How to sleep with noisy upstairs neighbors and traffic noise
April 13, 2017 12:59 AM   Subscribe

I just moved into a new apartment and have struggled to sleep for about two weeks now.

I posted a question a few weeks ago, regarding my emotions of sadness when I was about to move into my apartment; to get away from a controlling, manipulative and abusive family. I am very grateful to get away from them; however, the move itself has been quite an adjustment--neighbors everywhere, a strange new place, parking is far away, etc. but none of these things have been difficult.

The only major difficulty I've been having is with noise; specifically, noise from my neighbors upstairs! They stomp, run, jump at all hours, whenever they want. At one point, I heard someone literally walking back and forth across the apartment from 9pm to about 11pm. Sometimes, this constant walking even occurs at hours such as 1am, 3am, etc. I know one of them wakes up very early as well, so I've even heard stomping and her shower running at about 7 in the morning. If I try to sleep during the day, (my hours fluctuate and I usually work an afternoon shift anyway), I still hear walking. Sometimes even at 11am and 12pm! I don't know how many people are up there or what they're doing, but it sounds like the Lion King stampede up there at times :( haha! It's very disruptive, and I haven't had more than 5 consecutive hours of sleep in about two weeks, since I moved in. I'm somehow managing to survive through work, but I work with children and I've become very drained with such little sleep. I've started to become very irritable, I can't concentrate, I run late for work (which is affecting my relationship with my supervisors and co-workers), and I'm highly concerned as to what this lack of sleep may be doing to my health, which already wasn't in the best shape to begin with. Additionally, I hear lots of cars leave the parking lot at all hours of the day, too, which is also disruptive to my rest.

My boyfriend bought a pair of Mack's Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs, which have helped drown out the traffic noise quite a bit, but not the upstairs stomping. I've tried using the earplugs in conjunction with an old fan I brought from home, and that hasn't helped either. Plus, the earplugs tend to fall out at times as well, even though they're inserted correctly. I think with the walking being so loud, it actually kind of shakes the apartment, which wakes me up. Even after the noise stops, it becomes very hard for me to go back to sleep. I toss and turn, and get frustrated, then eventually give up and just get dressed for the day. It's also not helping me that I had to move into this apartment before I truly felt mentally ready; I didn't really move on my own terms, and I did it only to get away from abuse. I already had a lot of grief about my family and how they just never changed their provincial, damaging, controlling ways; and I feel anxiety over the apartment itself, and rejection from my family. So I'm sure that doesn't help matters, either.

I've contacted the leasing office about the stomping, and they said that they've sent those tenants a note addressing the noise issues; this has not resolved anything either. So I feel like I'm at the end of my rope here. Is there anything else I can try? Any other, more powerful brand of ear plugs, perhaps noise cancelling headphones of any kind? I'm very open to other options. I just really miss sleeping soundly (one of few things that were good at my parents' house), and I don't want to be a grumpy, confused, exhausted mess all the time.

Thanks in advance! And I do apologize if my writing isn't too clear; my brain is foggy and confused from lack of rest.
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Completely normal walking about can sound very stompy to people underneath. Its not reasonable to ask them not to walk about their apartment, most of the times you've listed are not even unsociable hours. Taking a shower at 7am isn't at all unusual and not very early.

I think you need better earplugs and to adjust your expectations. If you really can't adjust to it, look into breaking your lease and finding a top-floor apartment or a house.
posted by missmagenta at 2:08 AM on April 13, 2017 [24 favorites]

Yeah, this is a common problem with two level living if the complex is not well inulated. I consider a 7am shower to be late just for reference so at least you don't live below me.

As a temporary solution, you could rearrange your bed to be in the main room/other spot where there may be less walking inside.

These people probably can't live about you and not walk around. I agree you may need to move.
posted by Kalmya at 2:17 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I live upstairs -- I learned that a long, long time ago -- and there's really not much noise from adjoining apartments. Still, I love white noise, and fans do it great. For me; YMMV. The car noise will fade off into the background, that I have done and done easily. Try a couple more fans; might be they'll do the deal for you, esp with earplugs, too.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:51 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live on a main road, across from a hospital. You'll get used to it after about a month.
posted by pompomtom at 2:53 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Definitely get better earplugs. They shouldn't be falling out. They should be able to drown out a lot more than some stamping neighbors.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:09 AM on April 13, 2017

Best answer: It's also not helping me that I had to move into this apartment before I truly felt mentally ready

This is the core issue. The noise that's part of living in proximity to other people is normal and unavoidable - walking and showering are not yelling and partying. But the understandable anxiety and vigilance you experienced living in an abusive situation now needs something to focus on. That coping skill was useful to you then, but harming you now. The solution is not to turn off or block the reasonable sounds of daily life, but to dial down your vigilance and change your response to them. Assuming you are working with a therapist, ask them to help you do this.
posted by headnsouth at 3:17 AM on April 13, 2017 [34 favorites]

The only solution is to move, really. They may just be walking normally and the sound gets magnified because of cheap insulation and acoustic problems. It's awful I know. I've learned to be very careful in selecting apartments to get the top floor, among other factors, to avoid noise.

