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How Does Noise Affect Sleep?

Some lucky people can fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. However, sleep can be disrupted for many reasons and one of those reasons includes noise too. While noise doesn’t necessarily prevent you from falling or staying asleep, there’s a clear link between noisy environment and disrupted sleep cycle.

That’s why we wrote this compelling article to highlight the main reasons why noise may keep you awake at night, or prevent you from receiving sufficient night sleep to help you go through the next day. Here’s how does noise affects sleep.

Is Noise Pollution Real?

Is Noise Pollution Real
Image Source: Terry Cralle

Due to human-induced global warming, we often hear the terms such as air pollution referring to unhealthy levels of carbon dioxide and other toxic pollutants in the air. We also often hear about light pollution in busy cities during the night which affects human and animal life. But, is noise pollution a thing? Have you heard this term before?

Noise pollution, also known as sound pollution and environmental noise refers to any propagation of loud sound that sounds annoying and disruptive to the human ear. What’s more, the high levels of noise pollution can be harmful to human ears, as well as the animal ears.

Noise pollution can be found anywhere, even in places, we enjoy cafes and concerts. It can be found at the construction sites, parties, residential blocks, and other places. Noise pollution may not be only dangerous to affect our ability to have a quality night rest, in addition to causing fatigue and daytime sleepiness, it may disrupt our work environment and hinder our ability to focus and complete daily tasks.

Lastly, it may even impact our social life.

Health Implications of Noise Pollution

It’s widely accepted that noise can’t be harmful to our health. After all, it’s just a wave with high wavelength or frequency and it can’t do us harm. However, noise pollution can do much more than just disrupt our hearing ability, and the data collected through different studies and research are worrisome. Perhaps, it’s time to scratch a little more than just a surface in discovering the underlying effects of long-term exposure to noise pollution.

Progressive noise that rises in intensity over time can result in more health problems than you can easily count. The constant noise flow and source can result in disrupted sleep and productivity, sleepiness, stress, poor concentration, difficulties communicating with others, but more serious problems too, according to the study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011.

Noise pollution can come from any source you can imagine, or multiple of them combined. Think about public transport such as cars, buses, trolleybuses, trams, trains, as well as airplanes, marketplace, super-loud music from cafes, concerts of a night club, construction machines and others.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease
Image Source: Terry Cralle

It’s no secret that poor sleeping habits can lead to problems that are associated with heart and cardiovascular diseases.

Now, a study has found that long-term exposure to traffic noise and noise pollution, in particular, can result in intensified problems with heart, or cause new problems if there weren’t any.

There are a lot of research studies that prove just that, but the most recent study, published last year in the European Heart Journal studied about 500 adults who were exposed to the aircraft and traffic noise over the last five years.

They analyzed the 5 year-long data and connected it to each of the study participants’ home addresses. Once they compiled all the results of the study, researchers noted a 34% higher chance for heart attacks and strokes, as well as other heart-related problems.

Utilizing several scanning and brain imaging techniques, researchers found proof of how noise affects, not only sleep but every day as a whole. It’s no secret that transportation sounds can be prominent both in the day and night. Excess noise, according to other studies can also result in inflammation in the arteries which can lead to further heart problems.

Tinnitus

How Do You Sleep With Tinnitus
Image Source: Terry Cralle

Tinnitus is a non-psychotic condition in which people hear humming, beeping, hissing, growling, and buzzing noises at any time of the day. While the condition is said to originate from the damaged eardrum, middle ear, or another center in the hearing system, there’s still not any definitive evidence of what could be the culprit of this disorder. Still, it can lead to hearing loss.

Tinnitus tends to get much worse at night, when the noise is lower than during the day, causing a lot of difficulties falling and staying asleep. We wrote an article that will give a better introduction to tinnitus and how to sleep with it even when falling asleep feels impossible.

Stress

Stress
Image Source: Terry Cralle

People are exposed to stress every day, starting from school and work, to social affairs, paying bills, and other hardships.

However, an older study showed a comprehensive link between traffic noise and other types of noise pollution leading to feeling more stressed.

Stressful situations can also lead to fatigue, lack of interest, problems with focus, and concentrating on things, and much more. Interestingly, the exposure to environmental noise also leads to the lack of focus and productivity, as mentioned above, it’s difficult to try to get tasks complete through intense and often unbearable noise.

How Does Noise Affect Sleep?

You’ve surely experienced the inability to fall asleep due to noise at least once. Perhaps, you wanted to take a nap, but your household members were partaking in something loud. You wanted to jump into bed and have a long and restful sleep after a stressful week at work, but it’s Friday and your neighbors wanted to throw a party.

