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How Noise Pollution Slowly Degrades Your Health Without You Even Noticing (+Solutions For More Silence)

Aug 13, 2018
 

Summary

The first step in understanding any problem is being aware that there's something wrong in the first place.

With noise, most people assume that it's simply an annoying side issue--not a problem. And yet, noise is a societal problem. An enormous problem. In fact, noise is so omnipresent everywhere in society that it can be called "noise pollution".

Just like light pollution, air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution is another one of modern society's created side-effects that influences our health.

Before I dig into the health effects of noise and illustrate you how to deal with it, let's first try to understand how the problem originated in the first place.

I thus arrive at:

A short history of noise (pollution):

Many people think that noise only emerged at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution -  which took place in the late 18th and early 19th century. 

Back then, lots of labor shifted from working in agriculture to factory employment. Most industry is loud - a lot louder than traditional agricultural practices.

And in fact, there's some credence to that conclusion that truly excessive levels of noise started back then. In other words, noise levels did become very, very bad suddenly.

Noise pollution, however, also existed before the 18th century:

In ancient Greece, for example, some noisy professions such as pottery were no longer allowed to carry out their labor within the city walls. To lower noise levels in Rome, Julius Caesar prohibited chariots from racing through the streets. And in 17th century London, it was prohibited to beat your servant or wife at night due to the noise that it created.

Fortunately, times have changed for the better - at least on a social level.

Regarding noise pollution, however, the modern-day period is worse than ever before...

Let's take modern-day Cairo, for example - one of the most noise-polluted cities in the world. During the daytime, noise levels average 90 decibels. During the night, those numbers drop to a 70-decibel average.

"Decibels?" 

Yes...

Decibels (dB) are a measurement for the power or energy of a sound.

The more power or energy a sound has, the louder it will appear in your ear.

Let me color your imagination:

A 70dB measurement equals a bypassing truck or vacuum cleaner. That sound level is thus continually present during the nighttime in Cairo. 90dB? A low-flying Boeing 737. 

Yes...

Crazy right?

If you're out in the streets in Cairo during the day, you're thus continually experiencing the sound of a Boeing 737 flying over at some distance. In reality, the loudness of that sound is created by the accumulated sound of cars honking in the street, construction work, industrial labor - which all add up to the loudness of an airplane.


Cairo: a tranquil place to live?

So what are noise's exact effects on your health?

Well, above 85dB you'll receive permanent damage to your hearing - at least if you don't protect yourself.

Above 40dB during the night, you'll certainly experience negative effects on sleep quality. Nowadays it's even suggested that 30dB-40dB sound levels can already negatively affect sleep quality.

40dB equals the birds singing in the morning...

Of course, you might be saying: "but Bart, if I'm inside, the noise is much less loud"

True.

But you'll only reduce the average sound measurement readings by staying indoors with roughly 10dB. In that case, in a city like Cairo, you're still exposed to 80dB during the day and 60dB at nighttime, if you're staying indoors all the time.

Bad news!

And there's more bad news:

European and American cities are not doing much better. While noise levels might be slightly lower than in Cairo, Egypt, or Guangzhou, China, many people are still exposed to excessive noise levels in the West. 

Don't believe me?

In the European Union, more than 50 million people are exposed to noise levels in excess of 50dB at nighttime - which exceeds the European Union's own 40dB nighttime noise threshold.

To help your imagination:

A 50dB sound level equals that of a dishwasher. 

You might be thinking right now: "does noise really matter that much?"

Certainly...

Noise does not just impair your hearing ability, but actually has many health effects. Noise:

  • lowers sleep quality
  • inhibits your ability for higher-level thinking
  • makes you anxious and depressed
  • increases your risks for getting heart disease, diabetes, and a stroke
  • makes you annoyed

And much, much more.

A more detailed list of health-effects is included in my full blog post.

Moreover, noise does not influence everyone in the same way:

There are differences in how well different people tolerate noise.

If you're a child, of age, work shifts, have a mental illness, or if you're very sensitive to sound, noise will affect your health more than other people.

Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to lower the effects noise has on your health. Examples are wearing earplugs, making sure your home is airtight (and thus noise-tight), using sound blocking curtains or white noise, wearing hearing protectors if you need high cognitive performance, or moving to another location.

Many other options are included in the full blog post.

Finally, I conclude this blog post by arguing that noise problems are expected to increase during the coming decades, and that viewing noise as a "fact of life" is very dangerous for our health - even today.

Governments - as so often in history - will only legislate proactively enough once problems become impossible to ignore. 

The point of "being impossible to ignore" is not yet reached with noise, and thus, the problem keeps escalating. 

Proof?

Even though the EU is already legislating very proactively on the topic of noise, the taken steps are not radical enough. The EU's own documents admit that: "[n]oise from traffic, industry and recreational activities is a growing problem."[288]

Let me place that sentence in context: the EU is the legal body that most aggressively deals with curbing noise pollution on a world-wide basis, and yet, after decades of attempting to decrease noise, the problem is still getting worse.

Knowing that fact alone should make you (very) worried. Why? Non-EU countries are often far worse off.

My solution?

If you're exposed to noise pollution, read this blog, and take matters into your own hands as much as possible. Governments will stand by why your life may be ruined by noise.

Now, to place the noise problem into context:

I do think that there are worse problems for your health than noise. Not getting sunlight, eating very poorly, or not sleeping well, are probably more harmful to your health than noise pollution.

Read my previous posts on getting sunlight and optimizing your sleep quality, for example, to deal with problems in that area.

Having said that, noise will have a negative influence on your life as well.

Let's therefore dig deep into this topic...

By the way, do you want to know the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on noise pollution? Subscribe below:

 

How Noise Pollution Slowly Degrades Your Health Without You Noticing It. Plus: The Best Solutions To Get (Some) Silence Back In Your Life.

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Table Of Contents:

Understanding Noise Pollution:

1. Noise Pollution Introduction
2. What Is Noise Pollution Exactly? 
3. How Noise Pollution Causes Chronic Low-Level Stress In Your Body

Noise And Health:

4. Health Effects Of Noise Pollution
5. Ten Noise Pollution Management Tips

Assorted:

6. Conclusion: Noise, "Inevitable" Or Intentionally Ignored?
7. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Noise Pollution Introduction

Just imagine the difference between the following two situations:

Firstly, envision that you're in the woods. Fantasize about the sound of the wind blowing through against the leaves, water running downstream, and birds that are singing:

Secondly, envisage that you're in the following location:

What's happening in the latter case?

Cars are honking, people are talking loudly (and perhaps even screaming), three different types of music may be blasting on the background, and there's also noise emerging from a construction site. 

Moreover, all the noise stays "trapped" in that location due to all the high rise buildings. What's even more amazing is that you're not even consciously hearing all those sounds in the metropolitan city anymore.

You've gotten "used" to such sounds, right?

Wrong...

Even though you might not be consciously hearing noise (in the background) all the time, your health is still affected by that noise.

Yes...

The gist of my argument in this blog post is that your brain can never fully get used to noise pollution. Instead, you can only deal with noise by removing the source of the noise, or by making sure that less noise ends up reaching your ears.

If you don't get rid of excessive noise, your health automatically suffers.

Before diving deep into the topic of sound and noise though, let's first make sure we're all on the same level.

Let me thus give you a definition of both 1) sound; and 2) noise.

First, sound:

Sound, firstly, is the propagation of waves that are either consciously or subconsciously audible to the brain by using your ears.

Let's explore that definition of sound in some more detail.

Observe that I subsume both conscious hearing of sound and a subconscious hearing of sound under my definition. So, even if you're not consciously aware of a sound, those waves are still registered by your brain.

Why do I include subconsiously hearable sound as well? Well, there are things called "subliminal" sounds, which exceed the human hearing threshold. When subliminal sounds are loud enough, they are still registered by your brain and cause damage...

Secondly, I need to define noise...

But let's first take a step back and look at how others define "noise":

Noise is often defined subjectively nowadays. One common definition, for example, is that noise is "unwanted sound". 

That definition does not work for me at all.

Why?

Because noise has very objective consequences (for your health) at certain levels of loudness. I've therefore decided to combine the objective and subjective domains of noise into one:

Noise is sound that causes an unhealthy reaction in your body, either due to its loudness, or your (brain's) subjective dislike of the sound.

Let me explain that definition...

On the one hand, certain sounds can cause an unhealthy reaction in your body, independent of whether you like or dislike that sound. The sound of your favorite music at night when it's played hard enough, for example, will lower your sleep quality, even though you might like that music (at some level).

Another example?

An 80dB sound level at night - even though you've convinced yourself that you've gotten "used" to that sound - will always be damaging. 

Some sounds, on the other hand, can create problems independent of their loudness. If your husband is whispering your name to get attention when you're trying to focus on a complex task, the sound can be distracting independent of its loudness.

Your husband is thus creating noise in that instance.

Hearing a baby cry, moreover, will also trigger a response in you, even though the sound may not be very loud.

So overall, if a sound either 1) reaches a certain loudness threshold; or 2) is disliked by you, that sound becomes noise. 

Simple...



(Nerd section: some sounds are even inherently disliked by human beings, such as low-toned roars in the animal kingdom, which signal aggression, or the sound of a snake, for example. Those sounds have been ingrained in our very being through millions of years of evolution.)



Now, let's consider the health effects of noise. Noise pollution is not a "side-issue". 

What if I told you that through noise pollution: 

  • your children will perform poorer in school
  • you'll continually have a low-level of stress in your life
  • sleep becomes worse
  • you're getting high blood pressure and increase your chance for heart attacks and strokes
  • disturbs wildlife in your area
  • and much, much more. 

I'll explore all these effects in detail in a subsequent section.

First, let's have a more precise look at what sound and noise pollution exactly consists of...

Return To Table Of Contents

2. What Is Noise Pollution Exactly? 

Noise pollution does not just happen in modern societies. Instead, noise has been a problem as old as civilization.

Even in ancient Greece, cities allocated specialized areas for merchants and other occupations which are intrinsically associated with noise creation, which were placed outside the city walls.


Ancient Greece: the birthplace of 
Western Civilization - and also the first noise laws.

 

People have certainly been complaining about noise for centuries as well.

Example?

Arthur Schopenhauer - a German philosopher who mainly lived in the 19th-century  - is known for his interesting rants on noise.

Let me give you a few excerpts.

First, Schopenhauer talks about how noise increases the difficulty of thinking clearly:

"Occasionally it happens that some slight but constant noise continues to bother and distract me for a time before I become distinctly conscious of it. All I feel is a steady increase in the labor of thinking — just as though I were trying to walk with a weight on my foot."

Schopenhauer was instrumental in giving me an appreciation for the noise problem.
 
Another excerpt:  

"Noisy interruption is a hindrance to concentration. That is why distinguished minds have always shown such an extreme dislike to disturbance in any form, as something that breaks in upon and distracts their thoughts. Above all have they been averse to that violent interruption that comes from noise."