If that is not feasible, though, for earplugs try Mack's swimmer's earplugs. They work better than foam. And finally, I agree, white noise can help a lot.
posted by Crystal Fox at 3:19 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just to echo what others have said, many apartment buildings seem to have an effect where totally reasonable walking upstairs gets magnified into horrible loud stomping noise downstairs. It's like they're living on the surface of a drum and you're living inside the drum. It may not be physically possible for them to move about their home without causing noise in yours.

I'm not repeating that to make you feel bad for being frustrated with your situation -- your reaction is a totally normal and understandable one! But in my own experience, when people are being noisy, it bothers me on two levels: the practical physical level of unwanted vibrations in my eardrum; and the emotional level of feeling like people are being mean or thoughtless. For me personally, the same decibel level can be bearable or unbearable depending on what I know about the intentions of the people making the noise. So it might help a little to know they aren't necessarily being bad neighbors.

In terms of what you can do practically:

• Experiment with different kinds of earplugs. You may find some that do a better job for your particular ears and these particular sounds.

• Make sure your bed is not in physical contact with the wall of your apartment -- the sound might be traveling through the walls and into your bed. You might also experiment with a memory foam mattress cover and/or memory foam pillows, which might dampen the vibrations a bit.

• If your room has hard floors, consider putting carpets or rugs in. These can help absorb some sound. (So can quilts on the wall and other soft furnishings.)

Just to be realistic, I suspect that those things will make a small difference in the noise, rather than completely fix it. But perhaps a few small tweaks may bring it to the level where you can live with it.
posted by yankeefog at 4:20 AM on April 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

Not sure if your apartment has any rules on this but several buildings I've lived in require some amount of carpet coverage (I think my building is 80%). It didn't solve the noise problem but when we found out our upstairs neighbor wasn't following the carpet rule we complained and he bought a couple area rugs. This definitely helped dampen the footsteps.

You could check your lease or any building bylaws to see if that could help the situation a bit. The Wirecutter also has great recs for best earplugs and white noise machines.
posted by forkisbetter at 4:33 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am very sensitive to sound, and in your shoes I think I would consider moving. However it's worthwhile to ask your leasing office if the upstairs neighbors can be compelled to put down some rugs, and it doesn't hurt to try other earplugs, more fans, or even the radio or TV turned down low.

You could try using unisom or a similar OTC product to see if that pushes you into a deeper sleep in which sounds wouldn't wake you so easily.

But honestly I think you should start with asking the leasing office if there's a top floor apartment you could move into without breaking your lease. Also check the penalty for breaking the lease (should be in the lease itself) and see if it's really worth continually trying to make this apartment work.

I really feel for you. I once lived in an older apartment building with hardwood floors. It helped when my upstairs neighbor put in rugs, but now I'm in a more modern building and rarely notice noise from my neighbors.
posted by bunderful at 5:11 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Try a white noise machine? I have a Lectrofan model (digital noise rather than a physical fan mechanism) and it can be turned up louder than an actual fan, and you can choose noise with the best frequencies to block outside sounds. It totally blocks out normal-volume speech from the next room. I don't have upstairs neighbors, so haven't tested it on that kind of stomping noise, but I think it would at least significantly muffle it. The one I have is currently $36 on Amazon, for an idea of pricing.

And yeah, move ASAP and try to move to a place with no one above you, or to a place built to condo specs.
posted by snowmentality at 5:14 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Apartment living is all about getting used to other people's noises. Your examples of noise-making sound like regular apartment living, I'm afraid. Excessive noise-making would be something like impromptu accordion concerts at 3am on weekdays (to use an example not at all derived from my current upstairs neighbours).

I once had a downstairs neighbour who complained that he could hear me typing on my keyboard during the day (I am a writer working from home; no, I don't tend to thump my keyboards). I heard from other neighbours that he also complained about being able to hear their kids or them watching TV. This guy eventually decided that apartment living just wasn't for him. And that is okay.

