Noise harms more than the ears
“Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.”
– William H. Stewart, former U.S. Surgeon General
Studies correlate noise with physiological changes in sleep, blood pressure, and digestion, and have linked noise with a negative impact on the developing fetus.
Noise and sleep
According to Alice Suter, noise expert, noise is one of the most common forms of sleep disturbance and when sleep disruption becomes chronic, adverse health effects are great. Research shows that intermittent and impulsive noise is more disturbing than continuous noise. The Environmental Protection Agency identified an indoor day-night average sound level (DNL) of 45 dBA (equivalent to a night-time average sound level of 35 dBA) to protect against sleep disturbance.
Noise and cardiovascular changes
Studies show that exposure to noise is associated with elevations in blood pressure. There is some disagreement as to whether or not these changes are permanent or temporary. Rehm (1983) reported increased levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine suggesting cardiovascular involvement. Rehm also found a correlation beyond noise annoyance and adverse cardiovascular effects.
Noise and gastrointestinal changes
Studies have linked noise exposure with increased gastric emptying (Kaus & Fell, 1984), with increased peristaltic esophageal contraction (Young, 1987), as well as increased anxiety. Another study found an increase in the use of antacids and hypnotics, sedatives and antihypertensives in a noisy community, as compared to a quiet community (Knipschild, 1977).
Noise and annoyance
Noise is also a significant source of annoyance. In a 1997 study, Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D. et al., found that nearly seventy percent of the residents surveyed living within the flight corridors reported that they were bothered by aircraft noise and that these noises interfered with daily activities. Further, the subjects who were bothered by aircraft noise were more likely to complain of sleep difficulties and more likely to perceive themselves to be in poorer health.
Noise and mental health
We all know the stress created by unwanted sound. Even noise that may not be at hazardous levels to our hearing can make us tense and angry. Consider how irritating the simple dripping of a faucet can be in the middle of the night, let alone more intrusive noises. Studies have found noise to be associated with increased aggression (Donnerstein and Wilson, 1976) and less helpful behavior (Mathews and Cannon, 1975). Numerous articles in major newspapers have reported noise disputes leading to violence and in England, (August, 1995) the Daily Mirror reported that in the previous six years, 16 people or more were murdered or committed suicide due to chronic noise.
Beyond the research
Although more research is necessary, anecdotal reports to the Noise Center indicate that noise has devastating effects on health. People report that noise interferes with the ability to sleep, eat and causes a wide range of health problems which affects the overall quality of life. People not only have the right to peace and quiet, their health depends on it.