Since I was young, I’ve struggled with extreme sensitivity to noise, especially when it comes to sleeping. Before finding effective ways to deal, everything from car alarms to the sound of passersby would echo through my bedroom window and disturb my sleep, to the detriment of my overall health.
In fact, research published in Sleep Science shows that people who are exposed to unwanted sound at night often deal with daytime sleepiness, changes in mood, and decreased overall well-being. As the experts from Sleepscore Labs explain, noise tends to be the most disruptive during light sleep—although it can interrupt deep sleep or REM sleep too.
I’m still sensitive to noise to this day, and after reading a study on the long-term effects of sleep deprivation—it increases your risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions—I knew I needed to find a way to keep noise from ruining my sleep.
How to sleep through noise
Here are six expert-approved strategies that have helped me sleep through noise. Hopefully, they’ll help you too.
Do some DIY soundproofing
In college, I lived in a large dorm and would frequently hear late-night shouting and music on full blast outside my window. I took control of my sleep environment by moving my bed away from the door to lessen the intensity of the loud noises outside. Simple but effective.
“Noise works by reflecting or bouncing off of surfaces,” explains Keith Cushner, co-founder of sleep resource tuck.com. That’s why, he says, recording studios have plenty of padded acoustic panels and furniture that’s strategically placed to absorb sound.
Other easy ways to soundproof your bedroom:
- Seal any gaps and cracks in your window frames, door frames, and floorboards.
- Hang up heavy curtains to absorb some of the sound. Blackout blinds, because they tend to be multi-layer, are particularly effective at curtailing noise as well as keeping out light.
- If you live in a two-story home and your bedroom is on the first floor, install carpeting in the room above your sleeping quarters to muffle sounds.
Sleep with earplugs
Earplugs are an affordable, accessible sleep aid for noisy environments. Everyone from construction workers to people who work in theater and concert venues uses them to reduce the volume of the loud noises and protect their hearing while they’re at it.
When looking or the best pair of earplugs for sleep, choose ones that are soft and flexible, with a rating of 32 decibels (dB), max. “These will block noise but still allow you to hear sounds that are important, such as a child crying or your morning alarm,” according to the pros at Sleepscore Labs.
When looking or the best pair of earplugs for sleep, choose ones that are soft and flexible, with a rating of 32 decibels (dB), max.
Mask sounds with white noise
White noise isn’t the same as ambient sounds like rainstorms and chirping birds—instead, it’s sound that remains consistent across all frequencies. This consistency creates a masking effect, which blocks out sudden changes in noise.
Does white noise really help sleep? Yes, research shows white noise can be effective at mitigating the effects of nighttime disturbances. For example, a study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences found that hospital patients who had white noise broadcast into their rooms experienced better sleep than those who didn’t. The researchers concluded that the white noise masked environmental sounds and helped patients fall and stay asleep in noisy hospital surroundings.
The editors at Wirecutter recommend the LectroFan white noise machine for noisy bedrooms. If you don’t want to buy a special gadget, you can also listen to a white noise for sleeping YouTube soundtrack or download a white noise app on your phone.
Limit electronic use before bed
One thing that helps me sleep through noise is sticking to a consistent bedtime routine night after night. For me, this starts with limiting my phone use before bed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one of the best ways to manage a noisy bedroom is to turn off all electronics before hitting the sack, since any noise coming from your devices can make it harder to sleep.
Because I work with people in a variety of time zones, getting emails during someone else’s morning and my 10 p.m. is a normal part of my life. Activating my phone’s “do not disturb” feature protects my circadian rhythm—between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., the do not disturb feature silences my email and social media apps and push notifications.
Blue light emitted from screens can also mess with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Because my partner and I use a large computer monitor to watch TV, movies, and YouTube, we also use an app called F.Lux, which forces the computer’s blue light to mimic the time of day. Once the sun sets, the app automatically adjusts the screen’s blue light so that it resembles moonlight. When the sun rises, it mimics sunlight.
Sniff essential oils
Spraying an essential oil blend of lavender, sandalwood, neroli, and chamomile onto my pillow helps me sleep through noisy evenings. Plenty of research has shown that inhaling certain essential oils, like the ones in the blend I use, can ease stress and, in turn, promote a good night’s sleep.
One study in particular looked at the effects of essential oils on patients in the ICU, an environment that’s both noisy and bright. According to the research, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, ICU patients who inhaled a small amount of essential oils experienced less stress and improved sleep quality.
Negotiate with a noisy partner
Sometimes the problem is the people you live with—perhaps you’re dealing with a snoring partner or noisy roommates. While I can’t promise that everyone will be willing to negotiate, it’s worth a try, especially if you’re nice about it.
Ethan Green, who runs the blog No Sleepless Nights, has this to say: “It’s important to ask someone diplomatically to understand the fact that the noise is affecting your sleep, daily life, and well-being. That, in my experience, usually gets a better result than accusing someone of being unreasonable.”
And what if whoever you’re living with is still being noisy at night? Well, it’s time to stock up on the earplugs—and crank up the white noise machine.