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Infant Sleep Machines at Maximum Volume Reported as Hearing Risk

Researchers have found that devices used to produce soothing sounds in order to help infants sleep can be loud enough at maximum volume to damage their hearing.

These infant sleep machines emit white noise or nature sounds to help the baby sleep and sometimes these devices will be embedded in stuffed animals. Some sleep experts are advising parents to use these sleeping aids every night to ensure the best rest for their baby. 

However, according to a recent New York Times article, researchers at the University of Toronto evaluated 44 popular sleep machines at maximum volume and found that they produce between 68.8 to 92.9 decibels at 30 centimeters, about the distance one might be placed from an infant’s head. Three exceeded 85 decibels, the workplace safety limit for adults on an eight-hour shift for accumulated exposure as determined by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. One machine was so loud that two hours of use would exceed workplace noise limits.

“These machines are capable of delivering noise that we think is unsafe for full-grown adults in mines,” said Dr. Blake Papsin, the senior author of the paper and the chief otolaryngologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Safe use is possible if the device is placed far enough away from the baby, however some devices are designed to be attached to the crib. The study authors recommended that manufacturers limit the maximum noise level of infant sleep machines.

“A concern, briefly raised in the Pediatrics study, is whether listening to white noise can be detrimental to auditory development. A 2003 study published in the journal Science found continuous white noise delayed development of the brain’s hearing center in newborn rats.”

In humans, the brain of a newborn is learning to differentiate sounds at different pitches even during sleep, said Lisa L. Hunter, scientific director of research in the division of audiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“If you’ve conditioned them to white noise, there’s every indication that they might not be as responsive as they otherwise should be to soft speech,” she said.

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