Getting a good night's sleep as a social problem
August 6, 2018 4:21 AM   Subscribe

So I have a really specific sleep issue. I have a difficult time sleeping when a TV is on in the background playing speech. And unfortunately for me, this is what one of my roommates is falling asleep to. The issue: How do I ask my roommate to mute his TV? Details below the jump.

I've already told my roommate that his TV sounds are keeping me up. He is skeptical because he keeps it at a low volume and we have our doors closed. And yet, they are - I hear just the faintest bit of muted speech every so often and it makes it hard to sleep.

I've asked about sleep before on the green, to good effect, but the usual suggestions do not help - earplugs, white noise, and the like actually make this issue worse because they cut out ambient noise and don't work on all of the frequencies the TV is playing at. Similarly, having him turn the TV volume down makes it worse because then I hear the sound at the edge of my hearing and I start hallucinating because I can't tell if it's on or if I'm going crazy. (I have honestly had panic attacks because I've nearly fallen asleep only to be woken up by this.)

My question is: How do I explain this to my roommate in a way that won't come across as pedantic, targeted, overtly dramatic or otherwise rude? I've put a lot of effort and legwork into trying every intervention that doesn't involve him because I respect that people have their own habits and I don't want to force him to change his if I can find a workaround, but it's clear the problem just resolves itself if my roommate stops falling asleep with a TV on. For a variety of reasons moving is not a good option right now, but I really really need to sleep!
posted by LSK to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you ask him to use headphones? We got a headphone set up in my house because I work nights and people do things during the day including watching TV. This is a solution that whether for my wife and I.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:00 AM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

I’d get a white noise machine, I live in a apartment building and it really helps to drown out the weird noises at the edge of my hearing. If that doesn’t work have you asked if he can set a timer to turn it off after he’s fallen asleep? Most TVs have that as a function.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:14 AM on August 6, 2018 [10 favorites]

I know you said you’ve tried white noise, but was it loud enough? If I just use my phone to play it, it doesn’t do a lot for me. But if I amplify it with a Bluetooth speaker, or even better, use a real mechanical noise machine (or even a big box fan- key is getting enough coverage is the bass frequencies), it’s great. If the TV is quiet enough that you strain to hear it sometimes then white noise should have no problems cutting it out.

Quite aside from that, are you sure this is specifically about the TV noise, or could it also be some sleep anxiety on your part? I’ve had some success here with meditation, and taking magnesium+zinc a bit before bed to help with sleepiness. Good luck.
posted by Jobst at 5:21 AM on August 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

Hang a rug on the wall that the TV noise is coming through? If he can't use headphones, maybe a portable speaker that's right next to his pillow would let him keep it quiet enough so you can't hear it?
posted by metasarah at 5:26 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Experimenting with more white noise options seems like a good place to start. (Or other types of noise. My partner likes pink noise. I like rain or river sounds.) Likewise better soundproofing on the wall between your rooms, or heavier-duty earplugs, or maybe rearranging your room if possible so your bed is further away from his room.

But short-term, I would try asking him if you can come to some agreement while you keep trying to work on your end of things. Would he be willing to sleep without the background noise three nights a week for a little while? You each get your preferred sleep part of the time, and long term you'll work toward trying to find a solution so you can each sleep well 100% of the time. It's not ideal, but might make the situation feel less dire.
posted by Stacey at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be really honest with your roomie about your problem. Suggest a pillow speaker? Ask him to put TV near the far wall. Rearrange your room and put your bed the farthest from the noise. Then get a box fan as Jobst suggested and place in against the common wall and turn it on. I doubt you'd be able to hear the TV then.
posted by james33 at 5:42 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Would your roommate be open to putting the TV on an automatic timer so that at least it will be off by midnight (or some other time by which he’ll definitely be asleep) so you can fall asleep eventually?
I”m not up on modern TVs but I think some have sleep timers, and there are also simple plug-in timeclocks intended to turn lights on and off when people are on vacation.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:43 AM on August 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

I know the real goal of this question is how to ask him, so I apologize if this isn't useful, but I would suggest trying sleep headphones with white noise. I bought a pair of sleep headphones that are basically speakers attached to a soft headband and ran a white noise app and it helped with a lot of my roommate/neighbor noise. It was human voice noise and music that was keeping me awake, so I understand that those speech noises can be harder to tune out.
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:11 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

do you have a kind of wind down bedtime ritual?

some ideas:

- buy your roomie a sweet pair of headphones for celebrating x months of living together and be like, 'yo, I have been officially diagnosed with misophonia and my therapist/the pope/other recommended that I get you these so I don't snap and go running naked thru the streets screaming bc I'm losing so much sleep. thanks bro, I owe you one.'

