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 television if you ask them politely. But it’s not so easy to stop someone snoring or sleep through the roar of your neighbor’s all-night party.
If your house has the dreaded combination of wooden floorboards and bad sound insulation, and people move around in the rooms above your bedroom, then you’re in for a whole world of noise problems if they stay up later or wake up earlier than you.
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 prevent as much of the noise as possible from reaching your ears. If that doesn’t work, another technique is to mask it with something you find more relaxing, such as music, ambient sounds, or white noise.
I’m not suggesting giving up on trying to stop the noise at its source if you’re able to. But when someone else controls the noise source, it’s sometimes more fruitful to focus your efforts on reducing how much noise gets inside your head.
I’ll often wear earplugs because they tend to block out a lot of the noise where I live at the moment. From time to time, I use headphones or a white noise machine though.
Below, you’ll find my current recommendations for each of these:
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 to choose from, so I usually recommend trying a few different brands and sizes if the ones you get first don’t do the job well enough.
The difference between earplugs that fit you well with a noise reduction rating of 33 decibels and earplugs that don’t quite fit and only have a noise reduction rating of 27 decibels is very significant. So it’s definitely worth doing some of your own tests.
Some brands I recommend trying because they typically have high noise reduction ratings 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. Coping with a snoring partner
Some sleep disorders involve making noise while sleeping. While nobody should be blamed for having a sleep disorder, I think it’s reasonable to talk to your partner about seeking a professional medical opinion and treatment if possible.
If you sleep with a loud snorer, you could suggest they speak to a doctor to rule out sleep apnea – if they can access healthcare. Additionally, 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.
My point here is that if your partner is willing to work with you on the problem, it might have a better outcome than you resorting to earplugs for years that don’t block out all the noise anyway.
3. Soundproof your bedroom
Sound has an astonishing ability to find its way through the smallest of gaps. Since sound can transmit through most walls, it takes a lot of effort to fully soundproof a room – especially if you’re trying to do it yourself because the original construction didn’t do it well enough.
If you have the budget, a helpful first step might be to hire an acoustic consultant. If you search for ‘acoustic consultant near me’ online you can ask how much they charge to visit your home and give you specific advice on dealing with the noise in your bedroom.
Installing proper soundproofing can be expensive though, or a complex DIY task which your landlord might not even 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 acoustic sealant if you can.
- Hang heavy curtains or drapes on windows (you could even try hanging heavy material on an adjoining wall to soak up some sound if nothing else works).
- 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 that 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. It won’t block out all sound, but every little helps.
- 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 so 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.
This means it’s the art of negotiation is going to be invaluable – 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.
In my experience, the tactic of calmly explaining how your life is affected usually gets a better result than simply accusing someone of being unreasonable. By asking for help and understanding, you’re more likely to get it than if you confront them angrily.
One practical example is to explain to an upstairs neighbor that you can hear them walking around in the morning before going to work, and ask if they’d mind putting their shoes or heels on just before they leave home? They might have not even realized their shoes were making so much noise and be fine with your suggestion.
Don’t start a sound war
If it’s a neighbor disturbing you, try to 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.
It only took us a few minutes of playing around with the volume and different songs to find the exact level 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
This one is arguably a more dramatic step, and won’t earn you any friends: 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.
And while on the topic of making phone calls, if you live in a new build or an old house that was converted into apartments and the soundproofing is terrible, you might find the construction doesn’t meet building regulations. This would require some investigation, but might be worth it in the long run if you feel comfortable persuading the landlord to fulfill their legal obligations.
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 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 neighbors, 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.
He also had three other useful tips that don’t require so much effort or expense:
- Put some thick 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, though we weren’t convinced it would help that much. But if you already own one, it could be interesting to experiment with.
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. That worry then becomes the reason you can’t sleep.
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.
It’s not impossible though, and you might find you eventually become accustomed to certain sources of noise, such as 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 when I’m mentally and physically tired, even if it’s noisier than I’d like it to be.
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.
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.