It’s tough enough to wind down our overworked minds to relax by bedtime. Add in noise from the street, a snoring roommate, or night owl neighbors, and shuteye seems impossible.
Even if your home is a zen den of silence, we all have to find ways to sleep despite noise sometimes, especially when we’re traveling.
Noise can cause insomnia, making it tough for you to fall asleep and get your full 7 to 9 hours in. Worse, long-term noise exposure has been indirectly linked with disturbed sleep, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
Fortunately, it is possible to train yourself to sleep in noisy environments. Just follow these tips.
The behavioral approach
The best way to train your mind to sleep in a noisy environment is through behavioral modifications and sleep-promoting habits. Even better, these techniques will help you sleep more soundly no matter where you are (pun intended).
1. Try to forget it’s noisy.
Our first tip seems easier said than done, but it works. Focusing on the noise, and how much it’s driving you crazy, will only amp up your nervous system and energize you into a fretful bout of insomnia.
Instead, acknowledge its presence and assert that you have the power to overcome it.
2. Focus on something else.
Then, give your mind something else to focus on besides the noise. The following are all great options for calming your nervous system and readying your body for sleep:
- Deep breathing exercises: Slowly breathe in and out, counting as you do so. Start with counts of 3 each for your inhale and exhale, and then slowly increase that up to 5 or even 6.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Systematically work through your body, tensing and relaxing your muscles as you travel from head to toe.
- Visualization: Imagine yourself in a tranquil place that’s free of noise and makes you happy and relaxed.
- Meditation: Meditation is good for training your mind to focus on a single point, whether it’s a vision in your head or a personal mantra.
3. Distract your ears.
Create a classical music playlist and play it softly through noise-cancelling headphones. There are also plenty of white noise and guided meditation apps you can download and play on your phone to help you sleep.
If you don’t want to wear headphones while you sleep, try earplugs. Alternately, add an external noise defense to your bedroom. Turn on a white noise machine, portable fan, or air purifier (this last one provides extra benefits for sleepers with allergies).
4. Make yourself exhausted before bed.
By the time it gets dark, your mind will be ready to kick off melatonin production and your muscles will be begging for rest.
5. Set up a bedtime routine.
The idea here is to prep your mind and body and train it to a sleep schedule.
More extreme ideas
Sometimes a few behavior changes aren’t enough. If you’re dealing with party animal neighbors or a busy city street, you’ll have to start physically adapting your home to make it quieter.
1. Rearrange your furniture.
Noise works by reflecting or bouncing off of surfaces. This is why recording studios are outfitted with all sorts of padded acoustic panels and strategically placed furniture.
Move your bed to the part of your bedroom that’s furthest from the noise. In an apartment complex, this could be the opposite wall of your neighbor, while in a dormitory it could be further away from the door.
2. Place blockers against the source of the noise.
Then, place some pillows or towels against cracks in your door (or get a door sweep). Move a couch or loaded bookcase against the offending wall.
You can even hang a blanket or piece of fabric against the wall. Remember: Soft items absorb noise, while hard surfaces reflect and amplify it. If you’re willing to buy specialized equipment, get acoustic blankets or wall panels with a noise reduction rating of at least 0.85.
If you own your own home, plant trees, bushes, and other foliage outside your bedroom window to provide an additional buffer between you and cars passing by on the street.
3. Insulate your floor, walls, and ceilings.
If you live in an apartment with thin walls, get carpeting for your floor or a thick, shaggy area rug. If you prefer a harder floor, opt for cork flooring over wood for your home.
Seal up your windows with window sealant, and use heavy, blackout curtains. These will not only block out the noise, they’ll block out light, too, making sleep easier.
Start a conversation
Sometimes the best way to get rid of the noise is to go straight to the source.
If you share your bedroom with a snorer, kindly encourage them to fix their snoring. In the meantime, you can get earplugs, white noise machine, and even a mattress with better noise and movement isolation.
If you’re dealing with a noisy neighbor, be as nice, honest, and courteous as possible. They may not realize how loud they’re being. Talk to your neighbor directly, instead of calling the cops or your landlord. Approach them at a time that’s convenient for them, which is not in the middle of the night when their noise is keeping you up and making you angry. If they’re an upstairs neighbor, you might even bring an area rug as a peace offering.
With either of these approaches, you have to do it with the ultimate finesse. Otherwise, you risk causing a rift in the relationship and them acting noisier than ever before in retaliation.
Special tips for travelers
If you’re traveling, plan ahead to minimize the noise you’ll have to deal with at your destination:
- Request a bed or a room furthest away from noise. In a hotel, this could be the room furthest from the elevator. In a hostel or shared sleeping environment, it could be the bed closest to the corner and furthest from the hallway.
- Before booking, read reviews to see which of the hotels or hostels you’re considering has the fewest noise complaints from other customers.
- Pack earplugs. Disposable ones are small enough to carry and cheap.