cartoon of man in bed frustrating from car noise waking him up

12 things worth a try to stop car noise from waking you up

By Jason Wooden, PhD | July 28, 2021

Car noise waking you up may not be your only sleep issue since nuissance noise can set off the body’s stress response, make it harder to fall asleep, and arouse you out of deep sleep even if you don’t wake up.

To protect your sleep , you can try ear plugs, white noise, music, noise canceling headphones, rearranging your bedroom, sound proofing, and various other remedies.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of and car noise is an issue for your sleep, it may be worth moving especially if it’s taken a major toll on your sleep and happiness.

What’s more annoying than car noise waking you up?

Whether it’s a neighbor’s idling car or other intruding neighborhood sounds, it’s really frustrating to have your slumber interrupted.

Losing out on sleep can leave you dragging and feeling miserable, especially if car noise wakes you up WAY too early.

With over 280 million registered vehicles in the US and over a billion worldwide, car noise is bound to be an issue for more than a few people.

Whether it’s a honking horn, the dreaded car alarm, or a noisy idling engine, it’s all the same to your sleep.  There’s also the people with supped up engines, a noisy muffler, or loud music pumping out of their car.

We all expect some amount of everyday noise, right?

However, when it’s so loud it’s shaking your wall or it’s pass reasonable hours that’s a different thing.

And if you’re a light sleeper like me, it can be a major issue.

For some, they may begin to dread going home if it becomes a regular occurrence.

Regardless of whether you’re trying to sleep at night or during the day because you work night shift, you really need to do something.

We pay a big price when we don’t get the sleep we need.  Besides feeling miserable and dragging throughout the day, sleep-deprived people don’t think as clearly, don’t cope as well, and perform more poorly at school or work.

They’re also more at risk for a myriad of health issues, anxiety, and depression.

Let’s take a look at the surprising ways intruding noise can mess with your sleep and what you can do to keep car noise from waking you up.

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The surprising ways car noise can ruin your sleep

Did you know car noise waking you up may not be the only issue for your sleep?  Unfortunately, intruding noise can wreck your sleep in different ways.

Yes, it can wake you up during the night which can lead to fragmented sleep which is less refreshing.

It can also make it harder to fall back to sleep.  What’s worse, as it keeps happening you get more frustrated which can actually make it even tougher to transition to sleep.

As you get more and more stressed out, your body may turn on the fight-or-flight response and pump out stress hormones designed to get you in a heightened state of arousal.  If you’re not careful, you can get into a downward spiral.

But wait, there’s more…

Guess what? Even if doesn’t wake you up, sounds in your sleep environment can affect how well you sleep.  They can arouse you out of deep sleep into a light sleep.

And if you’re missing out on deep sleep, you’re not getting the really restful sleep where the body replenishes and restores itself.  It may also set off the body’s stress response, all while you’re asleep.

So, those are all of the things intruding car noise can do to you – it’s harder to fall asleep, more night time wakeups, more stress, and less deep restful sleep.

Car noise can affect other things besides your sleep

Okay, this article is mainly focused on car noise waking you up.  However, you should know that there are other downsides from living and sleeping in a noisy environment.

Whether it’s during the day or at night, we’re learning a lot more about what environmental noise does to us over the long-term, especially if it’s constant.

According to the World Health Organization, environmental noise is only second to air pollution in the impact it has on health.

I’ve already mentioned how it can create stress and trigger the body to react which can get your heart racing and elevate your blood pressure.  In fact, it’s been estimated that in the European Union around 200,000 suffer from cardiovascular disease linked to traffic noise.

And for people living on streets with a noise level above 65-70 decibels, the average risk of heart disease is 20 percent higher than for people living in quieter streets

Research has also shown that people living near airports or busy roads experience more headaches, take more sleeping pills and sedatives, are more prone to minor accidents, and are more likely to seek psychiatric treatment.

So, depending on how much car noise you’re dealing with, poor sleep may not be the only price you’re paying.

Now, it’s time to look at what you can do about it.

