Yet another question about a noise keeping me up at night
July 3, 2020 12:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm still cursed to not get a good night's sleep. My downstairs neighbor's window AC unit is incredibly loud. Normally for me, noise at night is no issue because I sleep with earplugs and occasionally earmuffs over them. However, this noise is bassy and carries through those, and it's at a low enough frequency that neither that attenuation or any amount of white noise helps. Strangely, it's only on at night, and only from 11 PM - 8 AM or so.

I've previously asked my neighbor re: noise issues, and she's complied, but I can't ask her to not use AC. But, this has kept me up for 4 of the last 5 nights. I'm losing sleep, napping at awkward points during the day, and it's affecting my sanity.

What I've tried and haven't:

- The last time I had a vibration issue, I bought pads for my bed that dampen vibrations. They don't help enough here - the noise alone is too much while I'm in my bed.

- I've already tried sleeping in my living room and dining room - but the low frequency carries through those rooms.

- I've tried sleeping on the floor - I can feel it even more through the floor.

- I've tried sleeping at a different time - it doesn't work for me, I can't modify my rhythems like that and anyways I have work to do.

What can I do? I feel trapped. I've already been wanting to move but this is not a good time for that.
posted by LSK to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Invite her over one night for a drink at 10pm and let the neighbour hear it for herself. Have a friendly conversation about how hard it is to sleep and let her experience how the noise carries then ask her if she can cool (or warm, I don’t know what hemisphere you’re in) the house down before sleeping hours. So if she puts it on a timer, she can have it on between say 4pm to 10pm if that’s when you go to bed. Then it goes off, so by then her house is comfortable and you can sleep. Be polite and hopefully she’ll be reasonable but it seems crazy not to at least ask.
posted by Jubey at 1:30 AM on July 3, 2020

I wonder if she could make it vibrate less by putting some kind of padding between it and the window sill? I know those are heavy, though. Maybe some memory foam or hard styrofoam?

It might have an unbalanced fan in it or something. It's probably loud for her too... maybe you could contribute to a repair? Or team up to make the landlord repair it?
posted by amtho at 2:13 AM on July 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I only run my AC at night unless it’s super hot out - I think probably lots of people find they need it for sleeping but not other activities. And I leave at least the fan part on all night because if it cycles on and off that can wake me up.

It’s probably a good idea to go to your neighbor with some potential solutions that don’t require a lot of behavior changes on her part. Dampening, as suggested above, could work. Do you have money to throw at the problem? You might be able to buy her a new, quieter, more efficient unit for under $200, or maybe she would be willing to make the purchase herself (especially if you bugged her/helped her get it delivered and installed).
posted by mskyle at 3:35 AM on July 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

Strangely, it's only on at night, and only from 11 PM - 8 AM or so.

This seems pretty normal to me - we keep our house several degrees warmer during the day (to save energy) than we do at night (because I can’t sleep if it’s too warm). I’m actually considering getting a window AC unit for the bedroom even though we have central air, so that I can keep the bedroom cool at night in a more energy efficient manner. So, if your neighbor only runs the AC at night, she probably needs it to sleep - I agree with your assessment that you really can’t ask her not to use it.

I also agree with phunniemee that it would be worth talking to a doctor about sleep aids. While you might be able to fix this problem eventually (with vibration dampening aids or whatever), something else is going to come up - especially if you live in an apartment in a city. There’s a certain level of ambient noise that’s just unavoidable. Even if you move, if you’re sensitive enough that an air conditioner bothers you, something else is going to come up in a new apartment.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:57 AM on July 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think you need to go to a doctor to get evaluated for a sleep disorder.

I have been to a doctor twice, and both times I have been told I am normal and have just been handed a sheet of paper listing "sleep tips" like not eating before bed and only using the bed for sleep. Maybe it is time to go again and be insistent.
posted by LSK at 6:31 AM on July 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

You have my sympathies, as a fellow light-sleeper. It sounds like you've already tried noise-blocking solutions including white noise. I'll mention what I've been doing in case it helps. I wear Howard Leight earplugs at night, and blast at full volume on my phone (without headphones, just into the room) this "rain sounds for sleeping" video. This combo is the best I've tried for blocking sound.

Additionally, one thing I've been trying to do is to have my mind "forget" or ignore certain sounds. I noticed that the sound of the loud-ass birds singing outside my window at 4 am does not keep me awake, because I like birds. However, my neighbor coughing and dumping his trash in the trashcan outside my window at 6 am will not only wake me up, it will enrage me and keep me from sleeping, because it's a sound my brain thinks I should be annoyed by. This is even though the sound is objectively quieter than the birds singing or the squirrels scrabbling around on the metal patio roof outside my window. So I'm working on letting myself relax with all different types of noises, and reassure myself that I don't have to be vigilant about them. It's a work in progress...
posted by whistle pig at 7:52 AM on July 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think going to your neighbor in this case would be counterproductive, you want to save that opportunity for when thy do something much more disruptive than the average neighbor.

