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Sleeping well in the noise

What if the cause of our insomnia was obvious? As obvious as the lives of our neighbours, whose conversations cross the walls at all hours of the day and night, and which are difficult to ignore? Or as the laughter that rises from the terrace of the bar downstairs? We've looked into the matter because sometimes a little peace and quiet is enough to help you get back to sleep. And because too much noise is more harmful than it seems. Here's how to keep your bedroom quiet, or nearly so.

How to turn down the volume?

We couldn't find the "pause" button to turn off the noise of the cars under the window, the upstairs neighbours' rack, or the youngest child who wakes up three times a night. So we looked for other ideas to sleep even when the whole world isn't sleepy.

Isolate your room

If you're a very light sleeper, it might be time to rethink the soundproofing in your bedroom. Even if it was not well done when the house was built, all is not lost. False ceilings, partitions, double-glazed windows and armoured doors provide good sound insulation. It's an investment, but when the slightest noise is enough to spoil the night, it's worth it.

Or redecorate it (yes, it can work)

If you don't have the budget or the desire to undertake major work, there are more accessible solutions. The paint for example, which effectively reduces the transmission of high-pitched noises thanks to the glass microbeads it contains. Even simpler: put up soundproof curtains in front of the windows. Velvet works wonders in this respect: 7 to 18 decibels less when they are in place, depending on the thickness. Not to mention that paint and soundproofing curtains also improve the thermal insulation of the room.

Plugging your ears

More classic, and even easier to put in place, are earplugs. Made of wax, rubber or silicone, they are the most affordable protection available today. And if the source of the noise shares our bed, we haven't found anything better yet.

Cure noise with noise

It may seem counterintuitive. But the quieter it is, the easier it is for our ears to pick up on the sounds around us. Creating a soothing background noise that our brain can focus on is an effective strategy for finding sleep. And to achieve this, not all sounds are equal. White noise, made up of equal-powered frequencies, is very soft on the ear. Or even better: pink noise, similar to white noise but at low frequency. It sounds almost like rain falling outside. A quick tour of YouTube is better than a long speech to realize the difference.

If you can't enjoy absolute silence before closing your eyes, less noise means a better chance of falling asleep quickly. And for some people, the consequences of a few extra decibels are not negligible.

Not everyone is equal when it comes to noise

Sleeping in noise is possible. But not for everyone. This is what a team of researchers from the Harvard Medical School discovered in 2010, by measuring the brain activity of 12 people during their sleep. In addition to normal brain wave variations, the team observed spikes in high-frequency waves. These waves vibrate faster than the others, for 1 to 2 seconds, before resuming a regular rhythm. This is normal: these are the "sleep spindles" that occur during the slow wave sleep.

The team then exposed the participants, still asleep, to disturbing noises such as a conversation or a ringing phone. The result? The participants whose brains produced the most sleep spindles were much more resistant to noise disturbances than the others. The ability to sleep soundly despite ambient noise is not simply a matter of relaxation, training or fatigue. It's mostly a matter of our brains.

Silence is golden

Lucky or not, frequent exposure to noise pollution is not without risks. And this is even more true at night. In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO)1 showed that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases more rapidly with overexposure to noise at night.

This is because the brain can adapt to the familiar noises it perceives during sleep, but the heart cannot. The heart rate is constantly adapting to the sound environment, regardless of the source of the noise or its intensity. It only takes 30 decibels to affect the quality of our sleep, so shush! Starting tonight, we're going to do everything we can to sleep quietly.

Don't forget your bedtime ritual to help you fall asleep regardless of the noise environment. And if you can't find comfort for your head, you can consult our guide on how to choose a quality pillow.

1 Night Noise Guidelines for EuropeWorld Health Organization, 2009