Some other passages demonstrate Schopenhauer's deep-seated hatred for noise as well. Here's yet another one:

"The general toleration of unnecessary noise — the slamming of doors, for instance, a very unmannerly and ill-bred thing — is direct evidence that the prevailing habit of mind is dullness and lack of thought."

Of course, Schopenhauer's conception of noise is very radical. Schopenhauer even wrote an entire essay on noise.
 
(Of course, I'm doing somewhat of the same thing now - throwing both my passion and ability for logical argumentation against the problem.)

Interestingly enough, some of Schopenhauer's claims were scientifically verified in the 20th century: noise indeed interrupts and lowers your higher-level thinking ability.

In that time you had to rely on intuition to know whether someone is too loud or not. Today is different, fortunately. Through modern day scientific instruments, you're able to assess sound levels extremely reliably.

How?

By measuring "decibel" level of sound...



(Nerd section: In the early 19th century, the field of psychology was still subsumed under philosophy, and strict psychological experiments were still almost a century away. Measurement of sound was not standardized nor well developed back then.)



Today, "decibels" (dB) are the most universally used measurement-unit for sound levels.

To be exact, dB measures the loudness of a sound. dB measurements commonly range from 0 to (roughly) 200. The higher the dB measurement, the louder the sound.

What's very important to understand about dB measurements is that it's a mathematically "logarithmic" scale. Let me explain what the word "logarithmic" means in relation to sound - which is easiest demonstrated through an example:

Assume that you're exposed to a sound of 30dB - which equals the sound levels of standing in the woods when nothing exciting really happens. Sure, you might hear some insects, the wind blowing, and whistling leaves, but overall, it's pretty quiet.

If you compare that 30dB measurement to a 40dB measurement, the sound doesn't get 33% louder. Instead, for every 10dB increase in sound, the loudness increases with a factor of 10. Phrased differently, as there's a 10dB difference between 30dB and 40dB, a 40dB sound level is 10 times as loud as 30dB.

Another example:

Many people, when comparing 30db with 60dB, would think that 60dB is twice as loud as 30dB. Let's calculate whether that assumption is true. First, observe that there's a 30dB difference between 30dB and 60dB. For every 10dB increase, the sound becomes 10 times as loud. A 30dB increase thus makes a sound 10*10*10 (10^3) = 1,000 times as loud. 

Crazy right?

The dB scale is developed that way to be easily express sound levels without having to work with extremely large numbers. A 70dB and 140dB sound level have a 10,000,000-fold difference in sound intensity. 

Why that scale?

Comparing 30dB to 150dB, for example, would force you to deal with many digits when doing calculations. A dB logarithmic scale is an easy-to-use tool to efficiently express loudness levels.

Let me attempt to read your mind though:

You must be thinking by now: "Bart, how loud are my neighbors during the nighttime?"

Let's find out...

I've charted different sound (and noise) exposure levels:[1-3; 42]

I'll give you some examples of loudness at each dB level:

10dB - Your breathing, the Grand Canyon at night, or the sound of dropping a pin
20dB - Leaves in the forest, whispering of a single person, a rural area with snow
30dB - A common quiet rural area sound level, or running computer.
40dB - Multiple people whispering in a classroom, library sound, birds singing
50dB - Regular conversations, very light traffic, background music, dishwasher
60dB - Air conditioner, bypassing car at 50 miles per hour, restaurant conversation

Now, at 65dB noise can already become damaging (if you're exposed for a long time):

70dB - Showering, music at regular-loudness, bypassing trucks, vacuum cleaner
80dB - Drilling machine, your morning alarm clock, a bypassing freight train
90dB - Low-flying Boeing 737, mp3 player, lawnmower
100dB - Subway car, food processor, airplane take-off, motorcycle
110dB - A rock concert, jackhammer, or an auto horn at a 3-yard distance
120dB - Classroom filled with screaming children, thunder impact
130dB - Football stadium noise peak

At this point, noise starts to generate ear-pain:

140dB - Jet engine take-off, firecrackers
150dB - Rock concert peak near speakers, fighter jet take-off
160dB - Weapons firing (such as a shotgun), 
180dB - Rocket launch
194dB - Official maximum sound level - at this point, a sound is converted into "shockwaves".


Birds singing in the morning at 40dB.
A thousand times less loud than bypassing trucks

 

And your noisy neighbor? Depending on his location, he's probably putting out 60-90dB from the source.

Fortunately, some of that noise is filtered by the walls of your house...

What can you conclude from seeing that list of noise levels?

Let's return to our earlier example of comparing the forest to the city in terms of noise levels.

Sound levels in the forest are located at a 40dB level--the inner city, with bypassing cars at 50 miles and hours, and trucks, ends up with sound levels of roughly 60 to 70dB.

Let's assume - for the sake of argument - that cities have sound levels of 60dB. In that case, there's a 20dB difference between the forest and an inner city.

Again, it's very important to realize that 60dB is not 50% louder as 40dB.

Instead, a 20dB difference entails a 10^2 (10*10) = 100 fold increase in the sound level. Phrased differently, the energy of sound input of your ears is 100 times as strong in an inner city compared to a forest.

And the example does not even take even louder metropolitan cities into account, that often have sound levels up to 80-90dB.

Absolutely amazing (or crazy) difference right?

That conclusion tells you something about human perception. Even though it might seem or feel that there's no extreme difference between an inner city and a forest qua sound levels, the difference is absolutely enormous.

So, what happens next? Let's say you're living in a big city with lots of noise? In that case, your ears and brain have to process that sound. While I'm taking a deep-dive into the health consequences of noise soon, let's first put the noise levels of cities into more perspective...

Let's, therefore, explore the sound levels of several cities, to help you understand how much sound is commonly present there...

You might be skeptical of my assessment, but I've got lots of solid data to back up my claims:

Many cities - even indoor areas, have sound levels of 60-90dB.[41; 44-50; 54; 63; 68; 70; 71; 82; 193-197; 289-290]

The mean street-level sound in New York city is 70dB+, in Hong Kong sometimes exceeds the 90dB level. Even during the nighttime, sound levels in Hong can approximate 65dB.

Such noise levels have also been found in a smaller Turkish city during the daytime. A 70dB+ level is thus by no means limited to big metropolitan cities. 

Other examples of smaller cities? 

In Kalamazoo County, Michigan, average daytime noise levels approached 80dB. 70% of people exceeded safe sound level exposure thresholds during the daytime.

You might be thinking: "but those measurements were taken outside". 

You're absolutely correct in that assessment.

I've also got a reply to that statement though...

The difference between outdoor and indoor noise levels have also been studied: in Tokyo, there's only a 10dB difference between outdoor and indoor environments. Noise levels of 55dB outside already make 50% of people feel uncomfortable inside - let alone 80 or 90dB.

And yet, residents, industrial workers, and office employees are routinely exposed to 60dB indoor sound levels. Why? Again, 70dB outside translated to 60dB that's commonly experienced inside...

In buildings for some purposes, lots of noise is also generated indoor

Noise levels in classrooms in Greece and Hong Kong reach as high as 70dB during the day. In London, that's 60dB, in Sweden, 40-70dB.

In many offices too, noise levels easily reach 60-80dB levels.

Industrial buildings?

The same levels, or worse. Noise pollution is thus not restricted to being outside in the city. Noise is everywhere in modern society...


The height of human civilization?
Or the precursor to its downfall?


Of course, the difference between sound levels of indoor and outdoor environments varies for different building types.

Different types of windows (and whether they're opened), walls, ventilation shafts, ceiling types, building height, and doors, all influence how much outdoor sound penetrates indoor.

Opened windows allow for a 10dB difference between outdoor and indoor sound levels. Tilted windows lower that value, and closed windows prevent a sound buildup of as much as 30dB (if you're really stopping all air flow).

Due to the many variables that influence how much sound penetrates into buildings, there's strict no algorithm or formula that can adequately calculate how buildings influence sound levels.

It's, therefore, best to determine the net amount of outdoor noise pollution that reaches indoor on a case-by-case basis. You thus have to measure levels inside buildings.

But there's yet another problem:

While closing your windows inside a city might sound smart to stop noise from entering, you'll build up lots of toxic air through that method.

In cities, indoor levels of pollutants reach up to 10 times as high levels as outdoor pollutant levels.[72; 96] You thus need fresh air, even in the city, and cannot close your windows all the time.

Keeping your windows closed also creates CO2 build up and lowers oxygen levels so that your breathing and brain function is impaired.[73-75] It's best to let CO2 leave your home continually, even during the nighttime.

No airflow in your home equals improper breathing...

In an inner city, you're thus confronted with a double bind: choosing between either more noise pollution or more air pollution.

Neither option is optimal...

How are indoor noise levels influenced?

The net-level of noise you're exposed to depends on many variables such as:

  • how far you're removed from the source of the noise. An airplane flying at 2,000 feet will give less noise pollution than an airplane located at 1,000 feet
  • the direction that the soundwaves of the noise are projected in. If road traffic soundwaves are directly projected at your windows, you'll get more net noise exposure than when soundwaves do not directly travel into your direction.
  • to what extent sound is reflected towards your location. Sound barriers might reflect some of the sounds away from your location - or towards you instead, if you're in bad luck.
  • how different types of noise add up. If you're exposed to a few 70dB noise sources, for example, you'll get a net-total or 73dB noise exposure. A 60dB noise source that's added to an existing 70dB noise source increases your net exposure by negligible amounts though.
  • seasonal variation. Differences in vegetation or snow on the surface can change (indoor) dB measurements. 

I'm not going into full detail of how quick or slowly dB readings decline with distance, as that is a complex calculation.

The bottom line is that noise calculations can be complicated. Again, if you want to know your indoor noise levels, you have to measure them. There's a measurement mini-guide included in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section at the bottom of this article.

(And if you want more information on the physics of sound, just read this book.)

A natural question that would emerge, based on that categorization of noise levels, is exactly how many people are exposed to that noise.[4-7; 11; 66; 67; 278]

Here's where things get even crazier...

The numbers are higher than you think:

  • In 1981 - when the US population was much smaller than today - more than 100 million Americans were exposed to excessive noise levels. Ten years earlier - in 1970 - 30 million people were exposed to noise levels that were so high that they directly caused hearing loss, and 44 million lives were negatively affected by highways or overflying aircraft. 
  • Today, one in three Americans are in danger of being exposed to excessive noise levels.
  • Hearing loss is the most frequently reported work-related negative health effect in the US.
  • 1 In 5 Americans have hearing loss at one ear, and 1 in 8 have hearing loss in both ears. In 1971, 13 million people had hearing loss problems, while in 2011 that number had increased to 48 million people. Correcting for an increase in the US population, that number is still double as high as in 1971.
  • In the European Union in 2018, 125 million people are affected by noise levels greater than 55dB. 37 Million people are subjected to noise levels greater than 65dB.
  • One in five Europeans loses sleep every night because of noise.
  • Compared to Europe and the US, noise levels are much worse in Asian cities. Depending on the source you refer to, two of the three most-noise pollutive cities are located in Asia: Hongkong and Singapore.