12 things worth a try to keep car noise from waking you up

To be honest, you likely have very little control over the car noise from your next door neighbor or surrounding neighborhood.

So, let’s look at some practical things you can do to keep car noise from waking you up.

We’re going to focus on things in your immediate control, your sleep environment.

Obviously, what you do will depend on your exact situation.

Some of the remedies on the list are quick or short-term fixes.  Others will require some work or investment.

And you’ll likely need to mix and match depending on the specific issues you’re up against.  Start with the easiest remedies for you and continue tweaking things until you figure out what’s going to create the most quiet environment for you.

photo of ear plugs is a simple remedy for car noise waking you up

1) Earplugs

Old fashion, yes. Simple, affordable, and just may do the trick. Depending on your preference, you can try wax, silicone, and foam earplugs.

Some ear plug options

photo of white noise machine

2) White noise machine (sound masking)

White noise is what you get when you combine all the hearable sound frequencies altogether, similar to how white light contains all the colors of the light spectrum together.

The way white noise helps sleep is by reducing the difference between regular background noise in your environment and sounds such as a door slamming that can arouse you out of sleep.

So, if you have trouble falling asleep or you’re easily awakened by intruding sounds, white noise will keep your sound environment constant.

Learn more:
What Is White Noise? (National Sleep Foundation)
Some white noise machine options

photo of house fan which can be used to mask for car noise waking you up

3) Turn on a house fan or air conditioner

Running a house fan or air conditioner works the same way a white noise machine does.  They produce consistent ambient noise to drown out intruding sounds.

They also have the added benefits of circulating air, providing cool air, and air filtering.

More:
Picking the best fan for white noise

photo of musician playing the cello

4) Music

Music can help mask intruding noises.  In fact, it’s been shown in studies to help people fall asleep faster and improve their sleep quality. 

The right music can help relax the body and mind to aid the transition to sleep.

Studies have also shown music can directly affect the stress response in the body and lead to the release of feel good chemicals in the brain.

What to look for:
-Try lite music (classical, jazz, folk, or “new age”)
-Music that’s slow and stable rhythm (60 beats / minutes) with low tones
-Avoid music that overly excites or is loud enough to keep you awake

photo of ocean waves

5) Nature sound tracks

Many people find that the sound of rain, ocean waves, and other natural sounds help them fall asleep. 

You can find a variety of sound tracks online for purchase, on phone apps, or on sites like YouTube.  Many combine nature sounds with peaceful music.

photo of noise cancelling headphones for car noise waking you up

6) Noise canceling headphones

These headphones are designed to block out ambient sounds.  They have microphones that sample the ambient sounds and generate sound waves of the opposite frequency to cancel them out.

photo of person walking for exercise

7) Exercise

Exercise helps sleep in a variety of ways.  It physically tires you out, helps you fall asleep more quickly, and promotes deep sleep.

cartoon drawing of lady sleeping in bedroom

8) Move your bed

If the car noise is coming through a wall or window and waking you up, try moving your bed to a different spot in the room.

photo of lady sleeping on couch

9) Sleep in a different room

This could make a difference if noise is coming from one side of your apartment or home.  Even if it’s just a temporary relocation, it might help you weather the storm on the worst nights.

photo of full wall book case being used to insulate from for car noise waking you up

10) Rearrange your furniture

Did you know that the furniture in your room can help insulate a room from noise?

Try moving bookcases and other heavy furniture against a wall.  Add more furniture to minimize echoes.

photo of heavy curtains to keep car noise from waking you up

11) Soundproof your bedroom as much as possible

There are plenty of things you can do to sound proof a room, some simple and some more involved:
– wall quilts and art pieces for the wall
– stripping around the door edge to prevent sounds leaking through
– sound-reducing curtains for the windows

photo of bedroom window that need sound insulation to keep car noise from waking you up

12) High tech sound proofing

You can level up the noise protection in your room materials block noise:
noise reduction window inserts
soundproof wall paper, foam paneling, or acoustic panels to the wall
acoustic dampening paint on the exterior wall

Learn more:
Sound proofing with noise reduction inserts (video)
Does sound proofing paint really work? (Repaintnow.com)

Addressing car noise with a neighbor

If the car noise waking you up is from a neighbor, it might worth a chat if you’re on good terms.

