What sounds are keeping you awake at night?


BBC Radio 4’s Today programme had the neat idea of asking people to tweet about sounds that were keeping listeners awake during the sultry nights, as people left bedroom windows open to deal with the heat. On the BBC website you can listen to their audio piece about what people tweeted with #nightsounds.
I’ve been writing some tools to data mine Twitter because I want to get some final year acoustic engineering students looking at tweets for their project. So I thought I’d try a few of the tools out. Below is a tag cloud based on the 126 tweets I downloaded which contain #nightsounds.

Tag cloud of #nightsound tweets
Tag cloud of #nightsound tweets

Animal calls were by far the most common sound mentioned, with 40% of tweets featuring foxes, birds, badgers etc. The UK National Noise Attitude Survey from 1999/2000 asked over 5,000 people about the sounds they could hear and whether the noises bothered them. 31% of respondents mentioned hearing animals at anytime, with 62% of the time the animal calls being heard at night. Only 5% of people were bothered by animal noise (at anytime of the day). For the #nightsound tweets, animal calls were viewed negatively in 15% of the tweets, e.g. “@bbcr4today sodding seagulls so noisy that i can’t sleep with the window open #nightsounds”
The only other sound mentioned in more than 1 in 10 tweets was adult voices, which featured in 13% of the tweets with 5% being negative about hearing the sound. The UK National Noise Attitude Survey  had 70% of respondents mentioning adult and teenager voices, 36% of the time at night with 37% of people being bothered by voices at anytime of the day.
The #nightsounds database is too small to draw any definite conclusions, but I think it shows we could mine twitter more to look at social attitudes to noise. Does that sound reasonable? Please comment below.

How can I deal with night noise?

If noise is keeping you awake at night in the heatwave and you can’t face closing the windows, here are a few suggestions:

  • Is there another room which is either north-facing and cooler (so you can close the windows) or doesn’t have noise outside? Research has shown that people’s annoyance with noise decreases if one part of their house overlooks a quieter street.
  • Ear plugs. I prefer the squidgy foam earplugs you have to roll up and insert. If you properly fit these, and it takes a bit of practice, these can reduce sound by about 20–30 decibels.
  • Play some quiet background hiss to hide the noise from outside. You can get apps for this, or download mp3s, or just detune an analogue radio. Your ears get used to the constant gentle hiss and tunes it out. The hiss stops the ears noticing transient sounds like drunks being sick or car doors slamming which would otherwise wake you up.

Any other tactics for dealing with noise on sultry nights? Please comment below.

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0 responses to “What sounds are keeping you awake at night?”

  1. The sound of an electric fan, especially the oscillating variety, has a marvellous masking effect for external noise. It can also provide a cooling effect depending on where it draws it’s air from.

  2. Hi Trevor, thanks for the article. A good nights sleep is crucial for our health and well being to function well on a daily basis. Sleep can keep your heart healthy, aid in repairing the body when unwell, help reduce stress, and ward off depression! The downside of not getting enough sleep can cause poor concentration/memory, irritability, stress, illness, loss of libido, enhance ageing, weight gain and many other negative attributes. We hear from people who have trouble sleeping due to most of the noises you’ve highlighted & more. Some of the number one sleep killers are snoring & tinnitus. Our customers have been telling us for years that our noise masking machines are there sanity! You shouldn’t have to suffer “without silence”

  3. Damn seagulls! They never really seem to stop but do get much louder at about 4am when huge clouds of 200+ fly over our urban street. Many nest on neighbours’ roofs and even if we could do something about those on our own roof, there would still be hundreds living here. Bedsit land. Also, black bin bags are ripped open whether they contain food or not, within minutes of putting out. Spikes do not work on these aerial rats. They build nests between the spikes.

  4. T is for Tinnitus : following concussion four months ago this high pitched, ceaseless ‘sound ‘ has eliminated silence or near silence. Nocturnal also, of course. I intend to trial a masking sound matched to the apparent pitch – once the pitch can be determined.

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