Your smartphone charging on the nightstand next to you buzzes as you receive a late-night text. Your neighbors throw a party that never seems to end. Someone in the house is watching TV or listening to music. All these everyday occurrences help create a noisy sleep environment that can all too easily disrupt your rest, leaving you groggy and dysfunctional the next day.
A noisy environment does more than just keep you from falling asleep. It also means you end up with a poor overall sleep experience. This lack of quality sleep, on top of shortened sleep hours, can cause you to feel tired more days than not. Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize the effect of noise on your sleep.
How Noise Interferes With Sleep
Noises most often interrupt sleep during its lighter stages, keeping you from moving on into deeper sleep. However, nighttime noise can also wake you from deep and REM sleep or create inner disturbances that affect your sleep quality negatively.
Your brain continues to register the sounds around you as you sleep, which leads to disruption. Noise can affect your blood pressure and heart rate and prompt restlessness. You may twitch and move a lot as you sleep without being aware of it, so your sleep satisfaction is low even though, technically, you slept through the night.
Noises particularly affect you as you move between the lighter and deeper sleep stages, disrupting the transition and causing periods of wakefulness. You may not even know that noise is affecting your sleep — all you know is that you still feel fatigued upon waking, unaware that your attempts to move into deep and REM sleep were hindered all night long.
The brain’s response to noise during sleep is a very individual one. People who resist noise during sleep often demonstrate a high concentration of “sleep spindles,” which are bursts of high-frequency brain waves, during the Stage 2 phase of light sleep. The effect of noise on your sleep depends largely on what stage of sleep you happen to be in when the noise occurs. Lighter stages of sleep are more prone to disruption from noise, but disruption during later stages can cause more feelings of sluggishness the next day.
The type of noise is also a factor in sleep disruption. Sounds that cause stress — such as an automobile accident outside your window, your baby crying or a siren racing up the street — are more likely to wake you. In addition, early morning sounds — a neighbor’s rooster or dog, the trash trucks coming down the road or the upstairs neighbor walking on creaky floors — can shorten your sleep period.
Changing Your Noisy Sleep Environment
The first line of defense against noise disruption during sleep is making adjustments to your bedroom. Taking steps to reduce the noise that leaks into your sleep environment is key to getting a good night’s sleep. Easy strategies you can try include the following:
- Add carpet to the room. As attractive as hardwood floors may be, they reflect sound in a way that harms sleep. Rugs and carpeting help muffle noise.
- Move your bed. Does your bed share a wall with a room where people are active at night? Position your furniture to reduce noise transmission, including keeping your bed away from any windows.
- Add soundproofing. If you’re planning a remodel, you can do a lot to quiet your bedroom. Install soundproof panels and double-glazed windows, and add insulation to floors and ceilings.
- Change your curtains. Does noise coming in from your windows disturb you at night? Consider a heavier curtain material to help block exterior noises.
- Keep your windows closed. As pleasant as a night breeze can be while you sleep, that environmental noise pouring in through your window may be what’s keeping you awake. Consider turning on a fan to create a faux breeze instead.
- Turn off your electronics. You may not notice the constant hum of your electronics during the day, but it might be the root of your sleep problems at night.
Tips for Sleeping in a Noisy Sleep Environment
Even if you’re not in a position to modify your noisy sleep environment much, there’s still a lot you can do to make your nighttime rest free from noise disruption. Try some of these tips to protect your sleep all night long:
- Turn on a white noise generator. White noise machines provide noise, but it’s a soothing, pattern-free noise that encourages sleep. Studies have shown positive results with infants and patients in a coronary care unit. Some people find that running a fan, keeping the air conditioner on or using a forced-air space heater helps in the same way.
- There’s an app for that. You can also access white noise and other soothing sounds via your smartphone. Apps also provide “pink noise,” such as rainfall, chirping crickets or breaking waves, as well as “brown noise,” like rushing rivers. In addition, music apps designed to facilitate sleep are useful for many people dealing with sleep disturbance.
- Try earplugs. Foam earplugs muffle all the sounds around you, so they don’t reach your brain and wake you up. Try different shapes of earplugs to find the type that’s most comfortable for sleep. Look for earplugs rated at 32dB or lower so you can still hear your alarm clock, your crying child or the smoke detector.
- Embrace relaxation methods as you fall asleep. Some people can train themselves to ignore noises through relaxation and mindfulness methods. Breathing exercises can help you destress, and progressive relaxation techniques help your body unwind as you prepare to sleep. Visualization exercises that help you imagine a beautiful natural environment can also help you drift off.
A noisy sleep environment doesn’t have to derail your life. By taking some easy steps to keep noise away from your bedroom and your brain, you can enjoy a rewarding night’s rest and wake up feeling refreshed.