So, what's your conclusion? Is the problem of noise pollution improving or getting worse

Data clearly demonstrates the latter case to be true, despite governments' attempts at curbing noise.

Let's look at such legislation: 

In the EU, proposals have been made to set the limit of noise pollution at a 40dB maximum for night times.[9]

Noise affects you differently during the day and night. The sound of a bypassing truck or a vacuum cleaner, for example, might be somewhat noticeable during the day but can be extremely irritating at night. 

During the nighttime, a small amount of noise can already wake you up. Some sources even argue that the 40dB threshold is already too high, and that sound levels between 35 and 40dB already impair sleep quality.

And yet, noise pollution is barely taken into account by most healthcare experts in modern society. That assessment is very strange because noise pollution is the most common complaint that people have regarding their living environment.[16]

So, it's not water pollution or air pollution that irritates people most, but noise pollution.

Your naturally emerging question is probably: "what then, are the most common sources of noise pollution?"[17; 18; 76; 77; 93]  

Here they are:

  1. busy roads
  2. railways, especially those used for freight transfer, and subways
  3. industry
  4. construction
  5. hospital settings (intensive care units are especially damaging)
  6. loud areas such as dance clubs (especially during the night)
  7. airports

But that's not all of course:

Church bells, wind turbines, and neighbors throwing parties or people fighting are other reasons why noise pollution exists. Lawnmowers are a frequent source of noise as well, although newer models emit closer to a 70dB sound level instead of the 90dB sound level of the past.

Going clubbing, to a bar or a restaurant? You'll have a 50% chance of getting exposed to excessive sound levels. 

Another crazy fact?

Intensive care units are the most damaging noise pollution locations in hospitals.

Additionally, the general sound levels in hospitals have been increasing 10dB in the last few decades. Sound levels in hospitals now commonly exceed the WHO prescribed maximum noise threshold by as much as 20dB.

Quite a dangerous place to spend your time, hospitals...


Fighting cats: nature's original form of
noise pollution.


Now you've learned about the dB scale and how noise is omnipresent in our modern society, let's have a look at noise's effects on your body.

Fasten your seatbelts:

My story is getting worse before it gets more positive...

Return To Table Of Contents

3. How Noise Pollution Causes A Chronic Low-Level Of Stress In Your Body

Imagine:

Another overflying airplane again. 80dB of nightly irritation.

Let's find out what exactly occurs in your body when you're exposed to noise.

First of all, during the nighttime, being exposed to noise increases your stress hormone levels.[35-42; 168; 260]

"Cortisol" and "adrenaline" are two commonly known stress hormones. High levels of noise can increase these stress hormones for several hours. If you're really sensitive to noise, a mere 40dB sound can already increase cortisol levels in your body.

That 40dB sound roughly equals whispering people, or birds singing. 

For most people who are less sensitive, I think the threshold lies somewhere between 50 and 70dB during the day.

But there's more to noise:

Noise levels that many would not consider that bad, such as 60db - the sound level of bypassing cars or a restaurant - can already change your (stress) hormone levels:

Even during the daytime, aircraft sound or road traffic will increase your cortisol levels.[32-34]

If you're exposed to more than 60dB due to aircraft noise, for instance, your overall cortisol levels will be 33% higher than people who are exposed to less than 50dB on a 24-hour basis.

The same is true if you're working in an industry with 80dB+ noise levels.

Let's consider the example of someone working in a noisy industry:

If cortisol is measured in the morning time, your cortisol levels will be roughly similar on a working day and an off day. If your cortisol levels are taken in the evening, however, after getting exposed to that loud 80dB noise long enough, your cortisol levels will be much higher than during your day off.

That's all?

No, sadly enough:

Every one-dB levels increase of the sound level raises your heart rate by 0,29 beats per minute (when studying a range between 50dB and 90dB noise levels)

A 10dB increase in background noise will thus increase your heart rate by 3 beats per minute. A 30dB increase in environmental sound - which is the difference between rural areas and inner cities, will thus increase your heart beats per minute by 10.

It takes just one minute for your heart rate to go up after an increase in sound exposure. Your heart thus works overtime with more noise exposure. 

Next, noise has big effects on your sleep quality:

While I'll treat the topic of sleep in more detail in a next section, let's consider what happens when you're woken by sound during the night:[26-32]

At 32dB, fortunately, you're not awoken by any environmental noise.[30]

At higher sound levels, however, you will be having negative sleep quality effects. A person who whispers at night in your room - at 40dB - is thus already loud enough to wake you up.

Noise during sleep affects many people. In the European Union, almost 600,000 people are experiencing negative effects of more than 55dB of noise during the night.

That 55dB sound level equals hearing a dishwasher or light traffic from a small distance. In other words, 600,000 people have to sleep at night while hearing a sound that's as loud as cars passing by.

One big problem of becoming awake during the night due to noise is that you'll not always remember those moments.[31] Noise can easily put you out of sleep for 15-45 seconds. When morning time arrives, you'll simply think that you've slept through the night - unless the noise was really loud and obvious.

In your body, however, real negative changes occur when you're woken up during the night.

There's more to noise though:

Noise causes what is called "oxidative stress".[163; 271; 272]

Oxidative stress basically entails the creation of "Reactive Oxygen Species" (ROS) in your body. Some ROS is necessary for optimal health, but ROS levels that are too high can be damaging to your health.

(Oxidative stress means that a specific chemical reaction with oxygen increases in your cells.)

Noise can give you ROS levels that are too high because the ROS levels have not been created in a really natural way - such as temporary stress due to exercise. That oxidative stress, in turn, causes noise-induced hearing loss - a topic I'll come back to later. 

Next, noise influences your brain at several levels... 

Your brain has an "auditory system". That auditory system is connected to other brain areas.[252-260]

Many brain areas actually participate in your hearing.

I'd like to talk about one very important area called the "amygdala". I've mentioned this brain area before in my blog post about stress.

That amygdala is an alarm bell in your brain. Noise in your environment can trigger that amygdala. As a result, your body releases stress hormones and activates your nervous system.

I've often talked about human beings evolving in Africa roughly 250,000 years ago. Our lifestyle back then was very different than how you're living in modern society.

Back then, your hearing system was naturally attuned to filtering out sounds that could affect your survival.[36; 37; 262; 263]


Traditional societies: never experiending
consistent 
50>dB levels...

Example:

When you hear a snake nearby, even though its loudness only approximates 40dB, that sound triggers a "fight, flight or freeze" response in your body. Let's consider these three different fight, flight, or freeze options:

  1. You can fight the snake. Fighting snakes is usually not the best option, but you might not have an alternative if you're cornered. 
  2. You can flee from the snake. In most situations, this is a great option. because there's very little to win from fighting a snake.
  3. You can freeze in absolute fear and petrification. This is a "deer in the headlights" reaction, where the body actually inhibits the nervous system and prepares the body for its final demise. You'll probably have a freeze response if you anticipate the snake will attack you in the next 500 milliseconds (which equals half a second), and there's no way out...

From an evolutionary perspective, your body is naturally attuned to environmental sounds so that can accomplish its very survival. 

In modern society, however, sounds are almost everywhere - and have become noise. 

When there's lots of sound present, your brain has to process and filter all those sounds. 

Sounds which are really loud, at a 90dB rating, for example, are also inherently stressful. Even the sound of a loud lawnmower or lots of traffic--although many people do not associate that sound with stress--will automatically cause a small stress reaction in your body.

Noise can thus put your body in a "fight, flight, or freeze" response, by causing your amygdala to ring the alarm bells. That response occurs spontaneously and there's little you can do to prevent it, even though that stress is detrimental to your health in the long-run.

Are there examples of that response automatically being triggered?

Sure:

The sound of a dental drill, for instance, will automatically trigger a small stress response in many people. The same is true for hearing very hard laughter in the middle of the night, or the breaking of a window.

Almost everyone automatically responds to these sounds because we've been conditioned to interpret them as a form of danger. Loud noises are always interpreted as a form of danger by the brain.

But there's more to our human hearing:

Human ears are not only made to signal danger but also to find our prey. 

The fact that the human ear has such a wide ability to pick up different sounds between 0dB and 140dB - which is an obscene 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) fold difference - demonstrates that we're meant to be attuned to many types of sounds, and their loudness.

Your ears are thus adjusted to hearing both a fish swimming that's almost unnoticed underwater and the roaring of a lion.

One reason your ears are attuned to so many different sounds is because the different parts of the ear can magnify the intensity of sounds. The ear - fortunately for our modern society - also contains mechanisms to tone down sound again.

And if you ask: "why do we have two ears, then, and not one?", I will answer: because with just one ear, it's harder to pinpoint the location of any sound...

Just as two eyes give you a three-dimensional perspective qua vision, your ears do the same for hearing.



(Nerd section: the paragraphs listed above on how sound works in the brain are oversimplified. A few other brain areas involved in sound are:[264-270]

- the cochlear nucleus in the brainstem, which receives the first sound input from the inner ear, and is the gateway to the rest of the brain's "audio system"
- the olivary body and trapezoid bodies, which help with the localization of sounds and integrate sounds that originate from both ears into a whole.
- the inferior colliculi, interestingly enough, may filter out sounds that you make yourself from conscious awareness, such as from eating your food or breathing. These parts are connected to both the brainstem and auditory cortex. 
- the m
edial geniculate nucleus acts as a relay station between the auditory cortex and some of the aforementioned lower brain areas associated with sound. This area can modulate fear-producing sounds in the amygdala.
- the hippocampus stores memories about past sounds that you've encountered. The hippocampus also stores successful dealings with "stressful noise" you might have had in the past. For example, the hippocampus can store memories on how you deal with your neighbors' noise last year. Your brain can then access that memory to solve problems in the present moment. 
- the primary auditory cortex, which is the cortical area associated with sound, is responsible for dealing with more abstract types of sound, such as music.

I think the last area is inhibited in my brain because friends have told me I've got no feeling for rhythm when I dance. You can't have it all in life...)



It's important to realize the situational difference between "sound" and "noise".[162; 168]

If you like rock music and you're going to a concert, a 70dB sound might not be interpreted as noise per se. If you need to concentrate on a cognitively demanding task, however, a 70dB sound emerging from a bypassing train will be interpreted as noise. 

Of course, at a certain point, all sound becomes noise. Even though you might like the sound of a shogun firing at 140dB, that sound will always act as noise for your body, because your nervous system and brain are simply directly impaired by that stimulus.

Naturally, the setting of sound also matters.

If you hear the previous rock concert music while you're trying to focus, the results might not be that optimal. And if you're presented a barely audible classical music piece at 40dB while thinking you're going to a rock concert, you won't be happy either.

Again, it's just not only decibels matter but also the nature of the sound and the situation you're in when you're exposed.

Noise inhibits your ability to be present with any current activity.

