man wears noise cancelling headphones for deeper sleep

5 Ways to Control Noise for Deeper Sleep

Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling groggy and disoriented, as if you hadn’t managed to sleep at all? Depending on your sleep environment, you might not be getting the deep, restful sleep that your body and brain need to function well.

Sleep Stages & What They Mean to Your Wellbeing

Typically, we sleep in cycles and, without getting too technical, they fall broadly into these stages:

  • Light sleep—this is the first stage of sleep. It happens when you begin to drift off. Your heart rate lowers, your breathing slows and your muscles begin to relax.

    This stage of sleep is how you transition from your awakened state to being asleep. It then changes to a stage where your brain is doing some of its most important recuperative work: transforming short-term memories into long-term ones.  

    “...newer findings characterize sleep as a brain state optimizing memory consolidation, in opposition to the waking brain being optimized for encoding of memories… whereas the waking brain is optimized for the acute processing of external stimuli that involves the encoding of new information and memory retrieval, the sleeping brain provides optimal conditions for consolidation processes that integrate newly encoded memory into a long-term store.” (Source

What does that mean? 

woman covers ears with pillow to muffle noise preventing sleep

Basically, when it comes to memory, the brain has three processes: 

  • Encoding: The forming of a new memory while awake
  • Consolidation: Moves the short-term memory— which is susceptible to decay/forgetting—into long-term memory while asleep
  • Retrieval: How you can find the memory again when you need it

This is important news for students, too: 

“Research suggests that if you study new material and then sleep, you remember the information better than if you study new material and stay awake for an equivalent amount of time.” (Source)

  • Deep sleep—this is the stage of sleep where your body is recovering from the day’s activities. Muscles and cells repair and rejuvenate so that when you awaken, you get that well-rested feeling.

    It’s when you don’t get sufficient deep sleep that you feel like you’ve been up running all night, even though you’ve been asleep the whole time. 

“Deep sleep is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation, and growth. Without deep sleep, you’re more likely to get sick, feel depressed, and gain an unhealthy amount of weight. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America poll, those who sleep less than 6 hours per night on workdays are significantly more likely to be obese than those who sleep 8 hours or more (41% vs. 28%).” (Source)

  • REM sleep–this stands for Rapid Eye Movement, which is the stage of sleep in which your brain is processing a lot of emotional information. It’s close to a wakeful state in that your heart rate goes up and your breathing speeds up a little. It’s also the stage during which you are most likely to dream and possibly remember the dream.

Interesting Fact: 

During REM sleep, your eyes move—maybe you’ve noticed your dog’s eyes twitching while they’re dreaming.

However, the rest of your body's muscles are effectively paralyzed by brain chemicals so while you’re flying, fighting the bad guys or dreaming about the day’s events, you don’t end up punching out your partner while they’re sleeping.

Worst Sleep Disruptions

Blurred image of people crossing busy, noisy street

Light in the bedroom, caffeine, food or an uncomfortable bed can all affect the quality of your sleep. However, a major culprit of disturbed sleep is unwanted noise.

What kind of noise? 

  • Traffic
  • Train whistles 
  • Noisy neighbours 
  • Barking dogs 
  • Summer crickets 
  • Television in the other room

If you think you can just ‘tune out the noise’, think again! Your brain is still active during several stages of sleep and it will react to noise, whether you do it consciously or not. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation ...

“During sleep, the brain continues to register and process sounds, affecting everything from heart rate to blood pressure, which in turn can trigger nighttime waking.  Noise—whether you are conscious of it or not—can cause you to wake up feeling unsatisfied and unrested.”

In other words, your deep-sleep stage, which is the most restorative, can be affected by noise whether you realize it or not. While you might not be consciously aware of noises around you, your body and brain will be, resulting in restlessness, tossing and turning.

How to Achieve a Deeper Sleep

  1. Set up your bed for minimal noise disruption—a quiet boxspring and mattress set for starters.

  2. Plan your bedroom layout to avoid noise. If your bedroom window looks out onto a noisy, urban street, place the bed on the opposite side of the room. Even the sound of rain hitting the glass pane can be disruptive.

    Place area rugs on hardwood floors and avoid putting your headboard up against the thin wall you share with the kids.

    You should also remove any potentially noisy electronics from your sleep space. No televisions, speakers, tablets or phones.

  3. If all else fails, wear earplugs. For example, if you and your partner are working different schedules and one of you is coming to bed when the other is already asleep, a pair of earplugs can help the sleeper stay asleep.

  4. Consider adding some white noise. White noise is equally distributed sounds that blur your brain’s ability to distinguish between ambient background noise, such as the hum of an air conditioner, and a sharp noise, like a door slamming.

    An air purifier or fan can work as white noise. There are also special machines you can buy and apps you can download to help you fall into a deep sleep … and stay there.

  5. There is new research that demonstrates that some noise—pink noise—can actually improve your brain’s ability to process. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience conducted a study that shows positive links between pink noise and deep sleep, which is that necessary phase for all levels of physical and mental rejuvenation. 

While white noise is made up of a sound that is distributed evenly, on the same frequency, pink noise is a mix of high and low frequencies that sound more balanced and natural. 

What kind of sounds?

lush, green foliage on either side of a fast-moving stream with large rocks

Sounds of nature are a good source of pink noise: 

  • a babbling brook
  • leaves rustling
  • wind in the trees 

The jury is still out as to whether you will get a better night’s rest with the sound of surf playing in your bedroom, but the link to improved memory might make it worth a shot.

Planning and preparing for better nights will help you to have better days. It’s all a matter of figuring out what works best for you.

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