What to Know About Sleep and Noise in the NICU

There is a lot going on in any NICU. Staff are busy doing their jobs, babies are crying, there are nervous moms, alarms, ventilators making sounds, beeping monitors, visitors, and multiple conversations. All of these distractions affect both your baby and you. Here’s what you should know about sleep and noise in the NICU.

When There Is Too Much Noise

Baby sleeping in NICU.

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are some damaging effects of noise on preterm development. When preterm babies are exposed to continuous excessive noise in the NICU, there are increased risks for the following:

  • Increased risk for hearing loss
  • Abnormal brain and sensory development
  • Speech and language problems
  • Fluctuating heartbeat, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation while in the NICU
  • Apnea

Staff usually try to keep the noise level down, however, it’s not always possible. When the noise level is high, it can affect your baby’s sleep. He or she may not sleep as long as they should. In addition, your baby may not get quality sleep as they continue to be awakened by some noise, medical treatment, or a check-up. These situations are all sub-optimal for your little one.

NICU babies need some quiet time to sleep and remain calm. It assists with their health, growth, and development.

What You Can Do

Now that you know about sleep and noise in the NICU, you can assist (or encourage) the staff in keeping the noise level down. A friendly reminder will usually be sufficient and accepted.

You can cover your baby’s incubator with a blanket to lower the sounds. Talk with visitors about lowering their voices when around the baby. Try to limit conversations, and don’t talk over the baby’s incubator.

Some Positive Noises

Talking softly to your baby is a good kind of noise. They become accustomed to your voice quickly so use that calming and safe auditory to reduce their stress. Reading to your baby is another way to use your voice in a bonding way. Your spouse and family members can do the same.

Music therapy has many advantages for a preemie. It can be recorded music or live music, and it is another type of bonding noise. Sing to your little one especially as you are holding them during kangaroo care.

In one study, preemies who had 60 minutes of vocal music in the NICU consumed more than babies with only routine talking. The result was an improvement in the baby’s daily weight.

Lastly, music soothes both parents and baby so stress is reduced.

Contact Fairfax Neonatal Associates if you have questions or concerns about the noise level in your baby’s NICU environment.

Sources: NICU noise and the preterm infant – PubMed (

How Does Noise Affect the Health of NICU Babies? (

How Music Therapy Helps Premature Babies | Baby Development (

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