Different types of sounds have different influences in different situations, even though they might be just as loud.[252; 283; 284]

If you hear a baby crying at 40dB, for example, that specific sound trigger can have much more of an impact on your brain than hearing a far away lawnmower at 60dB.

Language is another category of sound that has a large impact on your brain. Hearing your name at 30dB in a crowd can immediately trigger your brain. Hearing spoken language at 50dB can also be more annoying when you're trying to focus, compared to hearing traffic at 70dB.

Different categories of sound thus have different influences.

One reason for this influence is the role of the "amygdala" brain area which I've talked about earlier. More unpredictable noises are more damaging than continuous noise exposure, and trigger your amygdala much easier.

Hearing your name in a crowd will also activate your body...

The bottom line of this section is that noise causes stress in your body by increasing stress hormone levels, activating the amygdala in your brain (the brain's alarm bell), and by creating oxidative stress which can lead to cell damage.


(noise is like an alarm clock that goes off in your brain,
creating activation in your hormonal and nervous system).

 

Let's now look at the full health-effects of noise pollution.

One last section of gloom and doom before things get better. Hold tight...

By the way, do you want to know the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on noise pollution? Subscribe below:

 

Return To Table Of Contents

4. Health Effects Of Noise Pollution

In this section, I'll tell you why noise has far greater consequences than just creating hearing losses.

Many people assume that losing their hearing ability is the only negative consequence of noise. Nothing could be further from the truth: noise affects many areas of your health.

I'll tell you about these areas one by one... 

Let's consider a complete list of all the effects that noise pollution has on your body. Noise pollution:

  • lowers your sleep quality.[13-16; 53; 79-81; 114-118; 280; 281]

    Of course, we all know that statement is true. We all know that if you're woken up by noise during the night, you'll no longer sleep as well as you otherwise would have.

    You're probably assuming that cats fighting outside or a thunderclap is sufficient to wake you up.

    The problem is worse though: remember that low levels of noise at 30-40dB already increase your arousal levels. A dishwasher that's buzzing in the background or a cat who's scratching the door can already inhibit your sleep quality. 

    (Yes, it's all true: cats have been in a conspiracy to ruin our sleep for millennia.) 

    But joking aside:

    Talking neighbors, laughter, music, and electrical appliances, for example, all influence your sleep quality. At that level of sound, the electric impulses - measurable by what is called an "EEG device - in your brain are altered, and the amount of deep sleep is affected. 

    To be more precise: with noise, you'll experience less deep sleep and you'll sleep more superficially. The dream stage of your sleep is also inhibited. That dreaming stage is an important part of sleep's regenerative capacity.

    Of course, interruptions of your night will also affect how you'll behave (and perform) during the day. Noise pollution at night causes you to be moodier, more likely to be annoyed, tired, slightly depressed and makes you perform worse during the day.

    Poor sleep has additional (negative) health effects as well: the levels of sugars in your blood rise, stress hormones increase, while healthy hormones levels decline. Having less quality sleep also makes you more hungry all day. 

    All these effects, in turn, increase your chances of becoming obese.[19-25]

    Besides causing disease, sleep problems obviously have many other effects as well, such as lowering your immune function, making your miss days at your job, and increasing your chances to get psychological problems.

    And because noise pollution lowers your sleep quality, memories that would otherwise get stored during sleep won't get solidified.

    Again, I cannot overemphasize the problem of noise on sleep:

    Medium levels of noise pollution may cause as many as 150 nightly awakenings on a yearly basis. A nighttime 60-65dB sound level can cause as many as 300 nightly awakenings per year, which even increases your risk for getting psychiatric disorders.

    The more types of noise are found in your environment, such as overflying airplanes, cars, and railroads, the bigger the influence on your sleep.

    In an isolated environment - where there's no noise pollution - you'll experience between 15 and 35 minutes of additional deep sleep per night, compared to noise polluted areas.

    That deep sleep increase effect is even observed in healthy people, so everyone benefits from sleeping in a silent place. People who sleep poorly might expect even bigger increases in the amount of deep sleep they get.

    Noise also forces you to take up to 20 minutes longer to fall asleep in the first place. You'll thus lose a lot of days in bed due to noise on a yearly basis...

    Overall, noise pollution is rather detrimental to sleep quality. 

    (As a side note, if you want additional tips for increasing sleep quality, read my blog post which contains the 50 best tips on that topic.)


    (Nature: one of the only places where you can sleep
    without noise pollution nowadays)

    In addition, noise:
  • inhibits your ability for higher-level analytical thinking, memory, and attention.[17; 119-122; 136; 151; 155; 158; 171; 177; 183-192]

    Noise does not only lower your thinking ability through lowering sleep quality. On the contrary, noise decreases your higher-level thinking ability instantly.

    Loud traffic noise, for example, considerably lowers your ability to focus compared to the sound originating from medium-intensity traffic.

    What's really interesting is that noise inhibits mental performance more in introverts compared to extroverts.

    I'm an introvert and I'm pretty annoyed by noises. For that reason, I'm always writing these blog posts in as much seclusion as possible. A 60dB noise, for example, will inhibit focus in an introvert, but not in an extrovert. 

    Crazy right?

    But there's more:

    Noise also impairs your brain's working memory (which helps you keep pieces of information in your mind), long-term memory, and the ability to make decisions. Even a single episode of a very loud noise can already impair the formations of long-term memories. 

    The more cognitively complex the task you're carrying out, the more noise will inhibit your performance. With more noise, you'll become more cautious overall, and your reaction times increase. 

    These negative effects occur independently of your age. 

    Simply put, noise causes your brain to allocate scarce resources to dealing with the noise instead of helping you focus. Once your brain is primarily dealing with the effects of noise, your overall attention and thinking is lowered. 

    How?

    I'll have to talk about the brain again:

    The "prefrontal cortex" is a brain area located on the front of your head. That brain area is intrinsically related to planning, working memory, being able to control yourself in social situations, and making decisions.

    Noise stress inhibits the functioning of your prefrontal cortex.

    One reason noise stress might have this effect is because of increases in stress hormones such as "cortisol" and "adrenaline" I've talked about earlier. The higher the levels of stress hormones in your body, the less active that prefrontal cortex becomes.

    Lastly, noise may negatively affect the "GABA" signaling substance in the brain, which is concerned with relaxation. I think we're all fully aware of how noise can remove our chill feelings.

    On a more positive note:

    Interestingly enough, music can have the opposite effect of noise, increasing the activity of the prefrontal cortex. To be more precise, the music needs to be pleasurable--neutral or unpleasant-rated music will not have a positive effect.

    That's all?

    No...

    Let's consider another topic that is of quintessential import:

    Children are especially vulnerable to noise's effects on cognitive performance.[15; 123-135] 

    Noise lowers children's well-being and increases their stress levels. You, therefore, don't want your kid's school to be placed near a highway, railroad, or busy street.

    Children who are exposed to noise end up having lower speech perception and reading comprehension. Speech perception is the ability to hear, process, and understand language. Even test outcomes will go down if children are exposed to noise. 

    Noise can additionally lower the possibility of children and teachers properly interacting. 

    But there's more:

    What's even more astounding is that noise creates hyperactivity in children. That hyperactivity might be misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but could be noise-related instead.

    I'm sure that most parents are aware of the stimulating effects noise (and music) can have on their children.

    One reason children might be affected to a higher extent than adults is because children have less control over the noise. Furthermore, children have often not developed the coping skills to deal with noise in the first place--while adults do

    For optimal learning and development, children need to be exposed to a maximum of 55dB at playgrounds, and 35dB in classrooms.

    That 35dB sound level is very low. A classroom full of talking children can approximate 70dB, and a classroom of screaming children moves sound levels over 100dB.

    The biggest problem with noise, however, comes from outside the classroom, such as busy roads. Such areas are often not controllable by teachers. For that reason, make sure that your child gets the best education and avoid schools placed in noisy areas.

    So, we've got lowered sleep quality and cognition.

    What else does noise cause? Well, noise:
  • makes you anxious and depressed.[139-143; 147-150; 152-154; 156]

    Getting exposed to just 55dB of noise on a daily basis already increases your risk for depression and anxiety. Higher noise sensitivity will literally double your chances for getting depression, insomnia, and anxiety.

    Noise is not a side-issue: with long-term exposure, you can even end up with a mild cognitive impairment. The more sensitive you are to noise, the worse the effects on your mental health will be. 

    Once you're continually exposed to 70dB of sound, your anxiety levels shoot up. The relationship between noise and anxiety is linear: more noise results in more anxiety.

    That's the bad... 

    Now the ugly:

    Anxiety and noise essentially lead to a vicious cycle: being anxious, you're more prone to respond negatively to noise, which will make you even more anxious in turn.

    It's also interesting that noise can make already scary situations worse. The sound of drilling at a dentist, for example, can increase already existing anxiety. Another example: if you merely think that airplanes are prone to crash, you'll also react stronger to airplane noise in your neighborhood. 

    A signaling substance in your brain called "dopamine", furthermore, may also be affected by noise. You need dopamine to be motivated, assertive, feel good, and proactive.[137-138] 

    Some studies show that dopamine lowered due to noise, while others demonstrate that it increases. The difference between lowering and increasing dopamine levels can probably be explained through the short versus long-term effects of noise.

    In the short-term, noise will make you more active, increasing dopamine levels. But if you're exposed to noise too often, your overall dopamine levels go down. 

    Dopamine is absolutely essential for your physical and mental health.


    That's dopamine in action...


    Next, noise:
  • gives you a higher likelihood of having cardiovascular disease.[52; 62; 114; 144; 146; 163-165; 198; 199; 202-204; 222; 223]

    The more noise you're exposed to, for example, the higher your chances for getting "hypertension" - which is commonly known as "high blood pressure". 

    If you're living in a noisy neighborhood, having a house with thin glass or without multiple layers of glass will already increase your chances of getting hypertension. Sleeping near a window that's located on a busy street, moreover, also makes getting hypertension more probable. 

    If you're exposed between 45dB and 75dB background noise, every 5dB increase in sound gives you a 14% increased chance of getting hypertension. Those percentages are cumulative, so 10dB will yield a 1,142 = ~30% increase for getting high blood pressure levels.

    And a 30dB increase? I don't even want to know the answer...

    Not only hypertension risk is increased due to noise, however. Noise also increases your risk for getting a heart attack.

    Why?

    Again, noise is a chronic low-level stressor that lowers your overall health.

    Stress affects heart function through several mechanisms, such as increasing the thickness of your blood, activating blood clotting, altering how you deal with sugars in your blood, and lowering the health of your blood vessels.

    The end result is having a higher risk for getting a heart attack.

    But to end on a more positive note:

    If you're at risk for getting heart disease, please read the following blog posts of mine - which can help you: 1) conquering (chronic stress; 2) using sunlight for health; 3) using red light therapy to mitigate (part of) the effects of not having enough sunlight exposure; 4) improving sleep quality.

    All four articles can help you manage your heart disease.

    (Of course, make sure you're lowering your noise exposure as well.)

