We’ve all felt annoyed by noises that are outside of our control, whether it be a car horn, construction work, or an inconsiderate neighbour’s music. Regular exposure to sounds below 80 decibels (dB) won’t physically harm our ears, but even quiet sounds can have long-term effects on our brains and bodies.
Road traffic and aircraft noise have been linked to impaired concentration, learning and memory, plus increased risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, one analysis found that for every 10dB increase in traffic noise, a person’s risk of coronary heart disease rose by 8 per cent.
Less is known about how other types of noise impact health, but a 2019 study of nearly 4,000 Danish adults living in multistorey housing found that those who reported being annoyed by neighbours’ noise were more likely to report problems like headaches, trouble sleeping, depression and anxiety.
Noise can disrupt our sleep – even if it’s not loud enough to wake us – and poor-quality sleep can influence mood, concentration and lead to long-term harm by triggering our bodies’ stress responses. However, researchers in the Netherlands even found neighbour noise was correlated with the incidence of joint pain, fatigue and cardiovascular disease, even when sleep loss was controlled for statistically.
Wildlife is also affected by the noisy human world. Some birds change the volume or frequency of their calls to cut through the city din and dolphins alter their behaviour and vocalisations to adapt to ship noise.
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