11th February 2019
To feel truly rested, it’s important that we get regular nights of high quality, unbroken sleep. If we wake up regularly during the night we tend to feel groggy and tired the next day, even if we’ve still spent a decent number of hours asleep. One of the most common reasons for waking up during the night is being disturbed by noises, so how can we help ourselves sleep through those pesky bumps in the night?
Even though you’re less responsive during sleep, your brain can still register sounds on a basic level, causing you to stir in the night even if you don’t realise it. Whether we sleep through noise largely depends on what stage of sleep you’re in, and also partly on your individual sensitivity to noise. It’s estimated that noises as low as 30 decibels can disturb sleep; for comparison, busy traffic measures around 70 decibels.
In light sleep (stage 1 and 2) most people are easily woken up by noise; this disturbs your sleep cycle and costs you valuable rest time while you’re trying to get back to sleep.
If you’re in deep sleep (stage 3, 4 and REM) you’re less likely to be woken up by noises, but even if you don’t wake up sound can disturb your body enough to have an impact on your sleep quality. You could move from deep to light sleep for example, which then has an impact on your heart rate, blood pressure, and the processes that are happening in your body while you sleep.
Research has also shown that noises are more likely to wake us up when the sound has a more relevant personal meaning to the sleeper; for example, someone might be more likely to wake up to the sound of their child crying.
Not all noises are created equal, and some people find that certain sounds can actually help us relax and slip into sleep.
There’s a reason we sing lullabies to babies - numerous studies have shown that certain kinds of music can play a large part in aiding sleep. While heavy rock isn’t likely to chill you out, music with a slow beat can help send you on your way to sleep, and classical music is also a popular choice.
Studies indicate that 60-80 beats per minute is the optimum speed, as this will help your heartbeat slow to a speed your body will recognise as a signal of sleep.
White noise is useful if you sleep in a noisy environment, as it closes the gap between background noise and a ‘peak’ sound (like a car horn or slamming door) and makes it easier to sleep through noise.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, a quiet, constant sound can help block out external noises. White noise machines are made specifically for this, but a fan or air conditioning unit also provide the same kind of mixed-frequency, empty noise.
Unfortunately, not all sounds are so pleasant they can be slept through, and if you live in a busy area it’s likely there are a range of noises that threaten your sleep. Here are some ideas for blocking noise while sleeping.
You’re never going to be able to control all the nighttime noises, but you can minimise those within your power! Make sure all electrical devices are set to silent, avoid falling asleep with the TV on, and ensure laundry and dishwasher cycles are complete before you go to bed.
As mentioned above, certain sounds can actually help some people sleep, so you can use these more soothing sounds to lessen the annoying ones. The consistent hum of white noise machines or fans can help to mask more irritating noises, or some people prefer relaxing sound effects like rainfall or birdsong.
If you’re patient, you can train your brain to ignore annoying noises around you. This goes hand in hand with mindfulness; acknowledging the noises but choosing not to let them bother you. Over time, you may be able to block out noises through willpower alone.
Breathing exercises can go hand in hand with this; take long, focused breaths in and out, counting them as you go. This focuses your mind on something else to stop you fixating on the noise, and can help you relax, too.
To minimise outside noises as much as possible, arrange your bed so it isn’t against any outside walls; even this small change can make a world of difference.
Block outside traffic and weather noise by ensuring all your windows are properly sealed; thick curtains and carpets can also help to block sound. Placing heavy furniture against a shared wall is also an easy soundproofing measure; if you have a loud neighbour, a wardrobe or bookcase against the shared wall should block the noise while you sleep and help to lessen the disturbance.
If all else fails, a good pair of earplugs can be counted on to shut out all the annoying noises keeping you up at night! Earplugs are rated at decibel levels; be sure to select a pair no higher than 32 decibels, as these will block general noise but still allow you to hear important, louder sounds like a crying child or an alarm. Foam earplugs are the most common type as they are fairly cheap but also very effective.
Babies are generally better than adults at sleeping through any kind of noise, but after the newborn stage you may notice your baby becoming more alert and responsive to noise. While you can train your brain to ignore sounds, the same can not be said of babies, so what can you do to help ensure your child sleeps through?
Using white noise to drown out sound is an effective approach for babies, and you can soundproof their rooms by putting up heavy curtains and placing a draft blocker at the bottom of their door.
Getting your child into good sleep habits will also help them settle more easily. Establish a regular sleep routine with specific nap and bedtimes, and keep them busy during the day so they’re all tired out by evening!
You’re never going to be able to completely eliminate sound from your sleep environment, but hopefully, with these tips, you’ll at least be able to minimise it and learn how to sleep through noise.