Hear

Listen. Are noises keeping you awake?
  • How noise affects your sleep

    While you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds on a basic level. Noise can jostle your slumber—causing you to wake, move, shift between stages of sleep, or experience a change in heart rate and blood pressure—so briefly that you don't remember the next morning. Whether sounds disturb your sleep depends on factors such as the stage of sleep you're in, the time of night, and even your feelings about the sounds themselves. More

    Noises are more likely to wake you from a light sleep (stages 1 and 2), than from a deep sleep (stages 3 and 4), and tend to be more disruptive in the second half of the night. If you share a bed with someone, you know that there is individual variation in sensitivity to noise. In fact, a recent study found that "sound sleepers" have characteristic brain activity that may make them more impervious to noise.

    Interestingly, whether or not a sound bothers your sleep depends in part on that sound's personal meaning: researchers have seen that people are more likely to wake when a sound is relevant or emotionally charged. This is why, for example, a parent could sleep soundly through her partner's snores but wake fully when her baby fusses.

  • What is white noise?

    White noise works by reducing the difference between background sounds and a "peak" sound, like a door slamming, giving you a better chance to sleep through it undisturbed. If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, creating a constant ambient sound could help mask activity from inside and outside the house. More

    In your bedroom, white noise can be created by a sound conditioner, a fan or an air purifier, anything that is a consistent and soothing backdrop throughout the night. You might want to experiment with the volume and type to find the white noise that works best for you, or if you have a sleeping partner, the sound that works for both of you.

  • Television and your sleep

    Whether or not you realize it the next day, sounds can alert your brain and disturb the continuity of your sleep. So creating a quiet bedroom environment is key to a full, healthy night's rest. If you feel as though you've slept 7-9 hours but are still drowsy the next day, sound is a possible culprit. More

    Ideally, the sounds to which you drift off at night should be the ones that stay with you until morning. Falling asleep with the television on, for example, could interrupt your sleep because, unlike white noise, TV sounds are constantly changing in tone, volume, and so forth. TV can be especially bothersome if you need to wake up to turn it off and resettle into bed. For a better night's sleep, keep the television out of your bedroom and turn it off before you start your bedtime routine. Use white noise for background sounds instead.

    If you need a morning alarm, consider one that is loud and distinct enough to arouse you, but doesn't shock you awake — you want to start your day alert but not anxious.

  • How to manage noise pollution

    Especially if you live in a city or a busy neighborhood, outside noise is a fact of life. Some people grow accustomed to environmental noise if it's constant enough. But for many of us, sudden or periodic noises outside our bedroom windows can jostle us awake, even if just briefly. More

    Airport noise, a vigilant neighborhood dog, or the otherwise pleasant sound of chirping morning birds can break the continuity of your sleep. Not only can "noise pollution" steal your slumber and make you feel drowsy the next day, there is some evidence that sounds such as those from constant, loud urban traffic or close proximity to an airport may have a negative effect on health. For example, some studies have suggested that long-term exposure to intense noise pollution could be associated with hypertension.

    Most of us don't live under a flight path or next to railway tracks, but masking noise is still important to quality sleep. The solution: use a white noise machine, fan, or air purifier to create a background hum and block unwanted outside noise. Earplugs also work well for many people.

  • Family noise

    The sounds of a busy, happy family are a delight. But in a bustling house, with varying schedules and needs, how do you create an environment that helps everyone get optimal sleep? More

    An early bedtime is important for kids (between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. works best for most), so at least 30 minutes before bed create a soothing, quiet atmosphere in the house. Put on soft music or even lullabies while you start your kids' bath to signal wind-down time. Keep television out of your child's room and try not to watch it in at least the hour before bedtime, as this can be stimulating. After bedtime, white noise helps block sounds from the adults who are still awake in the house, as well as neighborhood noises. White noise can be particularly helpful for soothing babies.

    Parents also need a quiet environment to sleep, but with little children in the house—and the nightmares, requests for sips of water, or standard potty trips—this can be challenging. If you stir at the slightest peep from your kids, see if you can turn the baby monitor down (or off completely if they are nearby). You should be able to hear when your kids need you, but not hear all the normal noises they make while sleeping. If one parent's work schedule requires her to sleep later, use white noise and earplugs to block sounds as the rest of the family starts the day.

did you know?

74% of Americans rated a quiet room as important to getting a good night’s sleep in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2012 Bedroom Poll.