How often have you found yourself on the verge of sleep only to find yourself jolted awake by a noise outside or in the middle of a phone call only to have a siren screaming down the street, right through your windows and into what it seems like is straight to your “I was thinking here” center of the brain? Noise and the levels of noise we tolerate in a given day have the very real effect of not only impacting our long-term capacity to hear sound but also to drain us of energy, concentration and focus. Perhaps one day in the future we’ll be able to turn down the volume of the noise around us but for now I thought we’d explore some methods we can use to both control the noise we experience and perhaps even to eliminate it.

In one study done at St. Luke’s Hospital in NYC it was found that on a particular unit, neuroscience, patient satisfaction rates were particularly low due in large part to the level of noise on the unit. After studying the situation the hospital came up with some reasonable solutions, implemented those changes and satisfaction rates went up – a lot. What did they do? Simple things in some cases such as making sure all case discussions happened at the nursing station rather than in hallways outside of patient doors and removing rubber transitions between tile and carpeted floor (squeaking was the problem with those). The hospital also provided sleep masks and earplugs for patients, which resulted in better sleep for patients who were clearly there to get better to begin with.

We can apply these lessons to our environments as well. Banging doors, tiled floors and loud conversations in the hallway all have the impact of disrupting us as well as those around us. Just being plain old mindful in these cases is helpful. Putting down carpeting with padding underneath is helpful in ‘deadening’ sounds around us. Since sound travels through gaps in anything it can find if possible close as many of the gaps as possible. In a home this might mean airtight windows and added fiberglass insulation. In the office it might mean ensuring drop down ceilings have insulation not only between walls but also on top of the tile, in the gap between the top of the tile and the actual ceiling.

If sound between walls is a problem (and its not a drop down ceiling situation) adding mass next to the offending wall can be helpful. Placing a bookcase, a bank of cabinets or something heavy is a good way to block the sound. Why did I exclude drop down ceilings? Because after a great deal of research and talking to acoustic experts I learned that sheetrock is reasonably good at muffling and blocking sound. Where drop down ceilings are used however, the Sheetrock rarely extends all the way to the tippy top of the ceiling, leaving a space where not only the duct work travels but sounds do too!

Heavy drapes and curtains work well too to dampen street noise, especially in bedrooms and areas where you’re watching TV. If you have to raise the volume up on the TV to drown out the sound of the neighbors or the noise of kids playing outside, you’re only creating an ever escalation of noise and sound. Soundproofing, if possible, places like a woodshop or laundry area are also tremendously helpful. Newer appliances, especially dishwashers, have come a long way in their noise levels to the point where in some cases its hard to know if they are even on and working unless you hear the gurgle in the drain of the sink.

One more extra expensive and one very inexpensive suggestion; if you can afford it or are replacing your windows to begin with consider getting soundproof windows and if that’s out of your budget invest in really comfy earplugs (I like Mac’s earplugs since they are squishy and effective!)

Here’s to improving the quality of your day by reducing the noise around you!