Environmental noise and sleep disturbance.
Environmental noise and sleep disturbance go hand in hand.Environmental Noise can deeply impact sleep in a negative way, leading to terrible sleep disturbances that can harm one’s health and one’s quality of life.
The concern over “noise pollution” began in earnest back in the early 1970s as the Western world became ever more heavily industrialized and mechanized. In response, many cities and municipalities throughout the civilized world drew up ordinances restricting the maximum decibel level of environmental noise. These are, however, very difficult ordinances to follow and enforce, and they give rise to conflicts of interest, such as between residents and transportation truck drivers or riders of loud motorcycles whose engines are considered fine in some areas but disturbing in others. It is also too easy for politicians and activists to blur the line between health protection and infringing upon human liberty with such noise ordinances, so there is a great deal of resistance to them.
When environmental noise reaches a level of 55 dBA (DeciBel A-weighted filter: a deciBel rating commonly used for measuring sound levels), human sleep can begin to become significantly disrupted. Human beings have incredibly sensitive ears and, in fact, the greatest directional hearing of any creature on the face of the Earth. The human organism evolved in quiet environments, and only with the advent of the Industrial Revolution’s advance and the rise of machines and sound-reproducing technologies have our ears become anywhere close to as bombarded with constant heavy sound as they are today. Indeed, a person from, say, the city of Philadelphia of 1750 would likely be driven half-mad if he were transported forward in time to today and had to endure all of the noise in his city and even in the surrounding suburbs. The quiet even of the busiest cities before circa 1800 would be considered almost deathly by a modern person.
As said above, about 55 dBA of background environmental noise can begin to cause marked sleep disruption–and if that noise is being generated indoors, it can begin to disturb sleep at only 45 dBA. A typical modern dishwasher, a common and “quiet” appliance of the modern home, generates about 60 dBA of noise.
Health experts agree that human beings should not be exposed with any constancy to noise that exceeds 70 dBA. Such exposure can begin to cause some eventual permanent hearing loss. Yet, modern entertainment such as rock concerts, dance clubs, and movies with surround-sound routinely smashes that barrier and can quite often exceed 100 dBA of noise generation. Sadly, because of our ubiquitously noisy environment, the typical person has already suffered some minor, virtually unnoticed (but real) hearing loss by age 25.
It should therefore be no wonder that the modern civilized environment also finds many, many people plagued by insomnia or not getting sufficient sleep. Some people are so accustomed to being surrounded by noise that they actually do things like deliberately sleep with the TV or radio on–and then wonder why they often don’t sleep well. But many other people just don’t realize how easily sleep is disturbed by environmental noise, and find themselves wondering why they feel drained or don’t get enough hours of sleep for health purposes.
Sleep disruption can lead to many health problems. Among these are too much stress, depression, constant irritation which leads to complications like high blood pressure, a diminished sex life (which can also harm one’s lover), lack of concentration, falling asleep at the wheel while driving, general lack of energy, eating disorders, and putting on unwanted weight.
Research has concluded that humans need anywhere from six to eight hours of restful sleep per night to be able to maintain optimal health. A few people are okay with five hours and a few need nine. And some very Type-A people can get away with getting the requisite total hours of sleep in a 24-hour period but only in the form of one or two hour naps at a time. But nobody is okay getting just a good night or two of sleep a week, as seems to happen to so many modern people. It probably comes as no surprise that research also concludes that generally speaking people who live in the country sleep better than those in the city. However, even in rustic settings there can be found a lot of cases of sleep disturbance, because modern country dwellers still live among machines and have modern noise generating appliances in their homes, such as the aforementioned dishwasher which many people choose to turn on just before they head off to bed for the night.
Disturbed sleep is now considered to be the single worst effect of too much environmental noise, as the threshold for sleep disturbance is much lower than is that for actual hearing loss due to noise. The total background environmental noise level is consistently above 55 dBA in the modern world. Homes, offices, even hospitals where patients are encourage to get plenty of rest constantly hum with environmental noise that simply did not exist 200 years ago or even, largely, 100 years ago. It is known that sleep loss is like a chronic plague in modern times, and researches have been able to conclude that environmental noise is a major cause of this plague.
Steps need to be taken to minimize background noise or its reception by the permanently open auditory channel during sleep hours. This may mean putting in comfortable foam earplugs (especially during travel such as on bus, airplane, train, etc), and for some it means breaking the habit of sleeping with the TV on or turning on the dishwasher before bed, or any number of bad, noisy habits. Some people may simply need to relocated or perhaps have extra acoustic dampening materials installed in their bedroom walls. Our health depends on it.