In your case, I'd give it a bit longer than two weeks to decide that apartment life isn't your thing. Allow yourself to adjust to noises and your new surroundings. If you are still struggling after a few months, look into getting a top floor apartment or move somewhere where you do not share any walls with neighbours.
posted by kariebookish at 5:50 AM on April 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Re the car and traffic noise, when I moved here I discovered that the city was power washing the sidewalks every night around two or three am. I went from WTF to sleeping right through it fairly quickly, so I do think you'll get more used to that. But I agree with others that, barring any carpeting violations, this sounds like pretty normal apartment-living noise.

It does sound like management was responsive to your complaint, so if the problem doesn't get better I would follow up. I'd be prepared to hear that the neighbors are within their rights, however.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:52 AM on April 13, 2017

Best answer: White noise and earplugs don't really work for walking/stomping sounds in poorly insulated apartments. The noise is so percussive, it cuts right through anything like that, shakes the light fixtures, etc. (Source: just moved into a 1st floor apartment and the upstairs neighbors have a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old who are constantly running. Somehow the kids, despite being small, make more noise than the adults. And the floors are old and very creaky so the slightest weight shift makes noise no matter anyone's best intentions.)

Your best bet, if you aren't able to move, is maybe to talk to them, become friendly with them? I know the conversation is hard, but go to them with a gracious and understanding attitude. Introduce yourself, exchange phone numbers or email addresses. Maybe apologize for going to the management company before talking to them first. Ask them if they can take off shoes, wear slippers, maybe put down some rugs (I saw some cheap plush runners at Ikea that I have considered buying FOR the upstairs neighbors for when the kiddos are running laps.)

Because we've had in person and email conversations with our neighbors, we know they are trying their best; and knowing that they are trying makes it easier to tolerate when the kids just go wild. One thing the neighbors themselves suggested was they asked where our bedroom was, and said they'd keep the kids away from that end of the apartment early in the morning. Unfortunately in our case the only bedroom that fits our bed is in the middle of the apartment, but even just the fact that they offered made us less annoyed. Maybe if your bedroom is at one end of the apartment you can ask that they try to be extra quiet/tip-toe-y in that area. If you don't already sleep with your bedroom door closed, try that - we can't really do that because of a cat that would lose his mind if he couldn't come and go as he pleases, but on the rare occasion that we do close the door it definitely dampens the noise as long as the neighbors aren't directly overhead.

The frustration with apartment living noise can feed itself into a monster if you let it, where even when they're quiet you're on edge in anticipation of when the next noise is gonna start. I recommend keeping yourself calm, talking yourself down and out of "ugh they are so inconsiderate" thought patterns and into "they're just people living their lives, they're not making noise AT me" ones. Play some soft music or go for a walk if it's happening during the day when you're awake and the noise is really getting to you. And yes, time will help. I didn't think I had gotten used to it, but then our neighbors went out of town for a weekend and the silence the first day was actually unnerving.

I do agree that 7am is a normal time for a shower for anyone working an 8/9-5 job. I would say that reasonable expectations for some amount of quiet would be 10pm-8am, but that's for like loud music or things that can be helped. You can ask them to try to limit how much they walk at 3am, but unless they're intentionally pacing or holding a ballroom dance lesson I don't know that it's really reasonable. They might work night shifts or at a bar and that's just when they need to walk around.

I totally feel your frustration - I'm going through it myself in my current apartment, and I had similar issues in the past with upstairs neighbors. One couple worked at a bar and they'd get home drunk at 3-4am, stumbling around and having screaming fights with each other. That was fun. I made a point of living in top floor units for a while until my dog started struggling with stairs, so that's definitely an option. Although top floor units don't solve everything - our last apartment was top floor but the neighbors below us had booming loud music and parties 2-3 days a week, every weekend. Believe me, that's even worse than people just walking around above you.

Good luck.
posted by misskaz at 6:10 AM on April 13, 2017

Oh, and I should add - when we first moved in and realized how much noise would be coming from upstairs, I had a sinking "oh my god we've made a huge mistake" pit in my stomach for the first couple weeks. Like, immediate stress reaction, starting to plan out if we could afford to break our lease and move somewhere else right away. Now, we've found out the upstairs neighbors are probably moving out in a few months and there's a part of me that's worried... whoever moves in next could be even worse; at least these folks are nice! So just re-emphasizing to give it time.
posted by misskaz at 6:13 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Man, I sympathize - I've lived in apartments for over 20 years at this point and am still (overly) sensitive to certain kinds of noise. Definitely agree with the folks saying that you'll want to seek treatment for possible anxiety, but in the meantime to help you get over the hump, can you put in earbuds (ideally wireless, I suppose) and play soothing music you like or something like Sleep With Me (I love his Game of Drones series, if you happen to enjoy GOT)? Personally I find that earplugs alone aren't great because my brain is still lying there hypersensitized to any sound/sensation, but once I give it something else to dwell on I'm a little more okay at drowning out the things that were bothering me.

