Maybe your neighbors are having a party. Maybe it’s the nightly sounds of the city and traffic. Or maybe it’s the people in the apartment above you, who you have to assume are training to be professional river dancers given their non-stop and irregular footfalls. It could even be your partner snoring or the ever-present creaks or whirrs of old doors and loud machines. Few things are more frustrating than slipping under the covers ready for a good night’s sleep, only to be kept awake by noise.
If you find yourself in this situation, know that you’re not alone. While some people might be able to easily fall asleep regardless of noise, research suggests sound is one of the biggest impediments to a good night’s sleep.
How Sound Affects Sleep Quality
The effects of noise when you’re trying to sleep don’t end at personal annoyance. A review of the research published in Noise Health found that even at low exposure levels, environmental noise was associated with increased sleep disturbances and long-term health impacts.1
These researchers found that collectively, these studies suggest nighttime noise exposure from sources like traffic, neighbors, and more may even be relevant to the development of cardiovascular disease.1
The World Health Organization has gone so far as to write new guidelines for Europe to address nighttime noise, which it’s noted can significantly worsen sleep quality.1, 2 The WHO has estimated that Western Europeans collectively lose nearly one million years of life every year due to traffic-related sounds at night that impact sleep quality.3
Another study published in Sleep Science found that noise at night can trigger our stress response and stimulate the production of stress hormones including cortisol, noradrenaline, and adrenaline.4
Research suggests sounds during sleep keep us in lighter phases of stage 1 and stage 2 sleep. This means that noise doesn’t just reduce your total sleep time — it impacts your sleep cycle, and can stop you from reaching more restorative stages of deep sleep (stage 3 and REM sleep.)4
Of course, there are the lucky few who don’t wake up or suffer poor quality sleep with the sounds of traffic. This article isn’t geared towards them. For many of us, noise has real effects on sleep, and can directly contribute to both short-term and long-term issues.
7 Ways You Can Protect Your Sleep from Environmental Noise
If you’re craving a good night’s sleep and need help with noise, we’ve got you covered. Here are 7 approaches you can try to limit noise and sleep soundly each and every night.
#1 Take a Direct Approach to Solving the Problem
This one might sound a bit obvious, but we want to start with the basics. Is it the clanging of the laundry machine that keeps you up? Do you have family members or roommates that are night owls, and not quiet ones? Is there a door that always squeaks, no matter how hard people try to avoid it?
While you can’t control all environmental noise, a direct approach can help in some cases. Purchase some WD-40 to help get that door squeak under control, or change up the timing of when you use the laundry machine. Kindly ask roommates or family members if they could lower the noise as you’re finding it hard to sleep.
If people are receptive, you could even open up a discussion of when would be appropriate to have quiet hours, so everyone can feel comfortable and get a good night’s sleep.
*In some cases, no amount of effort will solve the source of the noise.
Neighbors may not care, sound from air conditioners may not be solvable, and if you live in a city or near a highway, noise from traffic is unavoidable. In these cases, the following approaches might be better suited to help you get high-quality sleep at night.
#2 Noise-Canceling Earplugs
You may have already tried earplugs, which can be helpful. But to take sound prevention to the next level, try noise-canceling earplugs. Noise-canceling headphones work by monitoring the sound around you and emit frequencies that effectively “cancels out” environmental sound. In this way, the external sound never even makes it to your ears!
The one caveat of noise-canceling headphones — they can be bulky, which can make certain sleep positions uncomfortable. For this reason, noise-canceling headphones are usually best if you sleep on your back.
#3 Sound Machines
Have you heard of white noise machines? White noise machines are one of many sound machines that produce ambient noise designed to help listeners calm their minds and fall asleep with ease. While white noise machines are the most well-known, you may actually want to consider opting for a machine that can produce different colors of noise, like white or pink noise.
What’s the difference? White noise is described as a more static sound. It incorporates all frequencies in the broadband played at equal power, creating a consistent sound, like the static on a TV or a vacuum cleaner.
Pink noise also contains all frequencies in the broadband, but decreases the intensity of higher pitches and increases the power of lower pitches. Because it uses lower and deeper sound waves, it’s often reported to sound more gentle and soothing than white noise.
Other colors include brown, blue, violet, and gray noise.5
#4 Soundproof Your Room
This one might take a little extra investment, but it can help reduce environmental sounds at night for the long run. Block sound coming into your room using under-door draft stoppers or invest in heavy-duty noise-canceling curtains. Reseal windows with acoustic caulk or get creative with other window noise stoppers that you can find with a quick internet search.
If snoring is an issue, check out solutions like nasal strips, anti-snoring mouthguards, mini CPAP machines, and more to see what might work for you and your partner.
#5 Listen to ASMR Sleep Tracks or Sleep Stories
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. While ASMR covers a wide range of auditory stimuli, ASMR for sleep often includes people speaking in gentle, whispery tones or tracks with layered sounds. Many find ASMR helps maintain their focus with soft yet distinct sounds that guide them into sleep.
You can also investigate sleep stories if you have trouble shifting your focus away from environmental noise. Sleep stories have many different topics, but are usually audio tracks that incorporate people telling stories in gentle, soothing, and relaxing tones. These can give you something to focus on that gently lulls your mind to sleep.
#6 Play Gentle Music or Sounds of Nature
Many find that consistent and soft sounds of nature or instrumental music can also be a powerful aide in helping them fall asleep at night. Nature sounds like falling rain, wind, or a running river are all popular options.
If you want to try gentle music, look for melodic instruments with a soft touch. Piano and string instruments can be great, as well as synthesized sounds that are smooth and create an all-encompassing expansive sound.
#7 Use Muse’s Digital Sleeping Pill
Our Digital Sleeping Pill is a new type of sleep experience designed to help you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. How does it work? When you wear our Muse S headband, it measures your brain waves and mental activity in real-time. Our app then plays soothing sounds designed to guide your mind into a more relaxed state, and ultimately into deep sleep.
Once you’re asleep, our headband monitors your mind. If it sees you’re starting to wake up, it starts playing soothing sounds to guide you back to sleep. In this way, it’s designed to help you reach those restorative stages of deep sleep and wake up in the morning feeling well-rested and energized for the day to come.
Curious to learn more?
Take your sleep quality to the next level with Muse’s Digital Sleeping Pill.