Expert Q&A: Overcoming Environmental Sleep Disruptions
Q: Can where you live affect your sleep, and if so, how can these environmental factors be overcome?
There is no doubt that people sleep better and with fewer interruptions when they are in a quiet environment. During sleep studies, we can very clearly see how a door slam or some other environmental building noise causes disruptions in brain wave patterns, potentially leading to an awakening. The same thing can happen at home because of the neighborhood teenage rock band , the dog across the street barking at two in the morning, or your bed partner snoring the night away.
Now, not everyone is sensitive to these types of noises. Everyone knows someone who can "sleep through a hurricane". I even have one patient who can only fall asleep literally while having a war movie play in the background. The reality, though, is that most people do better in a quiet environment—some people who are very sensitive require the silence of a mausoleum. Otherwise, they're awake all night.
Anyone who perceives themselves as a sensitive sleeper needs to think about night time ambient noise when choosing a place of residence. If you're already living somewhere, or have no choice in your address, here are some tips I've seen work for my patients over the years:
- Think about where noises and disruptions are coming from and try to address them. You'd be surprised how many can be fixed.
- Consider having double pane windows installed in the sleeping areas. In addition to saving on your heating and air conditioning, these really do dramatically decrease the amount of outside noise they allow inside.
- Consider adding on an extra layer of dry wall to the bedrooms. This extra insulation will also decrease the noise coming into your bedroom.
- If it's snoring from your bed partner that's keeping you up, you're suffering needlessly. Get them to see a sleep specialist. Excellent treatments are available for snoring and sleep apnea.
- Although it doesn't sound very romantic, I have scores of happily married patients who sleep in separate bedrooms. If you're a very light sleeper, and any sound or movement from your bed partner wakes you up, this may be something to consider. Although this isn't an option I typically recommend, it does seem to work for a lot of people out there. A less drastic alternative, one I have occasionally recommended, is to have separate mattresses in the same bedroom.
- If noises are coming from a next door neighbor, do the unthinkable... talk to them. Most people really do want to be good neighbors, and they'll probably be embarrassed that something they've been doing has been a bother to you.
- Ear plugs work for some patients who don't mind them, but personally I'm not a big fan.
- For patients who are bothered by lights, there are very effective "darkening" shades that block virtually all light coming in from the outside. If you're a shift worker, and the day is your night, these could be especially helpful for you.
Remember, for most problems, there are reasonable solutions. Often times, it only takes some common sense. If you're not making progress solving these issues on your own, speak to your physician and/or seek out a sleep specialist. Most sleep doctors have literally seen and heard it all and will probably have some useful advice for the most common and even uncommon problems.
Roy Artal, M.D. F.C.C.P., is a board-certified sleep medicine specialist and medical director of Tower Sleep Medicine in Los Angeles. Raised in L.A., Dr. Artal received his undergraduate degree with honors from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1991, where he was the recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Achievement Award, and his medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine (UCLA) in 1995. Following medical school, Dr. Artal completed his Internal Medicine Residency training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and his Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship training at the Cedars-Sinai-UCLA Combined Fellowship Program, serving as the Chief Fellow during his senior year. He is double board certified in sleep medicine by the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine, is a Clinical Instructor of Medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and is the Medical Director of Tower Sleep Medicine, a sleep disorders center in Los Angeles. Dr. Artal has been in private practice in Southern California since 2001.
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