Perhaps, you live in a busy neighborhood that never sleeps and the streets never rest. In this section, we’ll talk about how does noise affects sleep and help you find ways to fix that.

Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis

Above, we talked about tinnitus and how it may affect sleep. However, a similar disorder and sometimes coupled with tinnitus is hyperacusis, which is a hearing disorder that makes patients hear different frequencies that appear too loud for an average person to handle. The vast majority of people may not even be aware of some sounds and frequencies, because they’re unable to hear them. However, people with hyperacusis can and it can lead to them feeling sick.

During the night, the condition’s effects may intensify, leading to difficulties falling asleep and sleeping through the night. Anything from a running faucet to kitchen appliances like a dishwashing machine, refrigerator, or a washing machine can disrupt them. They can hear small buzzing in the phone charger in the power socket, as well as two people talking outside. While for most people that conversation may not even be too loud, they can experience it multiple times louder.

The disruptions can be so intense it can lead to seizures, problems with balance, and difficulties sleeping. Fortunately, it’s a rare disorder that affects both people with hearing difficulties and normal hearing. It’s not a disorder people are born with, it can be a result of brain confusing different vibrations or even making them louder than they sound.

A healthy person and a person with hyperacusis can receive the same sound wave, but their brains will process it differently.

Hyperacusis can be caused by a range of reasons such as a viral or bacterial infection in the ear canal, head injury, damage to ears, migraine, valium consumption, epilepsy, and others.

Difficulties Falling Asleep

Not all noise is soothing and for some people, extensive noise that lasts for extended amounts of time can lead to difficulties falling asleep.

When the noise isn’t consistent, it can get even worse, because as you’re slowly drifting away into sleep, the tonality of the noise may rise, leading to you waking up all of a sudden just before you were able to fall asleep. The noise can disrupt you and cause you to lose focus on falling asleep keeping the brain awake.

The noise may cause even worse consequences if you’ve been working out late, had a late-night snack or a massive meal, or don’t sleep in a cool, dark environment.

While the quiet environment is essential for an easier time falling asleep, ensuring that all the conditions for quality sleep are met can improve your overall experience falling asleep.

Staying Asleep

It can be extremely difficult to stay asleep during noisy heated arguments, busy traffic outside, party ambient in the apartment next door, and others. Sudden spikes in noise can wake you up and possibly startle you in the process. Waking up startled and scared can make falling asleep much more difficult, because of fast heart rate and disturbance.

That said, the noise can lead to you waking up several times through the night, which will affect your day to day activities, make you cranky, nervous, and induce daytime sleepiness.

Sleep Quality

sleep cycle
Terry Cralle, RN

With this in mind, having difficulties falling asleep or staying awake can have vast consequences for the quality of your sleep and sleep hygiene in particular. Even if you manage to sleep through the noise, your brain can still possibly register it, and not feel asleep as a result.

Through the night and our sleep cycle, the human brain experiences several sleep phases. In addition to being awake, sleeper goes through the REM phase, light sleep, and deep sleep. REM sleep is usually the first phase our brain enters as we fall asleep. It’s the phase where our brain is nearly as active when we’re awake, with a purpose to create and generate dreams for us.

Given our brain is active, it can hear the noise, and generate dreams with it as a result. Such disruptive activity can lead to the noise scaring you awake, or unnerving nightmares that can scare and wake you up. The light sleep is the closest phase of sleep to being awake, noise, light, and temperature can easily affect you and wake you up.

The deepest and most restorative phase of sleep is deep sleep. It’s recommended that at least 20% of sleep be deep. It’s the phase where our brain is asleep too, our body restores itself, our muscles relax and rest and it’s considered the most restorative sleep phase. With wild noise going through the night, this phase can be more difficult to achieve, and with deep sleep deficiency, you may feel more tired throughout the day and experience headaches.

That said, noise doesn’t help deep sleep, it mainly helps you stay awake and sleep-deprived.

What Can You Do?

As we’ve seen, falling asleep and sleeping through the night in a noisy environment can be more than just difficult. It can lead to long term difficulties sleeping and even result in chronic insomnia. That’s why it’s important to take the necessary measurements to be less affected by the noise during the night.

Whether you can’t sleep because you have noisy neighbors or live near a loud traffic lane, or you went to the trip in a place that is loud and busy, we wrote a compelling guide with tips and tricks to help you fall asleep despite the noise and stay asleep.

Keep in mind that sleeping in noise pollution is unhealthy, however. That said, always ensure that your sleeping environment is quiet or at least sounds soothing enough to promote restorative sleep.


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