    Next, noise:
  • increases your probability of having a stroke.[216-221]

    Different types of noise have different effects on your chances of getting a stroke. Traffic-related noise, for example, seems to increases your chances, while industrial noise may have less of an effect.

    Once traffic-related noise exceeds 75dB, your risk for getting a stroke will increase much quicker than at lower levels. Airplane traffic has the same effect.

    Because many cities have noise levels close to 80-90dB, these locations are more dangerous for your stroke chances. 

    As very often, the more annoyed you are by noise, the more damaging the effects will be - and thus the higher the chances for getting a stroke.

    Older people are also at higher risk for getting strokes due to noise pollution. I assume the reason is that older people have less leeway with their health in general.

    What's also interesting (and scary) is that if the areas are high in air pollution, that risk may be added on top of the health damage created by noise. And of course, areas that contain lots of noise often also have very high traffic levels - traffic is a common source of both air and noise pollution.

    The bottom line is that you need to manage noise if you're already at risk for having a stroke.

    As often, there's more...

    Noise also:
  • may decrease the functioning of your immune system and increases inflammation.[206-215]

    Remember that noise increases that stress hormone called "cortisol" in your body? 

    As a result, your body's inflammation levels can increase. Excessive inflammation is related to many modern diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune conditions.

    Part of the increase in inflammation can be explained through noise causing a deterioration of the heart and blood vessels.

    Stress by itself, moreover, is also often associated with higher inflammation levels. Of course, noise is stress - and therefore increases inflammation levels.

    But there's more:

    Even immune cells may be affected by noise--although more human studies are needed. What's remarkable in animal studies is that noise can even affect the functioning of the immune system of the eventual offspring, when mothers are exposed to noise during pregnancy.

    Overall, we can draw one solid conclusion: noise won't make your immune system function any better.

    (Fortunately, the list is almost finished. Creating this long list on noise's negative effects makes me somewhat sad)

    Noise:
  • increases chances for getting diabetes.[144; 163; 224-231]

    There are several mechanisms through which (chronic exposure to) noise promotes diabetes:

    - firstly, blood glucose levels are altered through noise. Your blood glucose levels shoot up at higher sound levels, such as 85dB
    - secondly, noise disrupts your (stress) hormones. More stress hormones aid in causing diabetes.
    - thirdly and lastly, sleep quality is altered. Poorer sleep means having a higher risk for getting diabetes.

    If you've got a common residential sound exposure level higher than 65dB, for example, you're at 22% greater risk for diabetes. People who have their windows opened all the time, moreover, have an increased risk for getting diabetes - at least if they were living in a noisy area.

    Every 10dB increase in road traffic seems to increase diabetes risk by 25%. That risk is cumulative, so a 20dB increase leads to a 56% increase, instead of a 50% increase.

    Again, city life is not all it's held up to be...

    And then, noise:
  • makes you gain fat.[231-236] 

    Yes, really. The fat-gain is closely related to the effects that noise has in causing diabetes. Noise simply affects the metabolism in your body - the processing of energy - thereby causing a cascade of effects such as heart disease and diabetes.

    Even during pregnancy, noise exposure already predisposes a child for fat-gain later on in life.

    While no direct human studies have been carried out, in animal studies high levels of noise of 95dB cause immediate metabolic problems.


    "You have to believe me human. It was the noise pollution that made me fat..."


    Stay with me.

    We're almost done with the list of noise's health effects. 

    Noise:
  • simply makes you annoyed.[55-61; 69; 165] 

    Yes, noise thus causes direct psychological stress. Annoyances due to noise pollution - as so many other issues associated with noise - are not a minor problem.

    When rating an annoyance level from 0 to 10, people locate their annoyance from traffic noise at a 7-8 level.

    The result?

    Anger, anxiety, depression, apathy, and disappointment. Additionally, your quality of life goes down with increasing noise levels.  

    In essence, that quality of life decline caused by noise can be explained in several ways. Firstly, you'll have fewer options to truly relax. Secondly, you'll experience more negative and a lower number of positive emotions. Thirdly, you'll be interrupted in activities you're engaged in.

    One often-experienced annoyance, for example, is the need to keep one's windows closed at all times. Opened windows dramatically increase indoor noise pollution levels. The end result, however, is not getting enough fresh air into your home and that you'll feel closed off. 

    Annoyance is pretty subjective though. Some people are more prone to be annoyed by noise than others. Overall, if annoyance exists due to noise, your quality of life is lowered. 

    I wonder how many fights are created on a yearly basis, as a side-effect of too much noise originating both inside and outside the house? Don't want to think about that now...

    Lastly, let's talk about the most "famous" side-effect of noise. Noise:
  • induces hearing loss.[64; 65; 197; 200-203]

    If sound exceeds the 85dB threshold, hearing loss is induced. On a 24-hour weighted average basis, that number drops to 70dB.

    If you work in an industrial setting, it's likely that you may be exposed to such noise levels. Never operate loud machines or stand next to noisy loudspeakers without protective gear...

    Fortunately, during the last few decades, most people have actually started wearing protective ear-wear to avoid hearing loss.

    That's a great win, actually. 

    But you know what?

    Even though hearing loss due to industrial settings has decreased, social causes of hearing loss are increasing. More and more people are listening to music that's way too loud - either individually with music players, or through going to concerts. Alternatively, people acquire hearing loss due to traffic.

    Hearing loss is not just irritating but also dangerous because without well-working ears you're much more prone to get in accidents.

    It's important to understand that your hearing automatically deteriorates the older you get. Noise just speeds up that process of deterioration. 

    Why?

    In hearing loss, specific cells in your inner ear are damaged. It's generally accepted that these cells cannot regenerate, meaning that hearing loss is (currently) irreversible.

    Fortunately, stem cell treatments - stem cells the primordial cells in the body that can differentiate into specialized cells - may be able to deal with hearing loss in the future.

    So there's hope for people with hearing loss.

Hallelujah...

I'm happy that depressing list of problems caused by noise is finally finished. 

Before we look at solutions, however, let's take a look at individual differences in dealing with noise. Not everyone is affected by noise in the same way.

Some groups are influenced by noise to a far greater extent than others. Let's consider the first group:

Firstly, children are the most susceptible to noise.[98-109; 124; 171]

That problem doesn't just exist after children are born:

Hearing defects are already diagnosed in fetuses today - hence before children are even born. How? Noise pollution such as road traffic penetrates the mother's belly, thereby affecting the fetus. 

The results of excessive noise during pregnancy are birth defects, hearing loss, growth problems, and children being born (too) early.

The problems for children don't stop there:

After birth, excessive noise can cause helplessness, cognitive problems such as an inability to concentrate, impaired learning ability, nervousness, and increased blood pressure. 

For every 10dB increase of average (average daily) sound exposure before the age of 7, behavioral problems increase with 7%. More noise additionally makes children's "academic  performance" go down, even after the age of 7.

Overall, you'll want your (not yet born) child to steer clear from noisy areas.


(imagine: these children are even more sensitive to noise
than human children because of their ears...)

Shift workers are the second category of people who are harmed more by noise than the general public.[110-112; 124]

I've you've been following my blog for a while, you know by now that shift work is no bueno for your overall health.

Shift work increases your chances for all kinds of diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disease.

And because shift workers often sleep during the day their sleep quality is even more disturbed by noise compared to people who sleep at night.

Why?

During the day almost everyone goes about their daily activities - which are often accompanied by at least some noise generation. At daytime, there's thus more traffic, more machinery being operated, and more "social" noise.

Construction crews are often prohibited from working during the night due to the noise being generated. People working shifts are directly affected by construction noise if they try to sleep during the day.

But there's more: you're also more susceptible to noise if you sleep during the day in the first place. For some reason, the same dB level of noise affects you more during the day than during nighttime.

(I think the reason is that shift-work is inherently stressful, incapacitating your body's defense against new stresses)

Noise is thus another nail in the coffin of shift work...

Solution?

There is none...

If you're working night shifts, make a plan to quit them as quickly as possible. Also make sure, moreover, to lower your noise levels as much as possible during your sleep periods if you're working shifts anyway.

(Fortunately, the next section will give you several strategies to lower noise levels)

Thirdly, people become more affected by noise with age.[124; 127; 291-293]

Elderly seem to be especially annoyed by very low tones of noise, such as bass.

The more people are aware of the negative effects of noise - which happens to occur once you grow up - the more people are annoyed by noise as well.

At very old ages, however, annoyance levels due to noise go down again - probably due to hearing loss. That means that there are at least some upsides to aging...

Fourthly, the negative effects of noise also increase in some specific psychiatric mental disorders.[124; 157; 159; 160; 179-183; 294] 

Let's consider two examples, such as Schizophrenia and Autism...

In general, persons diagnosed with Schizophrenia have trouble with motivation, processing information, controlling their emotions, and may lose contact with external reality due to (excessive) noise.

To be more precise, people with Schizophrenia have trouble diverting attention away from noises. Noises may also be processed in a different way if you have Schizophrenia. 

It's not a coincidence that Schizophrenia levels are double in urban environments compared to rural areas. The more "noise stress" there is in your location, the worse the symptoms of Schizophrenia become.

Moreover, in autism or Asperger's syndrome - which are both developmental disorders - noise makes it more difficult to understand speech. People with these disorders are also more commonly hypersensitive to sound. The more different types of noise are present, the harder focusing becomes because useful sounds get harder to filter out.

(As a funny side note, some people are annoyed with specific types of sounds very quickly, such as slurping, the sound of eating or sniffing. Although these annoyances are not an official psychiatric disorder, they may indicate a degree of compulsiveness.)

I had to integrate some humor into this blog post...

Fifthly, there are individual differences in how well people tolerate noise.[124; 145; 168; 172-174; 294-296]

Let's say you're really sensitive to noise.

In that case, you're more attentive of noises in your environment, you'll discriminate noise more from other types of sound, accept noise something that's outside your control and therefore see it as more threatening, and you'll have problems adapting to noise in the first place.

The more "neurotic" you are, moreover, the more you'll actually be affected by stress - such as noise. 

There's also a "gender gap" with noise pollution:

Men, for example, are less able to deal with traffic noise than women.[81] In other areas, such as vigilance or brain processing speed, women are more affected by noise than men.

What's interesting is that people do indeed get used to noise to a small extent over time.[81; 118] In sleep labs, for example, where participants might be subjected to loud noise several nights in a row, have significantly worse sleep during the first night compared to later nights.

However, that effect of "getting used" to noise might also be due to participants getting used to sleeping in another environment, compared to getting used to the noise...

The human adaptability to noise might thus be overstated.

What's important to understand (and remember) is that no-one will ever fully adapt to noise. In other words, you might get partially used to 80dB noise levels, but that noise will still always have negative consequences for your health.

Yes, that's true even if you claim to be "not sensitive" to noise.

So what are the implications of the previous sections up until now? 

Noise has become negative byproduct that's intrinsically intertwined with how our modern society is structured.

Don't be bogged down though: in the next section, you'll learn about what you can do about noise.  

Why?