I have two suggestions outside the normal for persistent issues like this: CBD oil and meditation. I have a lot of sensory annoyance issues (like itching, noises startling me, etc) and taking concentrated CBD oil before bed helps me a lot and I can sleep through them. It tastes bad and I use a fairly high dose, but I would start low and work up until it does something

That was a good short term change, but I think my meditation also helped a lot because I don't even take CBD most nights any more. Mindfulness meditation can help give you a higher tolerance for sensations as well, and it's helped me a lot in dealing with my tinnitus, which is somewhat similar and cannot be drowned out with white noise.

What you want here are non-harmful ways to deal with sensations taking over your attention, these are 2 but there are others.
posted by JZig at 8:49 AM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have been to a doctor twice, and both times I have been told I am normal...

That's called being given the brush-off.

Since you do appear to have a lot of trouble with noise in what presumably is one apartment, the best solution is, unfortunately, to move. Look for a place to rent like a mother-in-law suite that is not attached to a main house, if possible. Even better would be to buy your own house, in which you have much more control over noise, especially if the neighbors aren't close, but obviously not everyone can afford to do that. If nothing else, maybe move to a new unit. The point is, where you are isn't working for you. In a hot summer people are going to run their AC at night. I understand how much it sucks not to be able to sleep, you have my sympathy on that. But long-term you're going to need a better doctor who actually listens to your concerns, which sometimes takes two or three or four doctors to find, and/or just move.

Good luck.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones are perfect for eliminating constant low hums like ACs. They're kind of spendy but worth it for getting good sleep.
posted by stefanie at 9:21 AM on July 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Invite her over one night for a drink at 10pm and let the neighbour hear it for herself. Have a friendly conversation... Be polite and hopefully she’ll be reasonable but it seems crazy not to at least ask.

Please don't ask your neighbor to stop doing something that is both (a) perfectly reasonable and (b) probably necessary to her own sleep comfort. I am very, very cautious about making any noise that might disturb my neighbors, and go out of my way to be very quiet. But if you asked me to stop using A/C at night in the summer (!), you would forever be the Unreasonable Neighbor to me. I would not adjust my use of A/C and to be honest would actively avoid you thereafter.

If you think her A/C unit is broken/damaged or that it's volume could be fixed, that *may* be a different story.
posted by shb at 10:29 AM on July 3, 2020 [12 favorites]

Your extremely heightened sensitivity to noise and vibrations—as demonstrated by this ongoing issue—is a symptom and not the problem.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 10:46 AM on July 3, 2020

Depending on what earplugs you use, you might be able to get ones rated for higher decibel levels.
posted by trig at 11:07 AM on July 3, 2020

I have been to a doctor twice, and both times I have been told I am normal and have just been handed a sheet of paper listing "sleep tips" like not eating before bed and only using the bed for sleep. Maybe it is time to go again and be insistent.

As someone noted, this is the doctor giving you the brush-off. It's happened to me, too; I'm a woman, so my health concerns are often brushed off by the medical establishment, and I am also someone who hates to be "a bother." That's not a great combo for getting my problems taken seriously. Sooooo I've had to learn to be more assertive. Someone here, I think, mentioned a phrase that seems to work wonders: "This is interfering with my quality of life" and then list the ways that the problem interferes.

When you visit the doctor, tell them that this has been a problem for years, it seems to follow you around no matter where you live or who you are living with, and that even minimal levels of noise or vibration cause you to go without sleep for days on end. Tell them it is causing you to not be able to function in your daily life because of the fatigue. I think letting them know this has been ongoing for years and the extent of the effect it has on you despite your mitigation attempts will convey the idea that it is serious.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:45 AM on July 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

Have you tried layering white noise? I didn't think I could sleep with one but discovered that it's the key to a peaceful night while traveling.

Try an app that lets you layer sounds to find one that sufficiently neutralizes the noise. Focus on layering deeper noises to drown out the ac. I can't recommend any app specifically, but with a quick search, you can find several of the variety that let you layer sounds.

If you do try the white noise route, make sure to turn it up much louder than you think you'd like. Even though it feels loud, the monotony of the sound allows your brain to cancel it out. When I wake up after a night of white noise, I often find that I forget to turn the sound off because I don't really hear it any longer.

Not sleeping is the pits. Good luck!
posted by defreckled at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

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