How to Conquer Annoying Noises So You Can Sleep



Is the relentless thump of a neighbor’s music driving you nuts?  We’ve been there. Sound is probably the most frustrating thing that keeps people from getting good sleep because it’s often hard to control.

Fortunately, people don’t need total silence in order to sleep. The human brain just needs to feel safe, and a boring sound can help provide that sense, explains sleep specialist Rafael Pelayo, MD.

As a result, you may have more options for busting your bedtime-noise issues than you think. Here’s what to consider.

Fix the problem causing the noise

For creaky doors, unleash that WD-40. Tighten the screws in a squeaky bed frame. Call the super or a repairperson to silence that leaky faucet or loud radiator. Make an appointment with a doctor for your snoring partner.

Muffle the noise

If you can’t get rid of the source of the noise, and that noise is low-frequency (such as the deep drone of an air conditioner), a pair of noise-cancelling headphones may temper the sound. You have to sleep on your back, though. Otherwise, a pair of old-fashioned earplugs can help take the edge off any kind of noise, no matter its frequency.

Mask the noise

Is the noise too loud to muffle? Try to “blur” it away with another sound that has the same frequency but is more pleasant and calming: Try pink noise or ocean-wave sounds for the low-frequency buzzing of a generator, for instance, or white noise or a crackling-campfire sound for the higher-frequency taps of, say, an old radiator.

You can produce these calming sounds with a noise-generating machine—typically called a white-noise machine even though it generates a spectrum of colored or environmental sounds—or you can listen to them through a white-noise app or sleep headphones.

Three panels of a tester using tools to stop annoying sounds - noise blocking headphones and two headband-style headphones.
Photos: Lauren Dragan

Did you know?

Human ancestors could sleep through loud but familiar noises, like chirping birds, but they would wake up at the sound of a potential predator.

This is why the click of a lock is more likely to disrupt sleep than the loud but constant whir of a fan, Pelayo says.

This article was edited by Alejandra Matos.

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