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Fans + Sleep = ?   

January 24, 2019 by  
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By Nilong Vyas, MD

As a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I recommend the use of a fan or sound machine when a child is learning to sleep through the night. A fan can drown out noises that may cause wakefulness such as cars going by, pets in the home, other siblings as well as a multitude of things that may wake a child and can prove to be advantageous in those situations. However, once the child is sleeping through the night for at least a period of 1-2 months, my recommendation is to start working to eliminate the fan or sound machine (white noise machine) by decreasing the intensity of the sound every few days until it is no longer in use. Once the sound machine has been eliminated, if certain situations arise, for example, thunderstorms, fireworks, or traveling with the child, the temporary use of a sound machine is beneficial. Again, when that situation has resolved, use of the sound machine can be terminated as well but kept handy for certain necessary situations.

The primary disadvantage of sleeping with a fan or sound machine is that most people (adults as well as children) get used to having that sound present and then can no longer sleep without that sound. So much so that if the power goes out or something interferes with the sound, such as when traveling, it can inhibit sleep when that white noise terminates. App creators and developers have tapped into that market, however, and have created apps as well as travel fans that one can take with them anywhere and have any time in order to recreate that white noise (whether it’s a fan sound, a/c sound, airplane sound or even waves) in order to help one fall asleep. Although helpful, the use of many of these devices is dependent on electricity and another prop that if it were to fail, can cause loss of sleep. It is my preference and advice to eliminate the need and dependence on the white noise so that one can sleep without it. My husband is one of those addicted to the sound of a fan and has strong connections to that sound and sleep. So much so that when we were traveling to Europe for our honeymoon (before the era of cell phones and apps), and the room did not have an A/C or a fan, he had to leave the water running in the bathroom in order to recreate that sound to be able to sleep!

The use of an actual fan can be beneficial for infants or children in that it creates airflow in the room. If that is necessary, it is best to use a fan that does not make noise so they don’t become dependent on that sound in order to sleep. The advantage of a fan or sound machine is for those that live in noisy environments where the sounds are out of one’s control. For example, if you live in a noisy apartment building or have to travel for work and the sleep routine is constantly affected, a fan can provide a reassuring hum that helps drown out extraneous noises and allows one to fall into a deep slumber.  Make sure in those situations that you have ample batteries for your device or chargers, and you pack the device before the travel takes place.

The health risk fans can pose is when they are not cleaned properly. Whether it’s a ceiling fan or a table fan, the blades need to be cleaned regularly. Dust can collect on the blades and when in motion, that dust can be blown around and possibly inhaled and cause respiratory issues. The same concern exists for air conditioners as far as the sound it creates and the dependency it can potentially create for some in that they can only sleep with the sound of the cooling fan blowing. In addition, the filters need to be replaced often, in order to maintain a unit that works efficiently as well as one that does not cause mold or dust buildup in the room or house.

Many people prefer to be on the cooler side when sleeping, down to 60-70 degrees. For those that like it cool when they sleep and absolutely need the air condition, again, it’s best to use a unit that does not make too much noise or keep the fan portion off so the cooling benefits can still be met but without the sound association.

About the author: Nilong Vyas, MD, is the president and CEO of Sleepless in NOLA, in New Orleans.

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The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.