- put in more time outside (hiking, jogging, swimming) - getting fresh air will make sleep come easier

- workout more in general

- force yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn and skip naps!! no snooze button either

- yoga before bed also enhances sleep quality. i learned to do a progressive muscle relaxing thingy and usually pass out before i get to the end of it

- the headspace app has new cool sleep settings and guided meditation that help me immensely with sleep

- carbs will make you sleepier

- try and see if the thunder/storm noises help you sleep? i really don't like white noise much either

- read a book, no screens a few hours before bedtime

- lavender (they have all kinds of cool pillow sprays and lotions and stuff - you sound like a guy tho?) is good for mellowing you out for sleeping

- hang a fat carpet over your door?

dood. i hope you get some much needed r&r!
posted by speakeasy at 6:16 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

If your roommate is operating his TV in another room at a reasonable level then I think you need to consider alternatives. A mechanical white noise machine is the only way to go, electronic white noise is no good. A box fans works great, if you dont like the wind it generates get one of these.
posted by jmsta at 6:22 AM on August 6, 2018 [19 favorites]

Rain and propellor with a dash of brown noise on noisli does it for me. So does a fan or an A/C unit. Which wall is the TV on? Could be as simple as moving it, or plugging in some external speakers.

If you want to propose a solution - eg headphones - and don't want to come over as rude, offer to pay to implement the solution.
posted by Leon at 6:26 AM on August 6, 2018

I think he’ll be most likely to work with you on this if you’re super apologetic and present it as you know that it’s you and not him, you’re really really sensitive to sound, but regardless, you’re not sleeping and would so appreciate him helping you out (with headphones or a timer or whatever other solution you brainstorm together).
posted by sunflower16 at 6:32 AM on August 6, 2018

Best answer: I hear the sound at the edge of my hearing and I start hallucinating because I can't tell if it's on or if I'm going crazy.

This is definitely a thing, because the brain will fill in the gaps. It's better to have some identifiable noise than no noise. I'm wondering if desensitizing yourself would work, because you can control it. I find that lack of control causes more anxiety than the actual thing. It looks like there are dozens of ambient talking videos on YouTube; unlike TV, there won't be volume spikes of people screaming or gunshots etc.

I'd try the headphones first, but longterm, this may help you if you're in this situation with someone else.
posted by AFABulous at 6:40 AM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Something that might be helpful to explore: When I go through periods of high anxiety, I start hearing faint voices in a lot of white noise, similar to what you're describing -- like a tv or radio is playing juuuuust outside my range of hearing but I can hear random words or the general intonation/rhythm (in my case it often sounds like a radio DJ). It's generally worst right as I'm trying to go to sleep. I spent YEARS annoyed at upstairs neighbors for playing their radio so constantly until I realized it was actually just my brain making up words to the fan. I've since talked to a number of people who've reported similar "indistinct voices in white noise" symptoms due to anxiety (I'm a therapist, I interview a lot of people about their anxiety, I'm positive these people were not dealing with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders), so I know it's not uncommon. I find that reminding myself that hearing the DJ talk is just part of my anxiety and not a problem I need to solve in the physical world calms my brain down enough to let me ignore it.
posted by lazuli at 6:40 AM on August 6, 2018 [14 favorites]

There are european requirements for eco-friendly design that have been around for while, which includes auto-sleep on TVs, and manufacturers don't usually remove them for different markets. Your roommate's TV may well have such an option (usually under the 'eco' section) while will put the TV to sleep after a period of inactivity (i.e. no using the remote or on more advanced sets, things such as infrared or even face-recognition sensors). This may also be an adjustable time. Alternatively, if he's using a cable box etc, that may also have such an option which would achieve the same effect.