Genetics, on the one hand, does influence how well you're able to deal with noise. Implementing a few practical solutions, however, will have a greater influence on your annoyance levels than your genetics.[237] 

Let's go...

Return To Table Of Contents

5. Ten Noise Pollution Management Tips

Let me ask you a few questions: 

  • "why do many millionaires choose to live in the Hamptons, but not in Manhattan?" 
  • "why is Beverly Park in Los Angeles - the richest Los Angeles neighborhood - not located in the city's downtown?
  • "why do rich people generally prefer a somewhat-secluded ocean, river, or lake view?"

You should know the answer to those question by now...

Of course, many downtown areas of big cities such as New York and Hong Kong are also extremely rich, but many people live there because they have to for their job or business. 

Once you've accumulated a nice amount of wealth, it's very probable that you'll choose to live in places that are secluded from the noisiest parts of a city. Of course, buying a $5,000,000 lakeside mansion is not an option for everyone. 

Let's, therefore, look at what you can do to stop noise, if you're living in a noisy place anyway. In general, indoor noise is also rated as more annoying than outdoor noise.[238] 

That's great news because indoor noise is generally more controllable. Let's, therefore, look at the tips to influence noise pollution in your environment:

1) Always make sure to increase your perception of control over your noise exposure.

Remember from the previous sections that if you have a higher perception of control, the same level of noise is much more bearable.

The first step in the process of dealing with noise is thus mental: creating awareness. Most people don't even know how much noise negatively affect their health. Once you're aware of the noise though, you can start to influence the problem.

Make sure to double or triple check where the noise both inside and outside your home is coming from. Deal with in-house noise first. Do you have multiple electronic devices activated, such as a radio or television?

If so, you're aggravating your own problem.

Another way to increase your perception of control is by making sure that at least some parts of your house have lower noise levels. In other words, if your house cannot be fully noise-free, make sure just one room is.

Why?

A lower-noise area allows you to escape the heavier noise-polluted areas of your home. When part of a house has lower noise levels, annoyance goes down in most people - of course, because people can then intentionally control their noise exposure. 

Additionally, make sure to read all other 9 tips in this blog post to further increase your perception of control over noise.

The more of these tips you apply, the better the overall results will be and the greater your perception of control. 

Bottom line: take action to increase your perception of control and lower annoyance. This problem demonstrates that noise problems can be dealt with, even though it's very hard work sometimes.


(How you see your situation can be part
of the problem or the solution.)

Are you exposed to noise anyway? Then apply the following tip:

2) Compensate for sound pollution by increasing your application of other health strategies.

Remember that noise literally puts a low-level stress on your body as long as you're exposed. Fortunately, you can compensate (somewhat) for noise exposure. 

In the past, I've written many blog posts that offer health strategies which can make you fundamentally healthier:

  • If you can overcome many of the negative effects of stress in your life, the addition of noise pollution will not be as damaging as when you're having a combination of stress and noise pollution. Read, therefore, my e-book sized guide regarding stress reduction.

  • The more noise pollution you're exposed to, the higher your magnesium intake needs to be. Stress depletes your magnesium (and zinc) levels. By good fortune, I've written a guide on how to exactly manage your magnesium levels in your body. To get lots of zinc into your diet eat some oysters as well.

  • If you're sleeping poorly due to noise pollution, implement strategies to compensate for a loss of sleep quality. Read my blog post that contains the best 50 tips to improve sleep quality.

    Remember the oxidative stress we've talked about earlier? Sleeping well can counter some of the negative effects that noise has on your brain, such as hearing loss.[273] Good sleep also lowers your stress hormones during the day. 

  • Next, get enough sunlight in your life. This tip is a no-brainer. You need sunlight exposure for optimal health - there's no way out...

    By good luck, sunlight lowers stress levels as well. Part of the reason you feel so good on a summer-holiday is because of the beach and sunlight, not because you're free from work.

Bottom line: the more you can improve your overall health, the less of an effect noise will have on you.

Referring to the previous tip of increasing your perception of control, applying these overall health tips will all radically help in that area. With better overall health, noise will simply not impact you as much as when you're in very poor health - you've thus got more leeway.

But how to deal with noise if you have to anyway?

That's when we arrive at the following tip... 

3) When you need to focus, reduce noise pollution during the day by wearing a hearing protector.

Remember that high-level thinking is actually most inhibited by noise. In other words, when you're stressed, the most recently developed human brain areas associated with abstract thought are constrained first, while lower more primitive brain areas begin to predominate more.

To prevent noise from inhibiting high level thinking, wear a hearing protector during the day:

(Click the picture to see product's details)

I actually wear that exact same 3M hearing protector myself when needing to focus. The hearing protector really helps me write blog posts because an insane amount of environmental noise is blocked by that hearing protector.

To be precise, this hearing protector will reduce sound levels in your environment with 31dB

31 decibels...

How much is a 31dB reduction?

A lot, actually:

  • Restaurant conversations, located at a 60dB sound level, will be reduced to 30dB, the sound level of a quiet rural area.
  • A 70dB sound level of bypassing trucks will be reduced to a 40dB sound level of a library.
  • An 80dB noise of a drilling machine or freight train will be reduced to 50dB, the sound level of a regular conversation.

For some people, a 31dB reduction is almost the difference between heaven and hell...

For me that's true for sure...

While there are many hearing protectors on the market that claim a reduction of 35 to even 37dB, the hearing protector listed above has the greatest dB reduction that's actually validly tested.

Why do I recommend this specific hearing protector?

  • This hearing protector is made for extreme circumstances, such as noise originating from mining or shooting ranges. In these situations, you need a very big reduction in noise exposure to protect your ear health.
  • Many people wearing this hearing protector notice a huge increase in their ability to focus. Such a hearing protector is especially recommended if you've got Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 
  • The ear protector is comfortable (albeit, a bit heavy for some people to be honest), built sturdy and lasts very long.
  • And lastly, again, these hearing protectors offer the highest-rated sound reduction on the market today.

Hearing protectors are also highly recommended for use in children. Remember that children are more vulnerable to noise pollution compared to adults.

Here in the Netherlands - where I live - about 10% of children already wear hearing protectors in classrooms. If you're a parent, I would highly recommend your child to also wear hearing protectors - especially if they're sensitive to noise.

There's one caveat though: I don't think that wearing hearing protectors is a smart thing for your child if they're the only one in the classroom wearing them, because they might get bullied.

As a parent, you have to very carefully weigh the decision of your child wearing hearing protectors combined with the possibility of them being bullied, versus not wearing them at all. 

Only if other children are already wearing hearing protectors in the classroom is it more highly recommended to have your kid pick up that habit as well.

I make this statement because I think that the negative effects of social isolation - due to bullying - are far worse than the negative effects of noise. Noise will impair your child's cognitive performance, but social exclusion and bullying can destroy their mental well-being and brain for a long time.

If you're going to buy hearing protectors for your child anyway, buy these:

(Click the picture to see product details)


You can get these children's hearing protectors in multiple colors, such as black for boys, and pink for girls.

Getting the color right will make them look cool for children, reducing the chances of stigma.

Are there other methods for further reducing noise levels?

Certainly...

If you're working at a computer, for the best results, combine the hearing protector with anti-radiation earphones.

(Click the picture to see product details)

With these earphones, you can create background noise in your ear, which further overrules sound originating from the environment.

Why this product?

These "air tubes" do not emit "electromagnetic radiation" directly in your ear because they transmit the sound through a tube, and they are therefore less damaging to your health as regular earphones.

Having electromagnetic frequencies - which are emitted by many electronic devices such as WiFi and cellphone towers - close to your body is almost certainly damaging. 

In fact, regular earphones emit electromagnetic frequencies at a location where they are the most damaging: directly against your brain. As you hopefully already know, electromagnetic frequency exposure - such as holding a phone to your brain - is probably not optimal for your health, and potentially very destructive.

For that reason, you need to wear headphones that reduce that radiation, by sharply increasing the distance of the electromagnetic frequencies from your brain. The air tubes pictures above are perfect for that.

Fortunately, the hearing protectors and air tubes combine well.

With the combination, you should be able to block out most noise from your environment, unless you're near an airplane taking off, or at a rock concert...

But what to do during those annoying night times?

For that situation I've got a solution as well:

4) Extend the strategy of blocking noise from your ears even during nighttime.[86-93]

Yes...

Wear earplugs when you're going to sleep if there's lots of noise in your environment.

(Click the picture to see product details)

 

Earplugs are extremely cheap but very effective. By cutting about 30dB of sound from your environment, you can even sleep very well in a 65dB environment that would normally be directly harmful to your health.

What's even more interesting is that the number of stress hormones goes down if you're wearing earplugs while sleeping in a noisy environment. Another hormone that causes you to sleep longer, deeper, and longer, called "melatonin", is increased. Your amount of deep sleep also increases while wearing earplugs.

Overall, earplugs are an inexpensive must-have for dealing with noise in city life.

Earplugs are a win-win.

5) If earplugs aren't enough then think about insulating the room you're sleeping in.[94; 95]

Insulating rooms can reduce noise pollution by about 7dB. While 7dB might not seem like it's a lot, I estimate that 7dB equals about a 5-fold decrease in noise intensity.

If the noise does not originate from outside the building, but from the building itself, you can choose to insulate rooms with noise-dampening mats. Mats reduce noise by about 7dB as well. Make sure to use non-toxic materials for insulating your bedroom.

Is there more you can do?

Certainly:

Any appliances such as your washing machine should be located far away from your bedroom. Alternatively, don't use appliances during the night. 

Overall, your bedroom is the most important area of the house when dealing with noise. More noise in your living room or kitchen can be forgiven, because you're probably not in your house during the daytime anyway.

A bad night's sleep - occurring frequently due to noise - cannot be compensated for. Sleep is a mandatory primary in health...

6) If you're building a house near a noisy area, make sure to select the right building materials - and guarantee that your interior is designed correctly to counter noise.[42; 97; 240; 244]

How?

A difference in wall choice can reduce total sound penetration by 86%.

There's also drywall can even be applied on top of existing walls. To achieve that effect, a substance called "Quiet Solution drywall" need to be added to both the outside and inside of a wall. 

The problem with these dry walls is that they're made from gypsum - which often contains airborne toxins. It's better to exclusively use such materials at the outside of your homes, so that toxins cannot leach inside your home.

But what if you're building a new house?

In that case, there are many options for reducing the sound through the construction of walls. Wall studs, for example, can dramatically reduce noise levels. Adding more insulation increases noise pollution too - such as batt insulation or fiberglass insulation.

The problem with some of these materials is that they are toxic and suspected to increase cancer. Wooden wall studs combined with lots of concrete, therefore, are what I consider the best options.

If you apply several layers of these materials well, you can decrease noise levels with 70-80dB. A 80dB noise reduction is insane, and can completely change your life for the better.

But you can go further:

Even floors can be accommodated to reduce noise. Cork and concrete floors are great, both reducing sound levels as well. Hardwood, tile, and laminate floors, on the contrary, increase overall noise levels.

