Soundproofing just my bed area?
April 3, 2014 10:15 PM   Subscribe

I don't need to soundproof an entire room, just where I sleep. Basically, I want to construct a dark quiet box with the bottom side just big enough for my mattress.

I've done some searching online but everything I've found so far has been about soundproofing entire rooms. Also, most advice has been about keeping sound in (e.g., band practice area), whereas I want to keep sound out -- not sure if that makes a difference in the materials or techniques?

I know that air quality would be a concern in a small enclosed space so I figure I'll include a hole to insert the output side of my air filter to keep me supplied with fresh air and also provide some white noise.

I don't want to spend a fortune, but I might be able to afford to put some of the more expensive materials on just the ceiling side (where most of the noise is coming from) if that would work.

Ideas? Thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
In college, I built a dorm room loft structure but instead of putting the bed on top, I put it underneath.

You could use a tension-style shower curtain rod and some acoustic sound dampening curtains for the sides.
posted by Ostara at 10:21 PM on April 3, 2014

Soundproofing is bidirectional. So in or out doesn't matter. What does matter is what kind of noise you're trying to block. Specifically how bassy is it?
posted by aubilenon at 10:22 PM on April 3, 2014

Specifically how bassy is it?

I don't know how to quantify this?

The noise I'm dealing with from above is heavy people and small dogs walking around on creaky floors in an old house, loud phone conversations, and a loud TV. The TV is an old TV without any special sound system.

The noise I'm dealing with from two sides is barking dogs, traffic, and a washer/dryer.

I'm in the basement so there's no noise from below or the other two sides (other than perhaps vibrations traveling through the structure from the heavy footsteps?).

What do you think? Are those noises relatively bassy or not?
posted by Jacqueline at 10:31 PM on April 3, 2014

By far the easiest and most effective thing to do will be to make the area you want to soundproof as small as possible. I suggest specifically soundproofing just the openings into your ear canals, preferably with some sort of earplug. It will be cheap, easy, and effective. Trying to make a small soundproof box will be ineffective and uncomfortable!
posted by Justinian at 10:36 PM on April 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

Earplugs hurt. A lot. I wake up feeling like I'm being stabbed in my ear canals. :( The ones that don't hurt just fall out. I've tried at least half a dozen different kinds and have given up on earplugs.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:39 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Similar to Ostara, I had bunk beds in college. I slept in the bottom bunk with heavy curtains all around. Whatever soundproofing materials you decide on, I can recommend a bunk bed as a frame for it.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:13 PM on April 3, 2014

I've been pondering more or less this same question for the last decade; it's good to see someone else thinking along the same lines. I've found ear plugs to be fairly ineffective; they don't block out bass very well, and they block out lots of normal white noise, which makes sudden loud sounds (e.g. barking, footfalls) all the more jarring.

Short of buying a sensory deprivation chamber like Daredevil, my recommendations would be:

1) Buy a pair of gun-range ear-protectors. They're about $20, and it is like wearing a wonderful fishbowl of silence. They're great for blocking out all sound until you can get to sleep. When they are new they are a bit too tight for prolonged wear, so you will want to stretch them out for a few minutes (e.g. grab both sides and pull them as far out as they will go) before wearing them long term.

2) Sleep as close as possible to a heavy duty white noise generator. If you have an air-conditioner/heater, you can turn on its fan over night in order to make a lot of white noise. Bathroom fans/ventilators can also work for this, though I've found some of them have too much of a hard rattle for me to really relax to. If you have sufficient white noise, it can drown out a lot of problems.
posted by Balna Watya at 11:17 PM on April 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a basement dweller who has issues with footsteps from heavy people pets in the room above I sympathize. I looked into soundproofing ceilings and found it was pretty expensive, but we had really good results from a white noise setup.

Here's what you do. Buy a portable speaker with Bluetooth -- they sell these everywhere starting around $30 -- and set it up just above your head, pointing down. Get a white noise app on your smartphone and set it running. There are lots of cool apps that let you try out different types of sounds. We use brown noise mixed with some very soft cicadas, because they remind my partner of the south of France where she grew up... anyway this doesn't block out the sound, but it backgrounds it. You learn to focus on the foreground sound which is steady and consistent and lets you relax and sleep. Give it a try before you do anything drastic.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:19 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have one of these, I plug it into my phone with a white noise app, it is *awesome*. It takes a bit of getting used to sleeping with a thing on your face, but it blocks sound and light. Distant white noise never did enough for me.
posted by HermitDog at 11:21 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Used to work with guys in server side IT and many of them kept odd hours. Whether it was the job environment or trade secret everybody slept with a bedside box fan on. Takes a few nights to adapt but then it also serves as a cue to go to sleep. Downside is you're screwed when you travel. This wasn't in a northern climate though, dunno what yanks do.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 1:26 AM on April 4, 2014

This white noise generator is fantastic.

I bought it to replace the Dohm II I had, but it's so much better than I could have expected. It's loud, it has 10 different fan noises and 10 different white noises (more like TV static, less like a motor) and did I mention it's loud?

