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Neurosurgeon causes stir by suggesting parents stop playing white noise for kids' sleep

Neurosurgeon and scientist Edward Chang says he's concerned about how popular white noise has become to help children sleep, citing a study in rats that showed delayed brain development

Baby pictured sleeping in blue bassinet with canopy at night.

Many parents use noise machines to help children sleep sounder and longer.

A survey conducted last year by Sleep Doctor found that 38.1%, in fact, choose noise machines, specifically on the white noise setting. And people spent a whopping 3 million hours daily listening to white noise podcasts on Spotify, according to a Bloomberg report.

So it's easy to imagine how neurosurgeon and scientist Edward Chang caused such an stir after his recent appearance on an episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, during which he suggested parents stop playing white noise for their kids.

In the episode, hosted by American neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, Chang was asked to give his professional opinion on white noise.

Here's what he shared.

'I think there is a cost'

"Parents are using white noise generators almost universally now," Chang said on the podcast.

He made it clear that studies have not yet been conducted on humans, especially looking specifically at the use of white noise machines only at night, but experiments have been run on rats, he said.

"If you raise these baby rats in continuous white noise, not super loud, but just enough to mask the environmental sounds, that was enough to keep the auditory cortex (the part of the brain that hears) in a really delayed state, which could slow down the development and maturation of the brain," Chang said.

Huberman asked Chang if he ever considered using a noise machine to help his kids sleep, to which he said, "no."

“I think that there is a cost," Chang said. "We’re not exposed to continuous white noise naturally.”

He continued to say that "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,” he said.

Parents had a lot to say

A short clip of the interview shared by @braingeniusinsights on TikTok has gathered 2.6 million views and over 2,000 comments.

"My daughter listened to white noise, she’s 4 and just finished her masters degree, she teaches English and maths and is currently building a flying boat," a woman wrote in one comment

Another mom joked: "My child only listened to classical music and the greatest novels at night. He is now the dean of Harvard at age 2."

Another parent added: "I never used white noise machines and my kids write their name in the drool on the windows just fine."

But mostly, parents didn't seem dissuaded from playing white noise for their children.

“If my baby can sleep 12 hours straight with a white noise machine, those hours of peaceful sleep will do wonders for their brain,” one mom said.

“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," said another.

A newborn baby boy sleeps while wrapped in a blanket.

Watch the full Huberman Lab Podcast episode featuring Dr. Edward Chang here

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