Is it a recurring car alarm, revving the engine, or an old car that’s a bit on the noisy side?

Depending on the issue and their situation, they may be limited in what they can do about.

Nonetheless, it’s important to know your rights.  You can research your local noise ordinance (you can check with your city and police department).

 

Depending on your situation, your options are to:

Talk to your neighbor

They might not realize how big of an issue is for you.  Now, if they’re aware and just don’t care, than that’s a different situation and you’re in a different ball game.

However, it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt and politely approaching them.

A couple tips:

  • approach them at a convenient and courteous time
  • be as courteous and honest as possible
  • avoid confronting them in anger as this may actually make things worse

Talk to a landlord or on-site manager

If you live in an apartment or condo complex, you can ask for help from the manager.  Likewise, if you’re renting from a landlord.

If you’re a home owner in a planned covenant community, check with your home owner’s association.  You may not be the only one bothered by the noise.

File a noise complaint

If you’ve struck out with everything else, you can try filing a noise complaint with your local municipality.  This may be a safer way to go if you’re being met with hostility.

Contact law enforcement

This is another last resort option.  If you call the police, be sure not to use the emergency 911 number.  Make sure to contact them while the noise is happening.

If car noise is still waking you up, it may be time to move…

This is especially true if the noise and loss of sleep is really taking a toll on your sleep and health.

If it’s ruining your nights and days…

If you’ve begun to dread coming home…

It may be time to go.

Obviously, this is not an option for everyone.

It may be easier to move if you’re in an apartment and you’re not attached to the area you live in.

It’s harder if you can afford something else, locked into a mortgage, or need to stay put because of other considerations.

Nonetheless, if it’s seriously affecting your sleep and life it’s worth considering.

Other things that can make it easier to sleep

As you’re figuring out the best ways to keep car noise from waking you up, you don’t want anything else to make your quest for sleep even harder.

Avoid getting over stressed

As I mentioned earlier, worrying too much about things can make it hard to fall asleep.  Stress and anxiety are major causes of insomnia.

That makes it important to find some relaxing activities to do on a rough night.  You can try relaxation exercises, light music, or quiet music.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Car noise may not be the only sleep issue you’re dealing with.  Unfortunately, there’s a long list of things that affect sleep.

That makes it important that your everyday habits are the ones that support quality sleep.  Bad sleep hygiene can sabotage the other things you do to improve your sleep.

For better sleep hygiene, you should:

  • keep consistent wake up & sleep times
  • avoid naps
  • exercise during the day
  • avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
  • maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • avoid using TVs, laptops, or other electronics before sleep
  • keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing

Get a check up

It’s important to see a doctor, especially if your insomnia becomes a long-term problem.

Too many people aren’t aware how many other medical issues can cause problems or worsen sleep.  This includes things like chronic pain, heartburn, cancer, dementia, and asthma.

You may also be living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Lastly, there’s the link between sleep and depression.  Insomnia increases your risk for depression and depressed people find it harder to sleep.

If you’re not careful, you can get into a downward spiral.  If you’re really feeling down because of your situation, it’s important to get help.

Sources:

1. “US vehicle registration statistics”, Hedgescompany.com

2. “Motor vehicle”, Wikipedia

3. “How Noise Can Affect Your Sleep Satisfaction”, sleepfoundation.org

4. “Vehicle noise”, European Federation for Transport and Environment website

5. “Health effects of environmental noise pollution”, Australian Academy of Science website

6. Can music improve sleep quality in adults with primary insomnia?  A systematic review and network meta-analysis.  International Journal of Nursing Studies, 2018, volume 77, pages 189-196.

7. The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response.  PLOS ONE, 2013, volume 8, issue 8, e70156.

8. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music.  Nature Neuroscience, 2011, volume 14, pages 257–262.

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