City life can be amazing. There’s so much to do, so much to see – endless places to explore and restaurants to try. There’s nothing quite like the opportunity that living in a city gives you. However, we all know that it comes with a major trade off. Getting to sleep in a noisy city apartment can be a real challenge, especially on weekend evenings.
Take it from me. Currently in London (UK), I live in an apartment near a police station (plenty of sirens) and quite close to a restaurant area. It’s a big change from the quieter country life I grew up in.
To sleep in a noisy city, do what you can to minimize the noise. Get a good set of ear plugs (see our guide), close the window if you can, and consider a white noise generator so you can focus on that instead. Make sure the room is as dark and cool as you can make it, and follow a night-time routine to get sleepy.
Why is it so hard to sleep in a noisy city?
Sleep is extremely important to our well-being. A good sleep means good health, ability to focus, and better happiness overall. However, it’s so easy for sleepiness to be ruined by a sudden high-pitched police alarm or the cheers of drunken revelers. The reason this is such an issue is that, unlike a constant noise, or brains just can’t get used to sudden volume spikes. Every sudden noise could be a danger, which leaves us permanently on alert and unable to relax. After all, sleep is when we’re most defenseless, so our brain really doesn’t want to ‘switch off’ when there’s what seems like potential danger.
Obviously, one of the first steps to sleeping in noise is getting a great pair of ear plugs. If you’re someone who has trouble sleeping with them in, I’ve written a guide on how to sleep with ear plugs – including tips on the various types of ear plugs and what type might work best for you.
Another note would be to make sure any windows are closed to minimize the noise from outside. Now, if you’re reading this on a hot summer night, we obviously have a bit of a situation. If you’re stuck between a noisy apartment or a hot one, I’d recommend you take the hit and leave the window open. While getting to sleep in noise is hard, it’s normally easy enough to stay sleepy once you finally get there. Heat, however, is a much tougher beast to tackle. (We’ve got an article on sleeping in heat, just in case you need it).
Be wary of city lights
While it may not be noise related, it’s important that you give yourself the best chance at getting to sleep you can. There’s a ‘trifecta’ for sleeping. These are darkness, silence, and coolness. While a city definitely doesn’t help with silence, we can focus more on the other two. I’ve always found with noise that, once you are already asleep, if a noise wakes you up you’re normally too sleepy to really care. It’s easy enough to go back to sleeping again. (Unless we’re talking a seriously crazy, alarming noise).
Darkness is one of the key things for getting a good sleep. Being surrounded by tons of electric city lights means that outside is never truly dark, making it pretty tricky to get a dark room for yourself. To solve this, I really recommend getting a good eye mask. They may seem pretty silly at first, but they make all the difference in the world. They’re the ideal ‘quick-fix’ for quite a bright room. Or, if you’re huge on getting the best sleep possible, get a good pair of black-out curtains or blinds. These are even better than an eye-mask because of the benefits of the whole room being dark. This gives your brain more time to adjust to it, removes the need to sleep with something strapped onto your head, and means you won’t be woken up if the mask slides off in the night.
Whichever the case, a dark room makes for better sleep, which will also help ignore the city noise.
White noise comes to the rescue
One key tactic that you can do is incorporate white noise to replace, or at least suppress city noise.
Let me run through a quick scenario with you:
You’re trying to fall asleep in a silent room. You’re just drifting off to sleep, and suddenly HOOOOOOONK. HOOONK HONK HONK – there’s a big Mexican standoff happening in the street outside. This pierces through the silence in the room, and sets alarm bells ringing in your brain.
White noise can help this. Let’s say that the car horn is a 70 decibel sound. If you’re lying in almost complete silence, maybe with a little wind outside, that’s around 20 decibels. That sudden 50 decibel jump is HUGE, and will totally spring you awake. Instead, if you have a white noise generator or are playing white noise from your speakers/laptop, this could be a nice, continuous sound at around 50 decibels (just about the level of normal conversation). Suddenly, that same 70 decibel car noise is only a 20 decibel jump. It’s much less noticeable, and so much less likely to shock you into being jolted awake.
If you want to try it out, a free white noise website I like is Noisli. If you want a dedicated white noise generator, there’s plenty of great ones on Amazon.
Not sure what white noise is? Basically, it just means a noise that is continuous and stable. These can be things like the sound of waves, wind, or even a fan. They are noises which your brain can easily get used to and ‘tune out’ because they are repetetive – a perfect way of covering up any other noises and giving yourself something relaxing to focus on.
Use a good night-time routine
A real challenge of city life is that it can never really feel like ‘bed-time’. When the lights are still on and people are still out partying or driving around, it can be hard to relax and feel yourself wanting to go to bed.
The absolute best solution to this is to cultivate a stable night-time routine. Go through the same motions before bed. This is up to you – just make sure it’s a nice routine of things that relax you. Personally, if I want to ensure an incredible sleep, I’ll do the following: tidy up the apartment, take a warm bath/shower, brush my teeth, prepare some apple cider & honey tea (it’s magic, trust me), and climb into bed with a great book.
What a night-time routine does is tells your body ‘okay, we’re getting ready to sleep now’. Since we can’t talk to our body using words, we need to use actions. Following this routine primes it to rest, and makes it so easy to get off to sleep.
Three key rules I recommend:
- Don’t involve screens close to bed. Digital screens are way too bright and have strong blue colors, both of which make us feel super awake. Do your best to avoid screens an hour before sleeping.
- Try to sleep at the same time every night. Just like the routine, this lets you get so used to sleeping at the same time. It becomes almost automatic. I know it’s never possible all the time, but try to start going through a routine around the same time nightly.
- If you’re tossing and turning, get out of bed. Trying to lie there with your brain going a hundred miles an hour and not being able to sleep does not help. The best thing to do is to get up and do something else. I’m not saying watch TV (that’s a screen), but go read a book on the couch. The reason is that bed should be for sleeping (or a certain other activity). Climbing into bed is one of the best things for relaxing yourself, so get back up and do something else until you feel sleepy. When that happens, climb back into that cosy bed and you’ll be drifting off to sleep with your head on the pillow in no time.
Getting used to the city
If you’ve looked for an article like this one because you’ve just moved to the city and are having trouble sleeping, don’t worry too much. A change of sleeping environments can be hard to get used to – I know it definitely took me a while. Humans can get used to sleeping in some crazy environments, it just takes a little while to get used to them (I’m sure you can think of some friends who can sleep just about anywhere!). So if you’re fresh to the city, just give it some time and eventually you should be able to get used to the noises of city life without them suddenly awakening you.
Embracing the City Life
Similarly, when it comes to things like this, mentality can play quite a big role in how much it affects you. If you’re reading this because you find yourself lying in bed, thinking “oh my god, I can’t stand these damn city noises anymore, if they don’t shut the f**k up I’m going to start a guerrilla war against them” – then not only are you dealing with noise, but frustration and anger, too. Ever tried to sleep angry? It never quite works.
Look, there’s probably a reason you’re in the city. Maybe you’re visiting on a trip. Maybe you’ve moved here from a quieter place to seek adventure or build your career. Whichever the case, embrace the noises as part of this journey. It’s all part of the city package. The drunken cheers and noises are because you live in an exciting place with lots going on. The police sirens are of a great emergency services force out looking after people. You are hearing these noises because you’re in a big city with lots going on and tons of great opportunities out there for you!