It'll be obvious when noise pollution is impacting your sleep, mostly because you'll find yourself lying awake listening to car alarms and noisy roommates, instead of sleeping soundly till morning. But it can also affect how you feel the next day in more ways than you might think. Apart from leaving you groggy from lack of sleep, it can start to take a toll on other areas of your health.
"Noise pollution is any type of noise that has a detrimental impact on people," Rose MacDowell, a sleep expert and chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "Most noise pollution is caused by cars, trucks, and other forms of transportation, industrial machines like air conditioning units and construction machinery, and noise caused by people such as loud music and voices."
When all that's clattering around in the background, it can make it difficult to get enough rest. "When you are asleep, noise is your body's first warning system to danger [...] So even when you are asleep the brain is processing surrounding noise," Jason Piper, a certified sleep coach and founder of Build Better Sleep, tells Bustle. "This can impact your sleep by preventing you from dropping down into deep sleep or interrupting it."
While it might feel like you slept OK, it's these deeper stages that you need in order to truly function the next day. "If you just start to drift into deep sleep and then a car alarm pops you back into a light sleep stage, chances are you are going to be tired feeling in the morning," Piper says.
It might not come as a surprise, but the incidence of sleep disorders is higher in towns with more inhabitants, MacDowell says, all thanks to the extra noise. Symptoms of the resulting sleep deprivation include daytime sleepiness, irritability, higher blood pressure and inflammation, and being at a great risk of having an accident.
When you don't get enough sleep, it can also lead to major brain fog, Piper says, "since during deep sleep your brain flushes its glymphatic system to clear waste proteins." It's necessary to actually go through the four stages of sleep, in order for this process to happen, but that can be difficult when surrounded by noise pollution.
After a poor night's sleep, you can also expect it to be more difficult to learn. "If you are interrupted during your REM stage, which is where dreams occur and memory consolidation happens, you could experience poor memory recall of the previous day," Piper says. "You may not be as creative the next day at work either since the right and left side of the brain were not able to sync up overnight."
The sounds you're exposed to at night — and at any time, really — can even lead to stress and anxiety, MacDowell says, as well as depression. Studies have shown it doesn't have to be loud noise to have an impact, as long as it's persistent and annoying. So while you can't avoid all noise pollution , you'll certainly want to do what you can to protect yourself, in order to get better sleep.
"Your number one goal should be to eliminate as much noise pollution in your bedroom as possible," Chelsie Rohrscheib, a sleep expert and member of the Sleep Cycle Institute, tells Bustle. "But if this isn't possible there are some other tricks you can use." Many people who live in loud areas get earplugs, she says, or wear noise-canceling headphones. Drowning it all out with white noise is also an option.
"Some people purchase white noise machines while others listen to white noise on their mobile devices or get creative and use items that they already have around their homes that produce white noise like an electric fan," Rohrscheib says. "White noise works by creating a consistent, non-distracting noise in your environment that helps to mask the more inconsistent and distracting noise pollution. When noise is consistent your brain will adjust and stop paying attention to the sound and allow you to drift off to sleep."
If the sounds near your home are particularly bad, try sealing cracks around your windows and doors, MacDowell says, or using an acoustic blanket or foam to quite literally soundproof your walls, which can be effective in blocking out noise from traffic or neighbors. While everyday sounds never hurt anybody, it's important for your health to get solid sleep during the night, and finding ways to block out jarring noise pollution certainly can help.
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Rose MacDowell, sleep expert and chief research officer at Sleepopolis
Jason Piper, certified sleep coach and founder of Build Better Sleep