It may not be able to block out some of the more vexing bass, but it may be worth a shot.

The best part? You're not screwed when you travel like you are with a fan. It's really small for how much sound it puts out, and if you can get used to it, it's really great.
posted by disillusioned at 1:52 AM on April 4, 2014

Here's another really good white noise generator.

You'd probably spend $200 on materials to build the box, that's kind of a lot of wood, and heavy, and hard to make the bed or change the sheets, and hot in the summer, and not a super pleasant place--and it might not work. Why not buy four white noise generators, crank 'em loud, and place them in four different directions, surrounding the bed? Maybe coupled with sound proofing panels on the ceiling or exterior walls or door?

I am a big fan of white noise and dead silence when sleeping, and I also love the big old box fans. Those can sound like a jet plane taking off, and in a basement it's nice to move air around.

Also, something I know zero about but which might kill two birds with one stone: dehumidifier. I'm not sure how loud those are, but considering you're in a basement, pulling some moisture out might be a good thing to do and it seems like something that might make a good white noise sound. I'm basing this on the highly scientific line of thinking that humidifiers make good white noise generators, therefore dehumidifiers must make good white noise generators, which sounds pretty dumb, even as I'm typing it, but it might be good to look into.

For the amount you'd wind up spending on the box, you could try a bunch of solutions on top of each other that would probably be more pleasant in the end.

Anyway, if you really want to do it you could do it as a floor to ceiling box (my original mental picture was like a refrigerator box sized thing, or, horrors, a coffin) using false walls like these pictures illustrate.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:03 AM on April 4, 2014

i built something like this in the past. I used VERY heavy velvet theater curtains on 5 sides of the bed, and had the bed elevated so that the actual sleeping capsule was like a little bunk. Noise wasn't the reason i did it, but it was pretty impressive how much sound it blocked out.

It was hot, in the summer VERY hot, at times stinky due to lack of air circulation(if say, i woke up having worked until 3am not showering before i slept to an 85 degree day, which meant >100 in my room with my AC off), and had other issues. I also smacked my head on it more than a few times half-awake trying to stand up, and it was awkward any time someone who wasn't me staid over in the bed. I tried a solution like you proposed to introduce new air and it just made it uncomfortable since it was blowing cold air on one part of me while i was trying to sleep.(and i'm a tinkery, engineering type. i played with this a bit)

comparatively, i've slept like a blacked out baby with an AC, fan, or loud workstation/desktop PC cranking away on something right near my bed through pretty much everything. And i'd say i'm about a totally average 5/10 on a scale of 1 being pin drop wakes you up light sleeper to 10 being the guy you can kick in the head and he doesn't wake up.

Basically, i think this quietbox thing is a dumb idea having done it. In my current room i ordered some decent looking mid-priced brandless blackout curtains from amazon, and run a small fan if i want to create some noise to block out my stupid party bro neighbors.

The best unit i ever had for this was actually a portable AC. Even when it was just in fan mode, it created a very broadband amount of noise that was effective at drowning out almost anything. I slept through my doofy roommates demoing their new tracks on the PA system cranked to 9 at 9:30am. Second best was a vornado brand fan that had a rheostat control for the speed, not just fixed settings. You could smoothly adjust it until it was just loud enough to drown everything out then pass out. No just setting it to BWAAAAA and being annoyed by it when you woke up.

Once you have darkness achieved, You just want to raise the noise floor high enough, and get used to that noise floor so that the differential between it and the spikes of noise that bother you is too low to startle you while falling asleep, or wake you. And i think the amount you'd need to raise that floor to accomplish this is lower than you'd think.
posted by emptythought at 4:04 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're going to spend money on sound isolation or white noise machines, why not spend $75 on custom molded in ear plugs from an audiologist? They run around $75 universally and then you are guaranteed a great comfy fit and 26-30dB of noise reduction which is FAR FAR more than anything else you could construct.

Seriously if white noise/meditative approaches don't work this is the simplest best answer.
posted by chasles at 4:22 AM on April 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Have you tried Mack's Silicon Putty Earplugs? They cover your ear canal instead of being inserted. Way more comfortable than any other style i have tried to use, and don't irritate my skin like foam plugs overnight. If you use new ones every week i haven't had trouble with them staying on.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:49 AM on April 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

How will you hear a fire/smoke alarm?
posted by devnull at 4:57 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're going to soundproof just your bed, you may want to put a stall mat under it. It should help keep bass vibrations from traveling up into the bed frame. Just make sure all bed legs are on the mat. Any local feed store should have them.
posted by BenevolentActor at 5:53 AM on April 4, 2014

Consider having custom earplugs made. They don't hurt, and they don't fall out. They are pricey and, depending on where you live, you might have to travel to a city to have them professionally made, but they may be well worth it in your case.
posted by halogen at 6:39 AM on April 4, 2014

I fall asleep best on my back, and often wake up without having moved a lot, so noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones are something I would consider in a situation like that. Do you sleep on your side (such that they'd be uncomfortable) or thrash around (such that they'd fall off)?
posted by aimedwander at 6:41 AM on April 4, 2014

Unfortunately, I don't think soundproofing the bed alone would work very well. Even trying to soundproof the ceiling of the room wouldn't help that much with footfalls, because of the way that sound waves travel (my understanding is that the only way to really do it is a major construction project). If your upstairs neighbors can add thick carpet or rugs, that might help somewhat. For the ambient noise like voices and the washing machine, I recommend Bose in-ear noise-cancelling headphones, which are very comfortable and effective.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:30 AM on April 4, 2014

Like you, I cannot sleep with ear plugs because they invariably hurt, even though I tried half a dozen different types. I've had great success with these sleep headphones by Acoustic Sheep plugged into my smartphone running a white noise or rain/nature sounds app.