Such a setting might help in that it would allow him to fall asleep to TV noise, while also eventually turning itself off so it doesn't bother you, though it wouldn't be immediate. It would save on the electric bill, which could be a selling point. You can ask politely, at least.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 6:50 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can you move your bed to another part of the room more distant from his television?

I have noisy neighbors and I've gotten used to falling asleep with soft music playing.
posted by mareli at 7:38 AM on August 6, 2018

My solution to this problem was asking my husband to turn the TV UP. He was being thoughtful, but my brain would strain to make sense of the barely intelligible noise. When I could hear it plainly, I could ignore it and fall asleep without any problem.
posted by kate4914 at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer:'s clear the problem just resolves itself if my roommate stops falling asleep with a TV on.

He may very well need to have the TV on in order to fall asleep at all (I have been like this during certain periods of my life). The more you can approach this with that in mind -- that accommodating your request could actually have a short-term negative effect on him -- the more likely he is to listen and to try to accommodate you.

I think a timer on his TV would be a nice option. If I were you, I would offer to buy it for him.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:59 AM on August 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

You might enlist your roommate to help you do some testing to figure out where the sound is most likely leaking. We recently figured out our bedroom TV sound doesn't travel through the wall to the room next door, it's coming through/under the doors into the hallway and then, if you have sensitive hearing, under the doors of the other rooms. Putting a white noise machine (or a fan, in initial testing) outside our door in the hallway did the trick. Maybe getting the roommate to help in that way will invest them more in finding a solution that also lets them listen to the TV at a usable volume without worry.

But also, if you have not tried white noise (or brown or pink is actually more effective for most people) through a real speaker, in your room, pointed to bounce off the walls in the direction the sound is coming from, do try that too. At home we use this tiny thing - which has a surprising output level - inside a bowl to echo more. When I'm traveling I just use my laptop, with a customized white noise to drown out whatever the local noise nuisance is, and some $10 usb speakers that even split apart into two modules, which came in handy last week to bounce the noise off two walls to get more dimensionality since I booked a hotel literally between the interstate and onramp of I-5 in an industrial park and it was the most profound noise pollution I've ever heard.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on August 6, 2018

This is a tough one. It seems like you're coming at it with the assumption that sleeping in a silent environment is a universal norm that your roommate is violating, but as schroedingersgirl pointed out, some people need the TV to fall asleep as much as you need to not hear a TV. As someone who has gotten VERY keyed up over noises I can't control while trying to sleep, I sympathize with you, but I don't think it's reasonable to ask your roommate to stop falling asleep with the TV on if you've already told him about your issues and he's not spontaneously offering to do so.

I hate to be That Person on AskMe, but the fact that you're having actual panic attacks over this makes me wonder if you might benefit from therapy (or at least some manner of overall stress management help). Personally I find that sleep issues crop up more often for me when I'm feeling anxious about lack of control over other things in my life; therapy to address those issues, along with anxiety medication, have made me a much sounder sleeper over the years. It's not a magic bullet and won't fix things immediately, but maybe it might help turbo-boost some of the other suggestions offered above?
posted by DingoMutt at 8:30 AM on August 6, 2018 [10 favorites]

Re: the timer idea, a lot of modern TVs have a "sleep timer" button on the remote (at least all the ones I've owned in the last 15 years or so) so you may not even have to get your roommate a separate timer. My boyfriend falls asleep to a TV and I hate it, so I survive with a combo of sleep mask, ear plugs, and a sleep timer setting that turns it off after 30 mins.

(Ironically I always fall asleep to a TV when I'm alone in a hotel room.)
posted by misskaz at 9:41 AM on August 6, 2018

If masking with your own audio speech sounds good, the podcast Sleep With Me is specifically designed to bore you to sleep!
posted by heyforfour at 11:01 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but I think that you need to manage this problem yourself. You obviously have a lot of anxiety around sleep - it sounds like this is the actual problem, rather than his TV. I used to have the same anxiety around sleep and tried to deal with it by making everyone else be silent - then I dealt with the anxiety and, while I still need reasonable quiet, I found that I can fall asleep with various sounds going on around me.

