Tuesday, June 8, 2010

All types of traffic noise likely to disturb sleep, harm morning work performance

Buyers beware: living in a home near the airport, a busy road or train tracks will likely translate to a lot of groggy mornings at the office. An abstract presented Tuesday at SLEEP 2010 in San Antonio exposes the tolls of sleeping in an environment with a lot of nighttime noise.

The study found subjects exposed to recorded traffic noise while sleeping reacted slower during a psychomotor vigilance task the next morning. Reaction times tended to slow when the researchers increased the frequency or volume of the noise.

The sound of passing trains most often caused subjects to wake, followed by auto traffic and airplane noise. Each type of noise caused about the same level of impairment the following morning. Combining the three kinds of noise did not lead to worse symptoms.

The lead author of the study said the risk of being awoken by nighttime noise is highest among those who are susceptible to sleep disturbances, including children, shift workers, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions.

72 study subjects slept in a laboratory as recorded traffic noises from airplanes, cars and trains played for 11 consecutive nights. Sleeping participants heard 40 to 120 sounds in any combination or volume per night. After waking up the subjects completed a psychomotor vigilance task, memory search task and unstable tracking task to measure neurobehavioral performance.

Traffic noises are one of the many causes of the form of insomnia called “environmental sleep disorder.” A common solution is drowning out the traffic sounds with white noise, produced by a fan or sound machine.

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