The speakers are flat and completely enclosed in a soft fleece headband so you can sleep in any position - just imagine sleeping in a regular fleece headband. You can also nudge them about an inch in every direction so if you sleep on your side for example, you can move them away so you don't blare the sound directly in your ear.

(Tip: the smaller size is huge... do NOT order the larger size unless you have a grotesquely large head).

They are not the best headphones - I wouldn't listen to good music in them - but they do the job of helping you sleep through the noise.
posted by rada at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've lived in a lot of shared-house situations, numerous basements, and also cannot wear earplugs (ANY kinds of earplugs, even custom ones) comfortably. My ear canals sweat and hurt and it is gross and horribly uncomfortable.

Like emptythought, I've tinkered around with various solutions involving isolation booth type thinking, mostly involving bunk bed frames for cost/ease of portability and build/breakdown, and they all sucked. Hot, stuffy, uncomfortable, you name it. Even heavy bed curtains make me claustrophobic and stuffy.

My husband and I sleep with a Vornado fan running 24/7. It blocks out all the ambient noise, including our stupid neighbor's 2 stupid dogs that bark constantly, the endlessly-partying undergrad house on the other side, traffic noise and sirens, our 2 cats when they have midnight Party Cat Rumpuses and the horrible creaks and groans our house makes in 80+ mph chinook windstorms.

You obviously don't have to get a fan that expensive, a simple box fan will work, but the one we use was bought by my husband in grad school and has been in almost 100% continuous 24/7 use since September, 2005 and has not broken or even gotten tired.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:55 AM on April 4, 2014

Get a bag of high-noise-reduction ear plugs from Ear Plug Superstore. It includes plugs that are so soft you can barely feel them.

The big problem is low pitches, which vibrate your body and can't be shut out by plugs.

I have a set of Bose 20 Noise Cancelling Earbuds, which do well on low frequencies but are too big and uncomfortable to use while sleeping. And they're EXPENSIVE.

Forget about a tent. The temperature and humidity would quickly rise to intolerable levels. You would need a separate air conditioning system.

Ultra-cheap, ultra-small earbuds or on-the-ear headphones (think $5.00) will let you play soothing environmental sounds, such as waves washing in, a stream rushing past or wind rustling in the trees. It's as much about focusing your attention away from the noise as getting rid of it.
posted by KRS at 8:00 AM on April 4, 2014

My first thought was a mattress fort. But then I found a youtube rabbit hole of people making vocal booths and soundproof boxes for their airbrush pumps and generators. This is the only effective one I could see though (a box inside a box works best).
posted by yoHighness at 11:36 AM on April 5, 2014

I hasten to add that a box such as this still wouldn't prevent loud thunk sounds (heavy boots, kids playing, karate practice).
posted by yoHighness at 11:43 AM on April 5, 2014

A simple wall of steel studs, fiberglass bats and a single layer of gyroc on both sides has a sound attenuation rating of ~44 STC reducing the apparent loudness of noise to 1/16th. In your situation you can probably set your box directly on the floor if it is made out of concrete without impacting sound transmission much. A 4x4x8 foot box would accommodate a double mattress (just barely width wise). You'd need ~12 8' studs and 10 sheets of gyproc (9 if you make your box narrower). Plus a roll of thin foam weather stripping to seal your box to the floor.

That's the easy part. The hard part is ventilation and access. Obviously you need a door (on the cheap I'd just hinge the entire top, sealing it with more foam tape and the addition of a couple gas struts to counter balance the weight). Ventilation can be handled with your air cleaner depending on it's CFM but you'd want to install it in a convoluted/baffled channel/duct. I'd build the baffle box into the extra length you end up with in an 8' long box.

Fire safety is a concern. If your living space has hardwired smoke detectors you usually can add additional devices that all trigger together. An electrician could add a remote smoke detector inside your sound reduction box. Wireless alarms are of course trivial to extend to additional devices. At a minimum you could install a pair of battery wireless alarms, one inside and one outside your isolation box though that obviously doesn't tie into fire alarms in other units.

Note that when looking at pages for practice space that musicians are concerned not only with transmission (STC) but also reflection (NRC) of the generated noise. You are only concerned with transmission so some of the things that musicians have to do to make the space sound good aren't of concern for you. Specifically a small, hard sided, rectangular box practice space would be a disaster for musicians but it'll work fine for you.
posted by Mitheral at 1:13 PM on April 5, 2014

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