How much sleep have you lost recently because of loud neighbors or a snoring partner?
For sensitive sleepers, noise can be one of the biggest obstacles to a good night’s sleep – even when the source of the noise is understandable.
Considerate family members and housemates will usually turn down the TV if you ask them politely. But it’s a different ball game trying to stop someone snoring, or sleeping through the roar of your neighbor’s all-night party.
And if your house has wooden floorboards and there are toddlers or a puppy upstairs, the pitter-patter of little feet can drive you insane.
Noise has long been my nemesis when it comes to sleep. It’s the main reason I’ve spent years testing earplugs, sound machines, and various other ways to create my own little oasis of silence.
In this article, I’ll be sharing the techniques that have worked best for me personally, and suggesting ways that might help you either cut down the noise at night or at least reduce it to a tolerable level.
1. Block the noise
Sometimes your best chance for peace is to stop the sound reaching your ears. And if that doesn’t work, it can help to replace it with a sound which you find more relaxing.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to stop the noise at its source when possible. But it may be a case of focusing your efforts on reducing how much noise reaches you.
I wear earplugs most nights, as they usually block out most noise where I live. But I’ll sometimes use headphones or a white noise machine if the noise changes.
Below, you’ll find my current recommendations for each of these. And I also create video reviews for some of them on my YouTube channel.
If you’re wondering which works best, my personal view is that it’s hard to beat a really good set of earplugs. The thing is, there are many different types so I usually recommend trying several different brands and sizes if you can afford it.
The difference between earplugs that fit you well with a noise reduction rating of 33 dB and earplugs that don’t quite fit and only have a noise reduction rating of 27 dB is significant. So it’s definitely worth doing some of your own tests.
I’d also recommend sticking with good earplug brands and not drugstore or supermarket own brands. Some I recommend trying are Moldex, Howard Leight, Hearoes, Flents, Mack’s, 3M and Ear Buddy. All of these can be bought online. And if you live in the United States, the bricks and mortar store I’ve seen with the widest selection of earplugs recently is ACME.
2. Cope with a noisy bed partner
Some sleep disorders involve making noise while sleeping. While you shouldn’t blame your partner for having a sleep disorder, it’s reasonable to expect them to consider treatment if possible.
For example, if you sleep with a snorer, there are lifestyle changes and anti-snoring products they can try. Some can be bought online or in pharmacies, and a doctor or dentist can also recommend good ones. You might also find it helpful to read my article about sleeping with a loud snorer.
Other noise-generating sleep problems, like sleep talking or teeth grinding, can be addressed with self-help, lifestyle changes or with the support of a medical professional.
3. Soundproof your home
Sound has an astonishing ability to find its way through the smallest of gaps. Add since sound waves can transmit through most walls, it takes some effort to fully soundproof a room.
Installing proper soundproofing can be expensive, or a complex DIY task which your landlord might not allow.
Here are some tips for reducing the amount of external sound that gets through to your bedroom:
- Make sure all gaps and cracks are sealed. Check your window frames, door frames, floorboards, and skirting boards. Use an appropriate sealant if necessary.
- Hang heavy curtains or drapes on windows, and even the walls to soak up some sound.
- Roll up a towel or other material and place it at the bottom of the bedroom door. You can also hang towels on windows if you don’t have curtains at the time.
- Buy a blackout blind which has inbuilt extra soundproofing.
- Create a solid mass at the offending wall. For example, put bookshelves, cupboards or wardrobes on the wall which is next to your partying neighbor or noisy housemate.
- Make sure the room above you has a thick carpet.
For more information on soundproofing, there’s a useful article on howstuffworks.com. It also explains in more detail why it’s hard to soundproof rooms!
And for DIY enthusiasts, familyhandyman.com has an excellent article explaining exactly how to soundproof a room, with steps for creating walls that will greatly dampen the sound.
4. The art of communication
If the troublesome noise is coming from someone you live with, it shouldn’t be too difficult to ask them nicely to be quieter – in theory.
In reality, we all have different perspectives on what’s unacceptably noisy, what time is considered late at night, and how well others should tolerate our choice of activity.
But really it boils down to the art of negotiation – or control if you’re a parent. 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. By calmly asking for help and understanding, you’re more likely to get it than if you confront them angrily.
Don’t start a sound war
If it’s a neighbor disturbing you, resist the temptation to start a sound war. Again, start with a polite request and continue to ask politely. If you blast your music back at them, nobody wins.
If someone is willing to work with you, then you can do some experiments to find the maximum volume they can put a television of stereo at without you hearing it. They could even use a little sticker to mark the maximum volume point.
This might sound silly or impractical, but I’ve actually done it myself – when I was the offending noise creator!
Many years ago, my downstairs neighbor told me they could hear my music in the evening and they were working shifts so would appreciate it if I could keep the volume down after 8 p.m.
So we just worked together to find the exact volume where the bass wasn’t reaching their ears in bed. And in fact, it wasn’t much lower than I enjoyed listening to anyway, so I was fine with it.
5. Call the noise busters
It’s a dramatic course of action, and won’t earn you any friends. But if your neighbors are continually noisy in a disrespectful way, there may be a local government noise pollution department you can call.
This varies from country to country, but might be the only way to deal with building work on a Sunday morning or constant late night parties.
Looking up the law where you live can help prepare your case. Check online what time builders can use power tools, what time fireworks can go on to, how late music can be played in the street.
6. Move your bedroom
Again, this might seem like a dramatic course of action. And I know that not everyone has enough rooms to simply move their bedroom.
But if your bedroom is on the main road, next to a room with a screaming toddler, teenage insomniac heavy metal fan, or barking puppy, it might be worth shuffling your rooms around if you can.
