How White Noise Machines Can Harm Your Kid’s Hearing & 3 Ways to Make Them Safer

White noise machines and sleep machines have become a popular choice to help infants, toddlers, and older kids drift off, especially when they’re light sleepers or live in a loud area or home. And while a staticky hum or quiet ocean waves may not seem like powerful sounds, a new warning from the American Academy of Pediatrics on hearing loss in kids says that these sleep machines should be used with care.

The AAP’s warning covers “excessive noise” in a broad sense — again, not necessarily something you’d associate with a white noise machine meant to help kids fall asleep. Sources of excessive noise can include cranking the volume on headphones, attending concerts, and being exposed to loud background noise like fireworks. While kids’ and teens’ use of personal devices (think: phones) is “one of the most prevalent forms of noise exposure, research shows,” according to the AAP’s press release, sleep machines can also contribute.

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“Several studies show potential benefits in ease in falling asleep, decreasing crying, and increasing pain threshold,” researchers noted in the report. However, one study of 14 difference devices “raised concern that sound levels of 3 machines exceeded occupational limits,” and that they could lead to hearing damage if the machines were played for more than eight hours.

The issue, co-lead author Sophie J. Balk, MD, FAAP, says in the press release, is that “Children have smaller ear canals than adults, which intensifies higher frequency sounds. And the concern is not only with volume, but how long and how often children are exposed to noise.”

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When it comes to sleep machines, the report concluded that it’s best to locate them “as far away as possible from the infant,” set them on the lowest possible volume, and limit the duration of use.

Because, at the end of the day, sleep machines and white noise machines definitely have their advantages — it’s just about using them in a safe way for your little one. Adjusting the sleep machines volume, placement, and duration of use can help preserve your child’s hearing while ensuring they get that sweet shut-eye they need.

Speaking of sleep, here are our favorite products to help you drift off:


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