How about the walls of your (existing) house?

Acoustic panels are an additional option to reduce sound penetration in your home:[241-243]

If you cover over 20% of your wall with such acoustic panels, you'll reduce noise levels dramatically. You can even get these panels in different colors so that you can make a wall covered with acoustic panels look like artwork.

The downside of these panels is that they're often covered in flame retardants, which toxin that's emitted into the air. Moreover, acoustic panels will mostly dampen the noise originating from inside a room though, and won't filter out the noise coming from the outside as much.

Some in-house materials can also reduce (mostly in-house) noise pollution, such as carpeted floors.

The problem with carpeted floors, yet again, is that they often cause air pollution.[239] Carpeted floors increase allergy levels and breathing problems, for example.

If you use such floors to reduce noise pollution, you'd better be sure to keep them as clean as possible and to buy carpets that are made from organic material. Even though producers of carpet floors claim otherwise, most modern carpet floors are still problematic.

Rugs and wall hangings are great options to reduce noise pollution as well, reducing overall indoor-originating sound levels. Rugs have the exact same problem as carpet flooring, however, in that they are often polluting the indoor air quality. 

Fortunately, you can find high-quality organic rugs here

What if you're blocking noise through using materials that put toxins into the air anyway? A solution for improving indoor air quality would be to use an air purifier. Make sure to buy an air purifier that does not emit lots of noise during the night, if you use that thing in or near your bedroom.

Additionally, buy an air purifier that does not work with WiFi - again, to reduce electromagnetic frequencies.

Am I done yet?

No...

One of the best options to reduce noise that originates outside your home is to buy noise-blocking curtains.

Noise-blocking curtains can be very efficient:

(Click the picture to view
the product)

One problem with these curtains is that they block most sunlight as well. Such curtains are therefore mostly recommended for using in your bedroom at night, and not the rest of your house (if you spend time there during the day.

The curtains displayed above are made of 100% cotton. That material is great because we've finally found yet another noise blocking material that's non-toxic.

While you can buy curtains that block out even more noise (and light at night), such curtains are not recommended because they expose you to more toxins again.

Use the curtains above, and reduce the noise coming from outside your house dramatically. Remember, windows and open spaces leak the most noise into your home.

And thus:

If maximal noise-reduction is your goal, moreover, make sure your doors and windows are sealed as much as possible, .

Little spaces between windows and window frames, for example, let through lots of noise. The solution is to use (non-toxic) sealants, which prevent sound from leaking through small spaces. Make sure to always opt for non-toxic materials.

Don't forget to seal door bottoms as well, for example, by putting cloth object in front of that opening.

Again, you cannot keep your windows closed 24-7 because the indoor air quality will go down a lot. If you keep your windows closed most of the time, moreover, you absolutely need an air purifier to avoid an indoor buildup of toxins.

Outside your house, lastly, vegetation may reduce indoor noise somewhat.

The best way to implement this tip is to integrate lots of green areas around your house, which will reduce the impact of noise. Make sure to place the vegetation as close to the noise source as possible - a strategy which reduces the dB levels the most.

Example?

So if you're living near a busy road, make sure to place trees as close to the busy road as feasible, instead of planting close to your house. 

For the best noise-blocking effects, vegetation also needs to be as dense as possible. If you can look through the vegetation, the effects of blocking sound are severely limited. Of course, it's best to use trees that maintain their "leaves" in all seasons, such as cedar or pine trees.

But what if you cannot plant that much vegetation?

In that case, surrounding yourself with lots hedges and plants can still reduce your perception of noise.[12; 82-85] 

Even though in some instances greenery may not literally reduce the noise levels in your home, you'll be more able to cope with annoyances of noise pollution - although studies are somewhat conflicted.

Vegetation may lower the perception of noise because you may longer see the source of the problem. Remember that noise is partially located in your mind...


Animals: building shelters for millions of years...

There's more though. Let's look at another tip for the nighttime:

7) White noise can help you sleep better.[245-250]

What's "white noise"?

White "noise" is a pleasant sound that's used to block out subjectively-rated annoying sounds from the environment.

If you're exposed to lots of moments of "peak noise", whereby there are sudden and instantaneous high sound pollution levels, white noise is a great solution for you. White noise reduces the difference between the peak of the noise and the regular background sound levels.

Example?

Let's say your average nighttime sound level is 40dB. Once in a while, however, a train passes by that creates a 75dB noise. It's almost certain that the 75dB peak will keep you out of sleep because there's an almost instantaneous increase of 35dB of sound levels.

The train acts like a big shock to your system...

White noise might give you a continuous 55dB pleasant background noise. Whenever there's a train passing by while you're sleeping with white noise, there's merely a 20dB difference in peak sound levels. The arrival of the noise pollution is less abrupt, and therefore less of a shock to your body.

What's important to remember is that extreme levels of white noise can become noise pollution again. If you're exposing yourself to 95dB of white noise during the night time, there will certainly be negative consequences for your sleep quality.

Nevertheless, white noise can benefit almost anyone exposed to noise pollution at night. Even just-born babies are helped by white noise.

Get a white noise machine, and sleep better tonight:

(Click the picture to see the product)


Several types of white noise exist: you can even get white noise that acts like a dishwasher or machinery.

I don't think that type of white noise is optimal though, and I would opt for beach or forest sounds. Nature has built affinity to certain sounds - such as leaves or water - deeply inside us.

The machine listed above has many different types of white noise so that you can always use a sound-type that's right for your unique circumstances.

Simple solution, but a big payoff.

Combine this tip with the earplugs for the best results.

8) If possible, influence your environment by exploring social options.

How?

First of all, social noise is often the easiest to manage.

One of the most frequent sources of noise pollution are neighbors, who may, for example, have a party with loud music during the night.

Talk to these neighbors, and see whether the problem can be solved socially. Be very polite. If talking does not work after a few tries, report them to the landlord or call the cops on your neighbors.

Seriously.

Sleep is that important for your health. And if the cops don't help sufficiently, monitor the noise levels with a decibel meter and sue these people.

Of course, make sure you're not creating noise in the neighborhood yourself when pointing the finger at someone else. Additionally, make sure you're above reproach in other areas of proper neighborly conduct before you follow through with action.

But what about traffic noise - are you helpless in the face of that problem? Not at all. There options for managing traffic noise in your neighborhood...

Usually, you cannot influence traffic noise as an individual - such making sure traffic curfews get built that dramatically reduce noise levels.[97] If you can arrange such a solution with the city - of course, with the help of your neighbors - you're all going to be very happy.

For example, you can start a petition with your neighbors to reduce sound pollution in your environment. You can together aim to keep the road you're living at free from noisy trucks, or to prevent trains from passing through your town during the night.

How big are the improvements? 

Barrier walls, for example, can reduce noise by 10-15dB. 10-15dB might not seem to be a lot, but it's more than a 20-fold reduction in loudness. If you're exposed to 60-70dB of sound during the night, a barrier wall can mean the difference between a long-term hearing loss and having much less extreme consequences.

Roads can also be constructed with specialized asphalt, which reduces sound by 6-12dB. Even for cities themselves, proper design of roads and railways is the preferred option. Naturally, it's much cheaper to design low-sound infrastructure from the outset, compared to correcting the problem by erecting miles of barrier walls afterward. 

You thus need to take action before neighborhood plans are already being carried out...

Besides the aforementioned ad hoc solutions, it would be best to pressure automobile companies to reduce their overall noise levels--but few individuals have an incentive to do so. Fortunately, that noise-lowering process is already occurring on its own. Yes really, cars and airplanes have become less loud during the last few decades.

How about airplane noise?

If you start lots of petitions and complain a lot about airplane traffic, the noise is also more prone to be taken into account by governmental institutions. In my country, for example, protests have (somewhat) successfully slowed the increase of noise from Amsterdam's main airport.

(Remember, a reduction in the growth of noise is better than full-blown expansion.)

Overall, there are social solutions to environmental noise problems, if and only if you use your collective bargaining power in your area. On your own, you can only stop your neighbors (if you're lucky)--but not the government or airplane travel companies.


Wolf packs, excellent examples of teamwork: that's the attitude you need to have against environmental noise.


But what to do if nothing helps for reducing noise pollution?

In that case, I've got yet another option: 

9) Accept the noise as well as you possibly can.

Yes, you've read that right...

How?

Let me take a quick detour:

In a previous guide on stress, I've included a mindfulness meditation mini-course. Mindfulness meditation can help you accept "what is" - or reality - without continually wanting to change your situation.

Lots of people cannot accept the noise in their environment in the first place. That reaction of non-acceptance is understandable on the one hand, because there's nothing positive about noise at all. As long as you're trying to fight the noise, however, you're suffering the consequences of noise twice.

How?

Well, first there are noise's negative effects in your body, such as the activation of your nervous system and the creation of stress hormones. Secondly, there's the suffering associated with wanting to change your situation.

That suffering added on top of the automatic negative bodily effects. Suffering actually adds insult to injury. The more you're trying to "change" noise, the more you'll suffer.

Worrying and ruminating are all signs that you're suffering over noise...

Of course, I'm not saying you should not actively deal with noise if it's possible to do so. If you can buy curtains that dramatically reduce the noise levels in your house, please do so. 

What's very important to understand, however, is that if you're subjected to the noise of bypassing trains every day, and there's no way to change your situation, then it's best to accept the circumstances and stop fighting.

Whenever your fight the inevitable, you're exerting (and wasting) precious energy. Mindfulness meditation removes the suffering from the process over time.

The more you practice mindfulness, the better the results will get.

And by the way:

I'm not just speculating about the validity of using mindfulness in this very specific situation--mindfulness has actually been proven to work in reducing stress associated with aircraft-related noise.[275; 276]

How?

What mindfulness accomplishes on a very basic level - after some time of practice - is quieting the amygdala in your brain. Remember that the amygdala is your brain's "alarm bell" that can trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Mindfulness - by returning your attention to the present moment - lowers the activity of your amygdala. Your prefrontal cortex - the brain part in your forehead which function is to plan, focus, and act as "working memory" - quiets that amygdala during that mindfulness meditation process.

Again, you can read my 100% free and more elaborate guide on mindfulness here.

No strings attached.

Promise...

Secondly, mindfulness has yet another benefit: teaching your brain to focus on what you deem important, instead of focusing on distractions.

Let me explain how...

Even if there's 70dB of noise outside your home, mindfulness teaches you to divert your attention at the task you should be focusing right now.

Why?

There's little benefit to spending your hard-earned energy on focusing on things you cannot change. By focusing on taking action in other areas of your life, you're at least getting some return on your invested energy.

You might be thinking: "how about dealing with noise when you're asleep?"

Well, that case is somewhat similar: don't tell yourself that you cannot sleep due to noise.

Why?

People who experience noise are almost inevitably angered or irritated by the fact, and cannot sleep. But you know what? Eventually, almost everyone falls asleep despite the excruciating noise.

