This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of

Go to the index for this article

Go back to page seven of this article

Page Eight of an eleven-page article:
Noise: A Health Problem
United States Environmental Protection Agency

Sleep Disruption

"The din of the modern city [includes] noises far above levels for optimum sleeping. Result: insomnia and instability."
Dr. Edward F. Crippen, Former Deputy Health Commissioner of Detroit

Sleep is a restorative time of life, and a good night's sleep is probably crucial to good health. But everyday experience suggests that noise interferes with our sleep - in a number of ways. Noise can make it difficult to fall asleep, it can wake us, and it can cause shifts from deeper to lighter sleep stages. If the noise interference with sleep becomes a chronic problem, it may take its toll on health.

Human response to noise before and during sleep varies widely among age groups. The elderly and the sick are particularly sensitive to disruptive noise. Compared to young people, the elderly are more easily awakened by noise and, once awake, have more difficulty returning to sleep. As a group, the elderly require special protection from the noises that interfere with their sleep.

Other age groups seem to be less affected by noise at bedtime and while asleep. But their apparent adjustment may simply be the result of failing to remember having awakened during the night. Sleep researchers have observed that their subjects often forget and underestimate the number of times they awaken during sleep. It may be that loud noises during the night continue to wake or rouse us when we sleep, but that as we become familiar with the sounds, we return to sleep more rapidly.

Factors other than age can influence our sleep. Studies suggest that the more frequent noise is, the less likely a sleeper is to respond. Certain kinds of noises can cause almost certain responses, however. A mother may wake immediately at the sound of a crying baby, but may tune out much louder traffic noise outside.

Disruption of sleep does not necessarily include awakening. Shifting in depths of sleep may be more frequent than awakening. For instance, recent studies have shown that shifts from deep to light sleep were more numerous because of noise, and that light sleep became lengthened at the expense of deep sleep.

Studies have also been made of noise complaints and what kinds of annoyance led people to file them. Surveys taken in communities significantly affected by noise indicated that the interruption of rest, relaxation, and sleep was the underlying cause of many people's complaints.

When noise interferes with our sleep- whether by waking us or changing the depth of sleep - it makes demands on our bodies to adapt. The implications of these demands for our general health and performance are not well understood. Nonetheless, we need restful sleep and many of us are not getting it. As a result, for millions of Americans, trying to get a good night's sleep still means reaching for sleeping pills.

Noise affects the quantity and quality of sleep

The elderly and sick are more sensitive to disruptive noise

When sleep is disturbed by noise, work efficiency and health may suffer

Go forward to page nine of this article

Go to the index for this article

This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of