And +1 to everyone saying that the noises you hear don't sound that unusual - which isn't to say they don't suck or that you're wrong for being bothered! Like yankeefog, though, I think feeling like the noisemaker is being inconsiderate makes things all the harder to let go of - the more you can remember that they really aren't "stomping" even if it sounds like they are, the easier it might be to let it eventually become part of your background.

(Finally, if you could use a little laugh about your situation, watch Everyone's Upstairs Neighbors and know you're not alone!)
posted by DingoMutt at 6:13 AM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The street noise will probably become unnoticeable soon, and white noise will help with it a lot.

As for stomping neighbors... it's just really hard. My upstairs neighbor have a four-year-old who goes on running sprees that start around 10PM and last until after midnight sometimes. Sometimes I just lie in bed furious at her and her dumb parents (who lets a preschooler stay up that late???) but USUALLY it's when I'm already annoyed about something else. Like, it's possible this little girl is precisely attuned to my inner life and runs extra when she knows I have a big project due, or when I'm upset about some family issue, but probably not.

So, it may be possible to ignore the stomping when you're in a better mental space, even if it's not right now.
posted by mskyle at 6:18 AM on April 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Something that has helped me is to realize that the sounds of neighbors mean I'm not alone. There is something creepy, to me, in a totally empty house...there could be robbers, or a fire, and I might not know. But when the neighbors are home I feel more safe. I know their schedules, and I'm sure they know mine, and that awareness comforts me when I am afraid of monsters. My upstairs neighbors work in a restaurant (I know because I talk to them) and they get off work at midnight, so they shower at 1am. When it wakes me up, I tell myself, ah good Neighbor got home OK and go back to sleep. I work an early shift and shower at 5:30am, I like to think they feel the same. This attitude took work, it doesn't come naturally. But I found that reframing the issue has helped me calm my hypervigilance and go back to sleep.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:40 AM on April 13, 2017 [14 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, I become a MUCH lighter sleeper and sensitive to noise, light, etc when I'm stressed out or anxious. I wonder how much this might be exacerbated by your current mental state and the added stress of "need to sleep, need to sleep" that just amplifies the problem.

A few things that work for me when I'm trying to settle down the stress or anxiety part of having trouble sleeping:

- a familiar, comforting TV show playing at soft volume, to give your brain something else to listen to
- sleeping in a different room or on the couch if you're tossing and turning endlessly
- giving yourself permission to sit up and read or whatever for 30 mins and then try again if you're just laying there not sleeping
- Headspace or another simple meditation or deep breathing exercise before bedtime to help you wind down your brain
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:00 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with others that it's worth experimenting with different earplugs, especially if yours aren't staying in. Everybody's ears and preferences are a little different. There are a lot of different types and they're relatively inexpensive so you might just stop by the local drug store and pick up a few more. Also, for the foam ones, make sure you're following the directions and really getting them seated deeply in your ear canals.

But like others I've found noise is incredibly subjective. When I've been kept awake by noise it's not really been the noise itself or how loud it is, but my feelings about the noise. Do I think the people making noise are jerks? Am I thinking about how to stop them, and is my body gearing up for some kind of confrontation? Am I worried about the consequences of losing sleep? Not sure how to deal with that, though.
posted by floppyroofing at 7:39 AM on April 13, 2017

You mention abuse so I would look into PTSD symptoms and see if that fits you. I have a panic reaction to door slamming because of a previous relationship. This sounds more like a "bitches eating crackers" situation but it's worth mentioning to a therapist. As your stress about the abusive situation/new move settles down, your irritation at your neighbors will ease too.
posted by AFABulous at 7:58 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

You may or may not get used to the street noise. Depends on the noise (and whether you have double glazed windows or not, which floor you're on, etc). The neighbours stomping, you can try to address again, but I don't think it'll change. That's just how they are at home, you know? Imagine a stranger asking you to walk and move differently.