The problem of noise thus needs a mental re-frame. Even during sleep, it's not the noise that makes up 100% of the problem, but your reaction towards noise also matters as well. 


The Buddha: teaching how to end
suffering for thousands of years.


Thus spend your energy wisely. You can only spend your energy once.

But what if all else fails?

Or don't you like my previous suggestions?

In that case, push the "nuclear button":

10) Move to another location.

Moving should never be your first option.

But sometimes, there's literally no alternative. If you're living near industry, or a very busy railroad or airport, there's very little you can do to fully mitigate the risks.

You'd end up wearing ear protectors during the day, and earplugs at night. And ask yourself, what kind of life is that? Maybe you're really sensitive to noise - that's a fact you also need to take into account.

In all of these cases, if life's not worth living in a noise-hellhole, please move to another location that has lower noise levels. Don't wait until you've ruined many more years of your life.

Moving: simple, but ultimately very effective.

That's it. 

My blog post on noise pollution.

Let's conclude, and take the 10,000-yard view...

By the way, do you want to know the 10 most important lessons I got from reading hundreds of studies on noise pollution? Subscribe below:

 

Return To Table Of Contents

6. Conclusion. Noise: "Inevitable", Or Intentionally Ignored?

Environmental noise is sometimes referred to as the "forgotten pollutant". At other times, noise is named the (intentionally) "ignored pollutant".[278]

There's truth to both statements...

On the one hand, many institutions have started proactively legislating to keep noise levels down. The EU is one such institution. While the US has historically been the first country that developed laws on noise, these laws are not upheld as strictly as they should.

On the other hand, noise has traditionally almost been accepted as a "fact of life", a byproduct of "progress" during the Industrial Revolution.

In a sense, the mentality of that assessment is still predominant today. Even though governments legislate to keep noise levels down, levels have still been increasing rather than decreasing in the last few decades.

Noise is thus still ignored and forgotten.

Seeing noise as an inevitable byproduct of the capitalist system, however, is very dangerous. When we see noise as "natural", we're closed off from finding solutions to the problem. Why? Well, by seeing noise as inevitable it is not identified as a solvable problem in the first place.

Let's consider why the topic of noise pollution problem is so important:

In 2050, the number of people living in urban environments will almost double.[54] Not only will more people thus be exposed to noise pollution, but increasing population densities will also increase overall noise levels all by themselves.

That's double trouble...

And again, noise pollution is currently already increasing.[278] 

1 million healthy life years are lost every year in the EU due to noise pollution.[279] What do these numbers imply?

Let's stay very conservative, and assume that 5 million healthy life years are lost yearly on a worldwide basis. Let's also say that the average person becomes 80 years old, but only stays healthy for 50 years (without having one disease). In that case, the equivalent of 5,000,000 / 50 = 100,000 lives are lost on a yearly basis due to noise.

In a decade, noise kills the equivalent of one million people. And by the way, that number only takes traffic-related noise into account, ignoring noise of social origins and industry. 

These numbers will also increase over time...

The solution?

The biggest problem in the area of noise - in my opinion - is that existing noise laws are not strictly enforced.

The EU has a 40dB (averaged) nighttime limit on noise. And yet, that limit is exceeded almost everywhere. Of course, you can certainly argue that a 40dB limit is unrealistic because that limit is exceeded almost everywhere.

But still, then, I would recommend creating more realistic noise limits, strictly enforcing them, and slowly bringing the noise limit down to 40dB over a period of time. 

Noise, to me, is very simple from a political perspective: it's a form of violence leveled upon fellow human beings. I don't care if you want to produce 100dB of noise in your own home, and destroy your own hearing capacity.

Once noise affects other individuals, it's a mild form of violence.

There are some (big) problems with my position, of course, such as an inability for society to operate without at least some noise. But I do think that people should at the least be compensated for any negative effect.

Many people living near industry or airports, for example, are polluted by noise but not compensated at all for the "annoyance".

Other people live in $5,000,000 mansions, use the airplanes that create noise pollution, but don't contribute to solving the problem at all - and are not hit hard by noise.

The same is true for car owners: people who drive cars do not compensate people who live in poor neighborhoods that are located close to highways.

Lastly, let's also remember that noise pollution affects wildlife outside as well.

Even in excluded wildlife areas, the levels of sounds have increased 10-fold over what was previously present without human intervention.[285-287] With an increase in noise over the coming decades, that effect will only become stronger as well.

It's a time for choosing...

Return To Table Of Contents

7. Frequently Asked Questions.

"Why do you only utilize regular dB measurements, and not dB(A), dBL10, dBL90, dBLday, dBLnight, dBLpeak, and other measurements?"

To be sure, there are many, many different types of decibel measurements.

Examples are dB(A), which emphasizes the impact of noise that you can consciously hear, and dB(C), which concentrates on the peak impact of noise levels.

In this blog post, I've not told you about or use these alternative measurements. There's no need to excessively complicate my argument. Instead, I've done my best to make this information as accessible and readable as possible. 

If I were to use weighted averages over the nighttime, corrected for Herz measurements as is done in the DB(A) measurement, used minima and maxima, people would no longer be interested in reading this guide.

Using my methodology, I've simply distinguished between day and night values and attempted to do justice to peak and tones of noise, as it can be maintained that these are the most important basic noise conceptions.

"I want to do my own sound measurements. Can you help me?"

Sure. 

Great call!

Buy this specific device. The device might not be the most precise on the market today, but for general sound measurements, it has a top-notch price/function relationship:

(Click the picture to be taken
to the webshop).

For under $20, you can get a great general impression of the sound (or noise) levels in your residential, work, or recreational environment...

Rules for measuring:

  • Measure sounds at roughly a 5-yard height, or 1,5 meters, to get a standardized measurement.
  • Make sure to take reflective surfaces into account: if you're measuring sound standing in front of a sound barrier, of course, you're going to get higher readings.
  • Sometimes you'll have to take measurements while keeping in mind the effects that surfaces have on your measurement. An example would be when your house receives additional noise through reflection.
  • The weather can also alter measurements. (Heavy) rainfall or storms will make any sound measurement invalid.
  • Keep in mind that sound meters need to be recalibrated every two years - because otherwise, the measurements become imprecise or invalid. Instead of recalibrating though, it might be cheaper to buy a new one.

For a valid reading for your location, I recommend to take sound readings during the morning, evening, and nighttime (before you go to bed), for 1-2 weeks long.

An alternative method to measure sound is to take up to ten completely random measurements throughout the year, which will be representative of the average noise level in that environment for the entire year.

"Any other ways to know how much sound pollution I'm subjected to?"

Great question!

Yes, there certainly are ways to know the general noise pollution levels in areas. I recommend you find a noise map of your area of interest. Many governments actually map sound and noise levels nowadays.

In the Netherlands - where I live - you can basically view a map of the sound levels in any city, such as Amsterdam:

For different countries, different maps can be found online. These maps are called "noise maps", and the method to produce these maps is called "strategic noise mapping". 

For the US, you can follow this link to get a noise map. EU citizens can open up this link.

"How about dealing with low-frequency sounds?"

Drums, thunder, bass, and erupting volcanoes are all examples of low-frequency sounds. 

But what are low-frequency sounds?

Let's make a small detour to answer that question. The healthy human hearing threshold can hear noise between 20 and 20,000 Hz.

Hz or "Hertz" is the measurement of the frequency by which sound waves oscillate within one second. Low-frequency sounds - ranging between 20Hz and 200Hz, have been undervalued in terms of the possible damage they can do to your health. 

Low-frequency noise is not properly weighted, for example, by the dB(A) measurement. And yet, low-frequency noise can affect sleep, focus, heart rate, and give you a negative mood plus fatigue.

"Can you tell me even more about different types of noise?"[279]

Sure.

I would distinguish between three main categories of noise: 1) transit - such as airplanes, road traffic, and railway traffic; 2) industrial and construction noise; 3) recreational and neighborhood noise.

Of course, there are other types of noise, which have not been considered within this picture.

Let's first consider industrial noise:

  • Almost any type of industrial noise source is imaginable: factories, wind farms, machinery in workshops, mining, energy generation, and more.

    Industrial noise sources fluctuate much more in intensity throughout time than other sources. While road traffic is relatively continuous, for example, an industry might have highs and lows in terms of noise output.

    Very often, the tones of industrial noise are also rated as more irritating than road transit noise. 

    Getting a valid and accurate measurement of industrial noise levels is extremely difficult, as there's so much variation between the nature of the sound, it's timing, the tone, people's annoyance levels of specific sounds, etcetera

    Wind turbines, which are often considered "green" technology, can assume noise levels of 100-110dB, for example. Mining might be very different than the more continuous output of wind turbines - a 160dB explosion at an extraction site might be followed by a period of silence. 

    Even social relationships can have an impact on how industrial noise is interpreted. If residents consider construction work to their benefit, they rate the noise as 10dB lower compared to when they have very poor relationships with the construction company.

    Annoyance, again, is part in your mind...

    Due to the very "fluid" nature of industrial noise pollution, standardizing measurements become much more difficult. Industrial noise is thus harder to control because it's more random.

Next, let's take a look at transit noise:

  • Aircraft noise is generally considered the most annoying type of transit noise. Fewer people are exposed to aircraft noise compared to railway and road noise, and yet, aircraft noise is somewhat more incapacitating. 

    Why?

    Most people might not be so willing to accept aircraft noise, as not everyone travels by plane. Railroads and regular city transit are different - and used by almost everyone.

    Just imagine: let's say you're never taking a plane, but have them flying over your house 5 times a day? Not that much fun, right?

    Different types of aircraft engines also cause different kinds of noise pollution. Next to engines, the aerodynamic effects of airplanes also cause noise. Aircraft noise also depends on what kind of tracks the planes take off, and where they are located.

  • Railway noise has only been regulated for a few decades.

    Trains can create different types of noise at different speeds. At low speeds, for example, the initial momentum needed to get the train started predominates. At higher speeds, aerodynamic noise is generated most.

    Freight trains often give most noise problems, especially when their brakes are used. 

  • Cars, buses, and motorcycles have different sources of noise. Tires and engines are both sources of noise. At different speeds, different types of noise might predominate. The higher your speed on the road becomes, the more noise is generated.

    Trucks and motorcycles create the most noise pollution. For that reason, trucks speeds are often limited in countries.

Recreational and other types of noise, lastly, are very irregular, in the same way as industrial noise is. 

A party thrown by your neighbors might be a once-in-a-year event but might nevertheless keep you awake for hours during the night.

Alternatively, cats fighting outside your house or children screaming outside might be somewhat more predictable. 



*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information



For other articles, see:

Why Vitamin D Supplements Are A Poor Choice: Why You Need Sunlight Exposure Instead

Rethinking Magnesium: Why You're Deficient And Need To Supplement

Beat Insomnia. Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Quality.

Red Light Therapy: A Fountain Of Eternal Youth And Health?

Conquer (Chronic) Stress: The Ultimate Guide To Stress Relief.

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