Noise disrupts sleep, and that’s bad for health

Photo credit: Ivan Oboleninov

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In a recently-published editorial, Mathias Basner, one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of noise on sleep, discusses how noise disrupting sleep leads to long-term health consequences. As Basner notes, it has long been known that environmental noise exposure is associated with multiple adverse non-auditory health effects, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative disease. But what’s new, as Basner describes in his editorial, is the emphasis that nighttime noise exposure causing sleep disruption is likely is the important factor, not total or daytime noise exposure.

My interest is a safe noise exposure level to prevent auditory disorders. So, I am familiar with literature about the non-auditory health effects of noise exposure but not at a detailed level. I learned that humans habituate to noise, but still react to individual noise events even after years-long exposure. Basner found that, “compared to cortical arousals, autonomic arousals habituate to a much lesser degree with likely implications for long-term health consequences.”

Basner also cites my paper on the new definition of noise: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound. This new definition, adopted by the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise last year, acknowledges the harmful health effects of both wanted and unwanted noise exposure — something not considered by the obsolete definition: noise is unwanted sound.

We hope Basner’s editorial and the continued stream of publications looking into the adverse health effects of noise will eventually lead to a quieter, healthier and better world for all.

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