White noise is still noise added to noise, it's not great for you. Not fun to wear earplugs at home or not sleep. Nthing moving, if you can.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:15 AM on April 13, 2017

I have a noisy bed partner and a problem with earplugs, my ears will slowly push them out until they are on my pillow. After trying a good dozen different brands I have finally(!) found my personal Holy Grail: Alpine Sleep Soft Earplugs. They come with a little tool that helps you screw them into your ear canal (obviously take care not to go too far) and they are soft enough to sleep on. Because you can actually achieve a seal, they block the noise much better than other kinds I've tried.

I also highly recommend a contoured sleep mask that blocks out 99% of the light, you'll be surprised at how much better you will sleep in total darkness. While it doesn't affect the noise directly, sleep is a sum of the parts and you just need enough help to get you over the hump where you won't wake up.
posted by rada at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might also look for a better white-noise generator than a regular fan. For example, an air filter system makes a more thorough shusshing sound, and it helped my daughter sleep through the sound of her pet mouse running in his wheel all night. Plus cleaner air!

I also think that constant pacing, especially in the middle of the night, isn't as common as other kinds of Pesky Neighbor noise. You might consider the option of making a visit up there in person -- they might have no idea that their insomnia is being shared. If they're jerks, then there wasn't going to be a solution, but if they're a bit horrified, they might find soft slippers or something that helps somewhat, or switch to activity outside the bedroom.
posted by acm at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2017

nthing this is a thing, though it's a WAY bigger problem in some buildings than others.

I didn't see anyone mention this yet, so: sleep medicine? Is that something you'd consider trying? There are many different options that work different ways, both prescription and nonprescription.
posted by R a c h e l at 12:25 PM on April 13, 2017

Try wax earplugs.
posted by andreinla at 12:54 PM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. I have gone through this many times as an apartment dweller and have childhood trauma that makes things like slammed doors extremely upsetting, so I've used a lot of the coping suggestions above and many of them work well!

In my last apartment, my landlord and her noisy family moved to the unit above me after they (loudly) ripped out all the carpet and installed hardwood floors. Their kids played drums and the keyboard right above my bedroom. It made my life hell (and didn't help that the kids were always looking in my windows and being weird). The mental adjustment epanalepsis mentions above really helped: thinking "oh good, they're home, if anything happens to me, they'd be able to help" made it easier for me to settle back into sleep. I repeatedly had to put a face to the noise and reassure myself that it wasn't someone who was going to harm me even though I honestly disliked them all quite a bit.

When I would get really stressed out and in a pattern of anger and sadness about the noise, I'd take a Xanax. This was maybe once or twice a year, but it was so nice to have that option to know that I could actually get a good night's sleep if needed.

I also bought an air filter and cheap fans for every single room in the house to take the edge of noises. I find a bunch of fans blowing air around somewhat stressful, so the air filter is my favorite in the bedroom and I put the fans out in the hallway.

Lastly, it really does help to have something to focus while falling asleep. Sleep meditation apps, podcasts set to a sleep timer, an audiobook, etc. When I really needed to block out noise, here's what I would do: Turn on a fan outside my bedroom door, put the air filter on high, use an app on my phone to play rain sounds on high in the background, turn on a podcast loud enough that I can hear it while wearing ear plugs (with rain sounds still playing), put in said ear plugs and a sleeping mask, and chew a melatonin. I still do one or more of these steps when going to bed and having a routine that's worked before helps me get to sleep even in noisy circumstances because your brain loves to run on habit.

One last thing: it's okay to move as soon as your lease it up or as soon as it makes financial sense. There ARE better options out there, whether in a single family home or duplex or top floor apartment.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:31 PM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation to you, except the neighbours are next door and playing loud music / shouting. My fail-safe combination is:
- silicone earplugs not unlike these (so they say they have a NRR of 22dB vs the 31dB of Macks foam ones, but I find these way better.)
- white noise app playing on a speaker right next to my head (it's actually not white noise, but a combination of traffic, city and rain sounds. The app I use is Relax Melodies).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh boy, do I sympathize. I have experienced this issue, both as the downstairs tenant (dealing with endless stomping from above), and as an upstairs tenant (thin walls and loud voices). In both cases, I ended my breaking my lease and moving. It was an immense hassle both times (finding a replacement tenant), but it was worth it.

I agree, earplugs + white noise is the best solution. I like this LectroFan machine, because it has both alternating sounds, and a high volume.
posted by invisible ink at 1:51 PM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I will also add, that on days where it was really bad, adding .5 mg of generic Ambien was a life-saver. So, that may be worth talking about with your doctor.
posted by invisible ink at 1:54 PM on April 13, 2017

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