier to be on the go with our babies! As your baby grows, however, this will change.

Starting around 6 weeks, you may notice that your baby becomes more alert; he will start looking around and noticing his environment more. This can mean that he starts to wake at noises (like the dog barking, or the phone ringing) – it is simply because he is becoming more attuned to his environment.

Around 4 months, your baby’s sleep habits will change permanently, and he will start to cycle through light and deep sleep. During those periods of light sleep, he will be more likely to wake to noise.

Can You Teach Your Baby to Sleep Through Noise?

Here are the facts (at least, in our experience with families): you cannot train a baby to sleep through noise. Some babies are likely hard-wired to be less effected by noise, but others may be more inclined to wake at even small sounds. While there are steps you can take to help minimize the affect that noise has on your baby’s sleep, you cannot teach your baby to sleep through it.

We don’t have any hard evidence to back up our belief (it simply hasn’t been studied enough, yet), but we are pretty convinced that this is largely due to personality and temperament.

How to Help Your Baby Sleep Through Noise

You probably won’t be able to create a “noise-free” environment for your baby. So, how can you help your baby sleep well when things get a little noisy?

One great option is to use white noise to your advantage. White noise is simply static noise (like the sound of a running vacuum cleaner, or a hair dryer) that helps to mask other background noise. White noise machines are excellent tools to use during nap time and at night (I have one in every bedroom in my house!), but you do not have to buy an entire machine. You can download white noise MP3’s, or white noise apps. For details and reviews about the best machines and apps, read this article.

For more information about how white noise helps both you and your baby sleep, take a look at this article.

Does your baby sleep through noise, or does every sound wake him/her up? Ever tried a white noise machine, or a white noise app? Share your experience with us!

You may not be able to train your baby to sleep through noise, but you can help your baby learn how to sleep well. Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

How White Noise Can Help You and Your Baby Sleep

Free White Noise MP3sIf you’re as old as I am (which isn’t really all THAT old!), you remember a little bit about what TV was like before cable. When you got to channel 3 (say to start your movie on your VCR before DVR or on-demand), it would get to the static channel and make that annoying sound. Little did I know, before I got older, that the annoying sound is called white noise and it can help your baby sleep. This article is to explain a little bit about how white noise can help you and your baby fall asleep and stay asleep. Be sure to get your free white noise MP3s to download, too.

Merriam Webster defines white noise as a “a heterogeneous mixture of sound waves extending over a wide frequency range.” In other words, it is a mixture of sounds that have high pitches and low pitches and everything in between. The combination of these sounds is what drowns out most of the other sounds, because when you are hearing all different frequency of sounds, your brain has trouble picking out one sound over another.

Some examples of white noise are the TV static as I described above, the vacuum, hair dryer, a fan, or humidifier. Some people also find the sounds of waves, rain, or thunderstorms soothing, too.

How Does White Noise Help You or Your Baby Sleep?

Well, it doesn’t. It actually doesn’t help you or your baby sleep per se, but drowning out other house noises can help you focus less on those other noises. White noise is also very similar to womb sounds such as your heart beating, blood flowing, mommy breathing, the muffling sound of mommy’s voice, etc. These womb-like sounds can be comforting to your baby, particularly newborns who have not yet gotten used to the outside world.

The constant repetitive sounds of white noise can also help you or your baby stay asleep, which can be the most challenging part. The constant whirring of white noise can give you the continuity of sound that soothes your baby to stay asleep or drowns out house noises such as people talking, doing the dishes, etc. This is especially helpful if your baby can’t get used to sleeping with noise, like mine.

Amazingly, I never knew I slept better with white noise until just within the last year! I was shocked as I am, ironically, not the best sleeper (which is why I’m so diligent about helping my boys be good sleepers). I am a light sleeper and I can’t always fall right back to sleep (which made co-sleeping that much harder when my son would nurse back to sleep every 1-2 hours until we taught him to fall asleep on his own). It all started one Winter when it gets so dry in the house from running the heat so much. I started running something like this Holmes humidifier and I realized it helps me sleep! It’s loud, but white noise loud, not so loud that it keeps me up (being the light sleeper that I am). I noticed that on nights that I can’t seem to shut my brain off, it helps me fall asleep faster, too. I have found that it helps me NOT wake up with every little noise the kids make, too. One night, a week or so ago, I had it off and I heard my son making noises in his sleep and before I knew it I was in there half asleep, realized he was still asleep, and I went right back to bed (and turned on my humidifier). My friend swears by the Marpac SleepMate and we have two DEX Products Sound Sleeper machines in our boys’ rooms (once we had the baby, they woke each other up exactly one time before I bought these! LOL).

