How do I sleep through a loud noise every night?
February 26, 2015 5:17 AM   Subscribe

I hear a loud noise every night at the same time and wake up. I'm afraid that I'm conditioning my body to think it's normal to wake up in the middle of the night -- help!

I moved into a new apartment a month ago and haven't slept through the night since. Every night, my radiator starts clanging loudly around 3:30-4 AM, for about a half hour. Sometimes I can go back to sleep for a couple of hours, but other times I'm awake for the rest of the night. I've tried having a repairman work on the radiator (the noise was reduced, but this is as quiet as it gets), sleeping with ear plugs, using white noise, taking a drowsy medication, reducing the temp of the room and getting blackout curtains to make an ideal place for sleeping, but absolutely nothing works. I'm beginning to fear I won't get a full night's sleep until Spring, and it's quickly taking a toll on my productivity during the day.

My question is whether there's a way to train myself to sleep through this noise. I'm normally a pretty sound sleeper and exercise regularly. My previous apartment was on a major street and I eventually just was able to sleep through the traffic noise. That noise was consistent throughout the night, though. Here, I think the fact that the loud noise happens only once a night is preventing that from happening. I'm afraid that I'm just training my body that waking up once a night is the norm.

Any advice beyond the standard insomnia cures on conditioning my body to sleep in this specific way would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by lxs to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
Is it just the one radiator that makes the noise? Where is the radiator located within the apartment, and how much of the apartment is yours? I think the easiest thing would be to move your bed, but that may not be possible depending on the layout of your space.

If you have your own living room, or another room, or even if the other side of the bedroom is further from the radiator -- I'd move the bed.

Or if you have other radiators in the apartment, and you don't mind being on the chilly side and can sleep with the door open, you could consider having them shut this one radiator off.

Beyond that -- do you know *why* the radiator turns on then? How is the thermostat controlled? Is there something like a programmable thermostat? If so, you may be able to tell the heating system not to turn on between certain hours. Your apartment will get cold until the heat kicks in in the morning, but it may be an option. (But then again, it may not be.)
posted by pie ninja at 5:33 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

If it helps, some people believe segmented sleep actually *is* normal. Maybe try getting up during the clatter, using that time to drink a mug of warm milk or something and then going back to sleep? It might be less aggravating than laying in bed through it being annoyed and the change of scene might help establish that going back to bed means it's time to sleep again.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:40 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I moved into a house with radiators, I found that over time I adjusted. My sleep-self now registers radiator noises as normal; even if I do wake up, it's not all the way and I can go back to sleep. I suggest giving it time.
posted by mchorn at 5:48 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid I went through a period of intense anxiety that the world would be destroyed while I was asleep (I'm sure from some movie I was not supposed to be watching). I lived near freight train tracks, and very rapidly the sound of the horn at 3 a.m. became not an annoying thing that jolted me out of sleep, but an extremely comforting reassurance that the world continued to exist in the night. And as soon as it became comforting rather than annoying, I started being able to roll over and go right back to sleep after it instead of staring at the ceiling for an hour.

Even now when I hear the snowplow noisily scrape the street at 2 a.m. I'm like, "Oh, good, that's my nightly notification the world is still going on" and can go back to sleep. But if it's my neighbor's loud music that I'm already annoyed about, and I wake up and feel annoyed, I can't get back to sleep.

I think you will eventually start sleeping through it ... as long as you don't get habituated to being ANNOYED by it and stressed by anticipating it and so on. So when it wakes you up, think, "Oh, good, it's my nightly notification the earth hasn't been vaporized by aliens," and roll over with a smile on your face and resolve to think only pleasant thoughts (like about what kind of really cool dream you hope you have when you fall back asleep).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:04 AM on February 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

Those radiators are LOUD! I hear you on this one. Can you turn the heat off at night and use a space heater? Or even just turn the heat off and use a comforter?

The sleep thing is going to be harder to resolve, because the body does what it wants,
posted by Toddles at 6:26 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you get a good quality recording of the sound? Play every 30 seconds on a loop, but maybe at a slightly lower volume, every night. If it's repeating all night long you will very quickly learn how to tune it out. Then eventually one night you'll forget to press play on your recording and you'll sleep through anyway.
posted by trivia genius at 6:45 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had similar issues with sporadic loud urban noise and an upstairs neighbor who woke up at 4:30.

I found wax earplugs made a big difference over the common foam ones. They are kind of gross but much more effective at blocking sound and staying put all night when used properly. They work well enough for me that I worry I won't wake up if the world starts ending. So maybe they will help if you haven't tried them?
posted by srboisvert at 6:51 AM on February 26, 2015

You said you tried white noise, but in case you haven't tried a proper sound machine, check out marpac sound machines (easy to find online). If the radiator is really loud though you'll still wake up unfortunately. I second trying some comfy earplugs, like the wax ones.

