Is "noise pollution" a problem in your home?
Many people who are used to having the TV, radio or other entertainment on all the time in their home and cars are used to this “background noise” as a part of their home. Even appliances like noisy fans, the washing machine and the dishwasher, and outdoor noise like cars, airplanes, lawnmowers and sirens contribute to the soundtrack that is heard inside the home. However, it’s not widely understood that noise pollution is also detrimental to our health, like other types of pollution (air, water). The good news is that home noise pollution can be abated with immediate good effects and without negative long-term effects.
“Second-hand noise” is noise experienced by people who did not make the noise. Your apartment neighbor’s loud party or blaring music is an example, and according to Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, an anti-noise advocacy group based in Montpelier, Vermont, it’s a civil rights issue. (2005 study) Whether it is the consistent noisy neighbors in your apartment building, booming car stereos rolling down your street, or the airport expansion plans that threaten to start flight noise an hour earlier in the morning, you need to speak up! Communities in the US and all over the world have lobbied for and won changes to zoning laws and operating conditions in response to their complaints about noise.
Loud noise increases blood pressure, heart rates and stress levels. According to a 1982 study, increased blood pressure seems to be a “necessary” response in our bodies to loud noise, because if the receptors that signal vasoconstriction (constriction of vessels) are blocked, the body will increase heart rate to compensate for the lack of constriction. Loud noise can be experienced by many tradespeople in different industries on an ongoing basis (construction, factory work, warehouses, transport and service industries, civil workers, etc.), making it a chronic hypertension exacerbator.
Noise affects childrens’ learning. In 1975 a study on a school located near elevated train tracks showed that the classrooms facing the tracks were consistently behind in test scores versus those in the quieter back side of the building, and by the end of the year, were a full grade point behind their peers in the quieter classrooms. After acoustic tiles were installed in the classrooms and the train authority treated the tracks to make them less noisy, the childrens’ reading scores improved. Feeling annoyed by noise can cause kids to lose focus on lessons. For infants and children learning how to talk, a noisy environment can make it harder for them to understand speech. It also affects how they play and sleep. Children with special sensitivities—such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorders or learning differences are affected on a higher level by environmental noise. (healthychildren.org)
Noise affects our sleep! This seems like a no-brainer, but those who struggle to get sufficient quality sleep need to make a “sleep sanctuary” a priority. Here are some suggestions:
Leave your phone outside the bedroom and use an electric or windup alarm clock. If this is not possible, set a “Do Not Disturb” time, such as 10pm-8am, so that phone calls and message “dings” will not wake you. If you are a caretaker, it’s also possible to have rule exceptions for people who most frequently call you.
If you live in an multi-family building, you can block noise coming from below by adding thick rugs on the floors.
Use acoustic foam on windows to dampen outside noise. To make it removable, you can use glue or double-sided tape to apply these sound-proofing wedges to a foam board.
Over the foam board, use blackout curtains as well. Blackout curtains are typically made of several layers of fabric that will accomplish both your noise and light-blocking goals.
Get accustomed to using comfy ear plugs. Flents Foam Ear Plugs are highly rated for comfort and noise abatement–but they won’t stop you from hearing really important noises like an emergency phone call or a smoke alarm. Personally, earplugs have been a staple of my sleeping habits since college, because they work!
If you don’t like earplugs or still have significant environmental noise, add a white-noise machine to your bedroom. Yogasleep Dohm UNO White Noise Sound Machine is highly rated for being easy to use, customizable, and travel-friendly.
What not to do: don’t listen to music! "Almost everyone thought music improves their sleep, but we found those who listened to more music slept worse," Scullin said. "What was really surprising was that instrumental music led to worse sleep quality -- instrumental music leads to about twice as many earworms." (Michael Scullin, Ph. D, in his study on how earworms, those songs that replay in your head even when the music stops, affect sleep).
For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep, check out our post on Maximizing Your Sleep.
There’s an App for That
Given some of the serious consequences of too much stress and too little sleep, as a health-conscious member of your household, it’s important to set limits on the level and duration of background noise in your home. As we said in our post about sensors, you need to measure it so you can improve it!
Measuring sound levels can be as easy as going to the “app store” on your phone and downloading an app to measure decibels; you don’t need a fancy meter. Also, you need to log these levels and length of time that they persist, so that you can have a history to point to when advocating for change.
You can use the above strategies for the bedroom to create other quiet places in your home for relaxing, reading, studying, etc. You can also negotiate quiet times so that everyone in the home is winding down and resting during certain hours.
Try to schedule noisier activities while you are out of the home! For example, you can start the dishwasher or washing machine when you leave for work or to run errands, or enable them to start remotely if you have smart appliances.
Make a more peaceful oasis in your backyard: Acoustifence is an 1/8 “ thick material suited to outdoor installations that reduces sounds by 28 dB through the material. It can be printed in all manner of beautiful and lifelike scenery, including brick, garden, stone veneer, etc. and comes in pre-cut and grommeted sections of 6’ x 30’. These can be quickly installed over existing chain link fences to deaden sounds from generator enclosures, dog parks, parking lots, sports fields, construction sites, racetracks, airports, etc. If you want to create a quieter backyard, you can plant real plants in front of a printed screen to get a green, layered effect.
There are also apps for your phone to notify you when the selected audio level of playback is too loud. According to 2018 data, the average adult is streaming audio content through mobile devices for about 1 hour per day. (ENT & audiology news). Both of the following apps allow you to monitor your listening better to prevent hearing damage.
The Apple Health App has the ability to measure sound levels from headphones so that listeners can monitor their noise exposure from their devices. The app uses guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) to clearly indicate to listeners when their noise exposure is within acceptable limits, or if it’s at a level that is potentially dangerous to their hearing.
HearAngel is an Android app that compares your listening levels to a Daily Sound Allowance (DSA). A dose allowance of 85dBA (average level) for an eight-hour period is based on Health and Safety Executive (UK) recommendations. It also allows you to monitor your children’s listening levels via a PIN code.
Noise pollution may be a new way of thinking about unwanted sound, but once you experience the bliss of quiet, it can be the new calming “background” to your home.