How to Sleep in a Loud City

Is city noise waking you up or keeping you from sleeping at night? Tackle that noise and learn how to sleep in a loud city.

By Sheryl Grassie

Apr 25th, 2022

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More and more people are living in large urban areas that have, as part of their natures, a lot of noise. And, more and more as a society we are aware of the need for good quality sleep. With more population density there is more potential for a host of loud auditory interruptions that can disturb sleep. Living in a city can be invigorating until the neighbors loud music has you up at 2:30a.m. and you are asking yourself, “How can I sleep in this loud city?”

Planes and trains, car horns and police sirens, ambulances, barking dogs, loud neighbors and street noise, they can all interrupt a good night’s sleep. If noise is waking you up at night, don’t just live with it.

Disrupted sleep has lots of physical and mental health repercussions. It can lower immune function, cause diabetes or heart disease. It can contribute to depression or make you tired during the day and susceptible to accidents. Interrupted sleep is worth addressing.

Let’s say you know for sure what specifically is waking you up. Depending on what it is, you may take a number of different approaches to dealing with it. Let’s start by thinking about the difference between good noise and bad noise. Then, check out recommendations from sleep experts on how to lessen noise and sleep better in your noisy environment.

Good Noise vs. Bad Noise

As far as noise goes, there are good and bad sounds in relation to sleep. Different kinds of noises can either positively or negatively affect the brain. Quiet, rhythmic, natural noises like the whir of a fan, the sound of rain on your roof, or birds in the morning tend to sooth the sensory system and allow you to sleep.

In contrast, loud, grating, mechanical noises like an airplane, a lawn mower, a jackhammer or a siren are the opposite and tend to destabilize the sensory system, and cause you to wake. They also negatively impact the brain and can affect sleep cycles.

How to Contend with Noise: Recommendations from Sleep Experts

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Being appropriately tired and ready for a good night’s sleep, along with the right room conditions, can help you sleep through noise. Have your room dark (room darkening shades or curtains if needed) and cool for sleeping. Get sunlight, fresh air, and exercise during the day. Stay off screens in the evening and eat light or not at all after dinner. A good night’s sleep starts during the day.
  • Alter your environment. Is the noise coming in from off the street? Is it coming through the wall from a neighboring apartment? Insulate your room from sound with heavy curtains, a think carpet, or move the bed to a wall away from the noise. Keep the room at a comfortable cool temperature and make sure you have a supportive mattress and pillow.
  • Confront the source. I admit to having had to do this several times in my life and it is not always easy. My neighbors had a church youth group that met at their house on Wednesday evenings. When the kids left late in the evening, they walked down the alley loudly laughing, talking, and rattling people’s gates. It was a guarantee I would be woken when they left. A simple note left at the neighbor’s house, asking if they could please request the kids be quiet when they left, eliminated the whole problem.

Call your neighbor, leave a note, ask for what you need. Call the city, the construction company, the lawn service and let them know their noise is a problem.

  • Use earplugs. A good pair of earplugs are worth more than their weight in gold. Finding and having a good pair for travel, for emergencies (with noise), or just for everyday is essential. You can keep them in a bedside drawer and easily reach them when needed, or sleep with them every night if noise is ambient and needs muffling.
  • Use distraction. Internally and externally there are ways to distract from the noise. Externally, you can get a white noise machine, use a fan, or listen to music or nature sounds, anything that is soothing. Internally, you can work to mentally block out the noise, use mindfulness, or practice progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Having a nighttime routine lets your body know that it’s time to fall asleep. Repetition of tasks at night helps you to relax and can help you fall asleep faster even if there is noise.

Sensory Disruption: Waking Up Due to Noise

Your hearing is part of your overall sensory system and it is turned on while you sleep. It can pick up noises that you are not consciously registering, and it can learn to habituate to many kinds of noises as well. Most often, it will wake you when the noise is sudden, jarring, or unfamiliar, like a siren.

Your individual sensory receptors are actually all working while you sleep. You can perceive light, feel temperature, texture, and pain. Your sense of smell and taste, in addition to your hearing are all active throughout the night.

However, they are not mutually exclusive. If your room is too bright it may make you more susceptible to noise. If the room is too hot or too cold, similarly it may make you more susceptible to waking from that pain in your hip. These sensory organs work as a system affecting each other.

With this in mind, experts suggest that you inventory all the sensory aspects of your sleep environment before assuming it is just noise that is causing you to wake. All of us have the capacity to sleep through all kinds of noise, but less so if other sensory preceptors are challenged.

Work to have your sleeping environment calming for your entire sensory system; dark, cool, comfortable, good smelling, and quiet is the goal. With all that in place, see if you can’t tolerate all that city noise a little bit better.