Sleep Health

What's the right level of noise for a good night's sleep?


For some people, silence is golden, while for others, certain sounds can soothe them into deep, restful sleep.

Everyone has a different level and type of noise that they’re comfortable with, but some background noises will disrupt your sleep, while others can help rock you into your slumbers. 

Most people find it difficult to drift into the serenity of sleep when their thoughts are drowned out by the volume of background noise.

It might be a neighbour throwing an all-nighter, a phone buzzing on your bedside table, your partner snoring, or perhaps a noisy nuisance from the natural world of crickets, frogs or possums.

If you're trying to sleep amongst a night-time symphony, you might find yourself staring at the ceiling more often than not – and chances are your sleep is so interrupted, you're not clocking up enough hours of quality rest.

Quality sleep every night is important for your health and well-being.

So how much of an impact can noise have on the quality of your sleep?

Have you ever tried to fall asleep, only to become fixated on a nearby car horn or a dog barking?

Noise like this can have immediate effects on your sleep such as delaying sleep onset, making you wake up too early or increasing your awakenings during the night. It can also change the structure of your sleep, increasing arousals and body movements.1

The next day you may feel like you slept poorly and have trouble getting things done efficiently.1

Unfortunately, sleep is not something we can control – however, eliminating loud, overbearing noise is one of the first steps to creating an environment that’s conducive to rest.

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Noise is usually most disruptive during the initial stages of sleep, particularly the first three hours which have the deepest stages of sleep, known as ‘slow wave sleep’.2

Of course alarming noises also have the potential to wake you from REM (dream) sleep - which isn't an ideal alarm clock!

To get the best quality of sleep possible, you need to eliminate all unwanted noise before you try to sleep. Even noises that don't wake you can still creep into your subconscious and have a detrimental impact on your sleep, because your brain will register and process the sound - even if the interruption isn't enough to force your eyes open.

Is all noise bad when it comes to sleep?

Not necessarily. While everyone tolerates different levels of noise, it's not unusual for people to prefer some type of soft sound to help settle them to sleep.

That's why there's such things as white and pink noise machines – they can help block out variable noises and provide a constant, soothing sound that helps you to drift into sleep and stay in that comfort zone throughout the night. Some people fall asleep more easily when they listen to an app playing soothing sounds such as waves lapping on the shore or falling rain.3

Of course, there are also some noises which you don’t want to block out at night – consider a smoke alarm or a child crying, for example.

How to find the right soundtrack to help you sleep

Familiar sounds are less likely to disrupt your sleep than unusual ones. You may be used to falling asleep to the background sound of traffic, but your country cousin may find it impossible. On the other hand, a flock of white cockatoos screeching overhead at daybreak may work like an alarm clock for you, while he sleeps right through the familiar cacophony.

Noise can undermine sleep, but it doesn't have to. Being aware of the noise-related disruptions to your sleep environment‚ and taking simple steps to reduce unwanted noise‚ will help make your nightly rest more peaceful and rewarding.

While you can take proactive steps to minimise night time noise (like closing your windows), remember that often you can't control every peep which threatens your sleep, so consider sleeping with earplugs if you need to block out unwanted sounds.

Sleep for shift workers

Noise can be a real problem if you’re working a night shift and have to sleep during the day. Take a look at some sleep health products that may help you get good quality sleep in less than ideal conditions.

For more information on how to set yourself up for a restful night's sleep, we suggest reading our free eBook, '8 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight.'


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Muzet, A. (2007) Environmental Noise, Sleep and Health, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(2), 135–142.

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