The timing for the radiator is particularly awful because 4 a.m. is the beginning of when your body will want to wake up even if you went to bed late, which I'm guessing is why you end up awake most of the time despite all of your efforts. If you can't escape the noise via earplugs/sound or moving the bed could you try going to bed before 10 and seeing if you can shift your sleep cycle earlier? It sounds crazy but some people swear waking up between 4 and 6 a.m. is the best.
posted by lafemma at 6:54 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get out of your lease and move. Or force the landlord to fix it (I suspect the pipes are not secured enough?)

This is a direct violation of your lease (quiet enjoyment, etc..) and you do not have to endure this. Document, write letters, use a decibel meter, recorder.

Your alternative is to go to bed earlier, and make 3:30am your new wake-up time.

Seriously. Get the landlord to fix this, or move.
posted by jbenben at 7:28 AM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

It sucks, but no one is going to let you out of your lease because the radiators knock. For better or for worse, they're often treated as a fact of life in older buildings. I think you have two routes to pursue:

- Wait and get used to it. You will. Everyone eventually gets used to the ambient noise around them.
- I don't know how big your building is, but radiators typically knock because the whole system is out of alignment. People feel hot one day, so they "turn down" the radiator to help. In reality, a well-calibrated system (we went through this a couple years ago in our system) requires everyone to leave their radiators open so that air flows evenly throughout the system. Unfortunately, this also requires reconfiguring your building's boiler (not a huge deal, but odds are you can't do it yourself), and potentially replacing some units' radiators. One thing we realized in our building was that many units still had oversized radiators from before we replaced the windows with energy-efficient ones, so most units were too hot. Of course, this requires a capital expense from your landlord, but it pays dividends down the road. YMMV.
posted by mkultra at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

"It sucks, but no one is going to let you out of your lease because the radiators knock."

This doesn't sound like normal radiator knocking, what the OP describes seems extreme on the spectrum.

I would let someone out of their lease if it could not be fixed and it was well documented and irrefutably a problem. Being presented with decibel readings and a doctor's note, for instance, would convince me as a landlord I would rather let this tenant out of their lease, vs potentially being taken to court one day.

Sometimes it is a bad fit, and on at least 3 occasions I can think of, I've been kind and let people out of their lease over issues other tenants in the same situation did not find as objectionable.

If it can't or won't be fixed, and the noise is truly extreme OP, please consider moving. You're paying good money. You don't have to suffer. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:35 AM on February 26, 2015

I had similar issues. Then I started wearing earplugs. Now I can sleep through almost anything. Problem solved. It took a couple weeks to adjust but I got used to it and now I wear earplugs every night.
posted by wye naught at 10:47 AM on February 26, 2015

I don't know if the story of my experience will help you, but I grew up in a house with loud knocking radiators and I was able to ignore them. My parents (who didn't grow up in the house) were able to ignore them as well. Perhaps, you might grow used to the noise.
posted by jazh at 11:33 AM on February 26, 2015

Thanks, all! You've inspired me to try to stick it out a bit longer and see if I get used to it.

Unfortunately the radiator isn't actually in my room, so I can't reconfigure where I sleep -- it's an old house, and I can just hear it through the (rather thin) walls. I am going to try to experiment a bit more with just turning off the radiators in various rooms at night.
posted by lxs at 3:48 PM on February 26, 2015

I find that you can really help yourself to ignore noise like that by being mindful of how you think about the noise. If you wake up and get angry, thinking “damn that noise I'm never going to sleep why can't it be gone?“, then you will wake up more and for longer than if you woke up and thought “yup, radiator's working. good, I like warmth“. Just like the sound of the train being comforting in Eyebrows McGee's story, if you can trick yourself into thinking that the noise is a good thing, you will have an easier time ignoring it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:41 PM on February 26, 2015

FYI I once lived near an old fashioned firehouse that alerted the volunteer fire force by blaring a code on a very loud air horn that the entire neighborhood could hear. When we moved in it woke us up every time. Within six months slept right through it.
posted by bq at 7:41 PM on February 26, 2015

I'd start with a combination of earplugs and trying to accept the noise as a warm comforting thing. The earplugs make it a quieter warm comforting thing. At some point you'll sleep through the night, and then you can stop with the earplugs.
(anecdata - I've done the same thing with my husband's snoring. When I realized he sounded kind of like the cat, who has the loudest purr I've ever heard, I started not minding the noise so much. Now I only need earplugs when he has a cold or is otherwise particularly loud.)
posted by aimedwander at 7:45 AM on February 27, 2015

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