It sounds like you've already talked to your roommate about this and he has the TV low as it is.
posted by thereader at 12:18 PM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just adding another "try asking him to turn the TV up" voice. (it may also help if he listens to the same thing over and over, every night. Then you won't feel like you need to listen or pay attention. And it'll give you some input on the situation.)

I spent a year in a house with complete asshole neighbours and the lack of control was the biggest thing. I totally had the "phantom voices in white noise" thing where I was sure they were fighting next door, paused my white noise, and there was complete silence.

(so I can also vouch for white (or brown, actually) noise working - I mean, apart from the imagined voices - when I had the speaker close to me in bed it completely drowned out even awful fights with things being thrown etc. Choose a lower frequency)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2018

Earplugs? I use the silicone kind, they block out way more noise than the foam ones. Between that and sometimes a box fan I can usually sleep through a fair amount of noise.

I also am a very sensitive sleeper, and sometimes resort to xanax if the noises I'm hearing are causing me too much sleep anxiety. I need a full 8 hours to function properly and if I fear that something will interfere with that, I get really irritated, even at soft sounds I would otherwise be able to sleep with. I feel you on this.
posted by ananci at 9:30 PM on August 6, 2018

My one weird trick for this is pretending I'm a small child who's been put to bed and the grown ups are still up talking - i.e., putting the noise into a context where I'm safe and cared for (I don't have actual memories of this from childhood, fwiw, more the concept).

If your roommate listens to, like, Cops, my condolences.
posted by momus_window at 9:43 PM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding everyone else who recommended a box fan. I live in the city and CANNOT fall asleep without some sort of white noise, and the only thing that worked for me to cover background noise was a fan. I have a portable white noise machine for when I travel, but it does a much worse job than the fan does- something about the coverage and soothing "natural" sound of the fan's white noise works much better for me.

Unless you live in a very cold climate or are averse to blowing air, I would absolutely recommend a large fan. I sometimes have issues with the moving air if it's cool out, and in that case I just face the fan the opposite way against the wall and don't have any issues. I can't find the link on amazon, but I have a Lasko Cyclone 20" fan that I'm very happy with. If you've used smaller fans in the past, you will find that a much larger fan does a great job covering up background noise, especially when cranked to the highest setting.
posted by andruwjones26 at 8:02 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

QuietOn noise cancelling earplugs are a wonder Buy yourself some.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 12:24 PM on August 7, 2018

I've had this issue around a particular person myself, and it was not so much that the person just happened to fall asleep while the tv happened to be on as that it was a deliberate choice on their part because it helped them to fall asleep.

Timers to auto shut off the tv didn't work out so well in that case, because if the person was sleepless during the night they would turn the tv back on so they could get back to sleep.

I am never, never sharing a hotel room with this person if I can possibly help it ever again.

I'd go into this conversation first explaining that you know they need the tv on to be able to get to sleep, and discussing everything from the point of view that you are working together for everyone in the household to be able to sleep well.

Instead of the changes in volume that most tv shows have when ads come on, he might be able to use a playlist of things that are more consistent in volume, or maybe there's even something where the audio would present less of an issue for you while still working for him.

Also, if looking at headphones there are special headphones for sleeping.

And don't go on a road trip with this roommate unless you've got a really solid plan and back up plan for where you are staying.
posted by yohko at 3:06 PM on August 8, 2018

If you are hearing voices just outside of your perception you can always decide what they are saying. You know it's just your brain trying to make sense out of it and you can't really tell what they are saying and there may not even be any voices. But you can actually easily convince your brain that you know what those voices are talking about.

If you are religious, the obvious explanation to tell yourself is that these are the angels praying for you. You just start projecting warm, affirming snippets of prayers into the sounds, "your child" "protect from all harm" etc.

If you are not religious, then pick a conversational topic that is harmless, vaguely amusing and peaceful. Like two people discussing making custard. Or James Bond and Miss Moneypenny talking over their headsets while base jumping. Or a crowd of people making toasts at your wedding.

People have this problem when they are in sensory deprivation, such as solitary confinement. I understand that integrating the sounds into sexual fantasy is one of the most effective ways to deal with it then. So you can always try and turn it into the sound track of the pillow talk while you are have sex with the most sexy partner(s) imaginable.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:11 AM on August 9, 2018

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