Will you or your baby get “hooked” on white noise?

I do not believe my parents used white noise when I was a baby and my mom told me they let me cry it out (though she didn’t call it that exactly, but that was the gist). I never used one growing up, yet it helps me sleep, now. My boys don’t NEED it to sleep (we don’t take white noise machines on vacations and occasionally my husband forgets to turn one on or something). I can see how you can get SO used to having it that you “need” it to sleep, though. It sounds so quiet when I don’t use it, now. It’s yet another sleep association and you need to decide for yourself whether it is a positive or negative one for you and/or your baby. I, personally, have decided white noise is fine, since we don’t have to “redo” anything all night to keep sleep going.

White Noise Sources and Downloads

There are many sources of white noise from a fan to vacuum and, yes, there’s an app for that. Please feel free to download free white noise MP3s right here on the site and see if it can help you or your baby sleep.

Do You Use White Noise to Help Your Baby Sleep?

Can you teach baby to sleep through noise?

Baby Sleep With NoiseA friend of mine just had a baby and she gave me the idea for this article because her family was urging her to “get the baby used to sleeping with noise”. If I had a dime every time someone told me part of my son’s sleep problems were because he needed to get used to sleeping with noise…well I’d probably only have $5, but still, it was really frustrating to hear. Let me be honest. I have NO SCIENTIFIC proof of what I’m about to say. YOU CAN’T GET A BABY TO GET USED TO NOISE AND SLEEP THROUGH IT. Okay, you might be able to help them not wake up with every little noise, but overall, your baby has a certain threshold where certain things will wake him up. Period.

Update 8/2011: There has now been a study indicating there may be scientific proof after all that some people are hard-wired to wake more easily with sound while others sleep right through it. Read more here.

When your baby is a newborn, he will spend most of his time in a deep sleep and likely sleep through almost ANYTHING! In deep sleep, it takes a lot to wake us up (adults included). Around 6 weeks old, he will become more social and start returning your smiles. This might be around the time the dog barking or that noise outside starts becoming interesting and he may not be able to sleep through as much, but usually he will still be in a deep sleep a lot of the time. By 4 months old, the way he sleeps changes a lot in when he goes into deep sleep and may be even more affected by noise.

Babies will vary as to how much noises interest them or wake them up and how quickly they can fall back to sleep if they do hear a noise. I can tell you that both my boys could not sleep through just anything and were not portable babies (I could not bank on them falling asleep on the go). But, my second son could fall back to sleep MUCH easier than my first. You might think I didn’t make enough noise with them, but let me assure you, my first son was in a very noisy daycare for 8+ months (before we got a nanny and kept him home, partially due to his sleep issues) and he NEVER “got used” to noise! I don’t care how many people tell me that I didn’t do something, he simply has always been worried he will miss something fun if he has to sleep and he all but went on a nap strike at daycare. Even as a 3 year old, at bedtime, he would claim he was not tired, say he didn’t want to go to sleep and then fall asleep 4 minutes later (I am not exaggerating!). He was no different as a baby and would fight sleep tooth and nail. :) So, with both boys we made sure we put the barking dogs away and gave them a quiet place to sleep, in the nursery and in their crib. We later bought White Noise Machines, to block out some of the household noises and encourage longer naps and better night sleep. My other friend’s baby was able to sleep through a lot more noise and on-the-go compared to my boys. It’s just luck of the draw.

So, next time someone tells you to get baby used to sleeping with noise, no, don’t walk on your tip toes, but please give your baby a quiet place to sleep if he needs it. I can tell you one thing, I certainly can’t sleep with my dogs barking outside my door or the radio blaring. I don’t expect my babies to, either.

Do you think a baby can learn to sleep through noise?