If you don’t have a spare bedroom, and it’s only the occasional night that noise disturbs you, there’s another option: move your bed or even just the mattress to a quiet space in your home for the night.
I personally have no problem carting my mattress into the living room if it means I get some sleep. It worked when I was a student in a noisy shared house, and it still works 20 years later. I really don’t care if it looks weird.
I understand that not everyone is physically able to move a heavy mattress from room to room. In this case, another backup option could be an auto-inflating airbed that you keep in another room. Although it obviously won’t be as comfortable as a normal mattress, the portability gives you the option to sleep in the quietest spot in your home.
Finally, if you’re staying in a hotel for the night, ask in advance for a quiet room or even to change rooms if necessary. I find they are usually accommodating if you ask nicely.
7. Create a room within a room
In the years since I first wrote this article, I’ve thought a lot about the comments readers have left below.
A problem that crops up repeatedly is not being able to simply move rooms, and having issues like noisy upstairs neigbours, who perhaps walk around late at night and don’t have carpets, rugs or anything else to dampen the noise.
I asked my cousin about this recently, who is a sound engineer and has his own recording studio. What, if anything, can people in this situation do to reduce the noise? Isn’t there a simple material they can plaster all over their walls to shut out all the sound, just like he has in his studio?
If you have the money, you could pay a professional soundproofing company to come and remodel your bedroom in a way that might help, he told me.
Otherwise, what about creating a room within a room? Again, it’s quite an endeavor that requires money and/or decent DIY skills. There may also be building regulations and fire hazard issues to consider.
But the concept is one I wanted to mention here, as he seemed to think it would be a lot better than simply using earplugs.
How to do it is beyond the scope of this article, but if it’s an idea that interests you, I recommend reading the advice on homestudioexpert.com.
My helpful cousin also had three other tips that I liked:
- Put some squares of neoprene under the bed legs to reduce the noise vibrating its way to your brain.
- If you have a very minimalist bedroom, consider adding more soft furnishings like pillows, rugs, carpets and any fabrics which will help absorb noise energy.
- If the more high-level soundproofing steps seem too expensive, hard to achieve or just impractical, you could perhaps try yourself by using heavy curtains, or even the type used in theatres. We also discussed the idea of using a four poster bed frame to hang thick curtains. Just leave room for fresh air to enter!
8. Mind over noise
Sleep problems often end up in a vicious circle, and noise is no exception. The stress of being kept awake by noise can itself turn into a worry that you won’t sleep. And that worry then becomes the reason you can’t sleep.
And if the person or thing making the noise makes your blood boil and fills you with rage, then that’s also not particularly conducive to good sleep. Put simply, it’s very hard to fall asleep when your head is full of angry thoughts.
How do you fix your own reaction to the noise? Well, the goal is to reduce how much you allow yourself to be upset by noise at night. How you go about doing that though can come down to several factors.
If you’re a sensitive person, prone to stress and anxiety, then it might not be easy to let go. Trying to adopt a new attitude that you forgive (or at least tolerate) whoever or whatever is making the noise, and that you can learn to sleep with it can take time.
But it’s not impossible. And in most cases, people can eventually become accustomed to noise like traffic and learn to sleep with it. I know the steady drone of traffic isn’t the same as a party next door at 2 a.m. But in that case, reminding yourself that it doesn’t happen every night (hopefully) might be the best tactic.
Personally, I try to take a few deep breaths to refocus my brain away from wishing I could use Jedi mind control to melt my neighbor’s speakers. It might sound over-simplistic, but focusing on your breathing is a tangible and effective way to reduce negative thoughts.
9. Body over noise
My personal experience is that I sleep better in any conditions when I’m mentally and physically tired.
Sure, if I’m mentally worn out by my noisy neigbours, it doesn’t quite work the same!
But I know from spending years observing my own sleep, and how different factors impact it, that when I go to bed feeling ready to sleep, I’m much more likely to sleep through noise than when I go to sleep with excess energy I haven’t managed to burn off.
So try to stay active, both physically and mentally.
10. Coping with noise during the pandemic
I generally don’t discuss the pandemic on this website as I prefer to leave anything that could be construed as medical advice to the medical experts.
However, in this case I would like to acknowledge that I understand many people’s homes have become a lot noisier in the last year. Maybe not if you live near an airport, but definitely if you live in a building with thin adjoining walls.
More kids being homeschooled. More students studying at home, and trying their best to maintain some kind of social life at night. More people working from home. More puppies. People losing their jobs and not needing to go to bed and get up so early. Billions of people stuck at home in lockdown for weeks on end. Daily routines thrown into chaos.
I know. I’ve experienced some of these things too.
Personally, I try my best to stick to the same kind of routine I had in 2019. In some ways, it’s not so hard for me because I’ve worked from home for years. So that part didn’t change, other than having my wife work at home too now. But the lack of social contact, sports, days out, combined with lockdowns and worry about going out, made it harder to be active.
We’ve tried though. We exercise outdoors and at home. We do some yoga every morning. We turn the TV off some evenings and do other things. And most importantly, we stick to a regular bedtime and waking up time, even though we don’t technically have to.
What has that got to do with noise? Well, I believe that staying active, taking steps to reduce stress in general, and having a stable routine all help with sleep in general. Even if noise is the main culprit for your lack of sleep, there may be other factors involved too.
So even if noise is driving you crazy, don’t forget all the other positive habits that can improve your sleep and overall well-being. I think it’s even more important during these stressful pandemic times to be good to yourself, and to others too.
Does noise keep you awake at night? Feel free to share your story or vent your frustration in the comments below.
And if you have any useful techniques for coping with noise at night, I’d love to hear them.