When sound sensitivity disturbs sleep


It happened again. In the pitch blackness of my room I am now awake. Whereas a second ago I was immersed in a deep sleep, now I’m jolted awake.

My heart rate takes off, pounding against my chest. That panicked feeling of everyone has begun working on a project but you got caught in a daydream when you snap to attention and realize you’re behind and better start working right now. That kind of panic sets in.

So I’m awake. My heart’s beating super fast. And then I hear it. The thumping sound that somehow matches my heart beat. A sound that I can feel reverberating in my chest, right alongside my heart. But this sound isn’t in my bedroom. It’s coming from overhead. It’s the reason I’m now alert. My neighbor is awake.


Every morning about 6:15 I hear a thumping sound. She must be recreating a Family Circus cartoon where the kid’s black dots trace a path over every surface of the room and up and down trees instead of taking direct routes. It seems like she never stops moving. Then she does stop for about 5 minutes, but it starts again. How is someone this active in the morning? What is she doing?

I’ve tried knocking on my neighbor’s door to ask about her morning routine. If it was a matter of walking from bedroom to kitchen, prepping coffee, sitting at the table and then getting up to retrieve prepped coffee, I think it would be fine. But it really sounds like she’s trying to achieve 10,000 steps before leaving for work. And likely in heels.

But each time I knock on the door, no one answers. She’s probably smart, not opening the door to a stranger, but it just infuriates me more.

So I wrote a note and left it on her door. It took a week but I got a reply. She was so sweet and apologetic in her reply, seemingly completely unaware that anyone could hear her. Her unit has a loft and she likes to spend time up there in the morning, she explained. And since the loft isn’t connected to my ceiling, she didn’t think anyone could hear anything.

So maybe I was hearing her go up and down the stairs to the loft. I don’t know. She promised to try to be more careful.

So the following morning, my alarm woke me. Peacefully. At 8:30. (My work day starts about 2:30 pm so getting up at 6 am isn’t ideal but I still want to do things before heading to the office.)

It was glorious! To wake up when you intend to be up. Instead of rudely startled awake with a panic attack.

So I wrote her another note thanking her for the effort. I wanted to be the kind of person who says thank you. And I taped that on her door.

I crept up the stairwell that evening to make sure she got the note but it was still there. And a day later it was still there as well. Hmm. Is she sick?

I wanted her to know which morning I was referring to that was wonderful. So I wrote a date on the envelope.

She eventually took the note. Things were better for a while and then back to being awful.

That was about 10 months ago.

Despite the three white noise fans operating at full blast, I hear it.

Despite the weighted blanket I now sleep with. That deep pressure isn’t soothing enough to offset the aggravation.

The deep breathing exercises I’ve attempted help calm me down but they don’t ease the rapid heat beat to help me fall back asleep.

I’ve tried jamming in ear plugs before going to bed, but they shift during the night. One usually falls out by morning.

I’ve tried silicone putty ear plugs. Those have better suction but after the first use they don’t work the same. And I have to press it deeper in my ear to create that suction effect each time I wake myself up when flipping to sleep on my other side. So that’s not effective.

I’ve tried an eye mask with speakers over the ears. It’s supposed to have a dual impact of blocking our morning sun and putting soothing sounds right next to my ears.

This has backfired so bad. First, the speakers are incredibly difficult to adjust and position just right so I can hear and so that I can sleep on my side without feeling like I’m sleeping on a rock. There’s the fear that the cord running down my neck and connecting to my phone will twist and choke me as I sleep, but thankfully I haven’t encountered that.

What really doesn’t work are the sounds. I’ve tried various phone apps with nature sounds. They might be soothing but there are dead spots in the loop. The stomping from upstairs sneaks its way in between these softer moments, creating a dissonance that just amplifies the neighbor. The other problem is finding a sound that drowns out everything yet is no longer soothing enough to encourage sleep.

I’ve lived in this unit for four years now. I’ve had arguing neighbors who got into screaming matches. The next tenants must have had a dog based on the movements that sounded like short-lived running before what I pictured as jumping onto a couch. But that didn’t happen in the morning. Other problems cropped up but they didn’t interfere with my ability to sleep.

Before this woman moved in, I believe it was unoccupied for a few months. I must have gotten used to that peace.

Now my ears are tuned and waiting to alert me of overhead noises. My nervous system goes overboard and I really don’t know how to remedy the situation.

I can’t complain of noise issues with the main office. She’s walking around in her unit. That’s not exactly illegal. Blasting music would be different. I’ve complained before about other sound issues and not much comes from that.

I could move. But I live about five minutes from work and am in a great location for everything else I need. Plus rent is the best rate I’ll find in the area; I’ve checked. I won’t find a better deal unless I add a 20+ minute commute or get a roommate or downsize from a one-bedroom to an efficiency for the same rate. None of which sounds appealing.

In the summer months I woke up at 6 am, on purpose, to get in a morning walk before the humidity became unbearable. That was my attempt to make the best of the situation. And that helped with reducing the feeling of anger when I got out of bed. I controlled the alarm instead of being forced awake. I’d either endure the long day or take a nap before work.

But now as the mornings are getting colder, I’m not as excited about taking a super early walk. I’d rather walk and exercise first thing because it becomes increasingly easier to put it off and not do it at all. I suppose I need to suck it up and just get out of bed and get on with my morning routine, plan to go back to taking naps before work. But I have to figure out some course of action, some way to get better sleep, so I don’t completely lose it at work.


11 thoughts on “When sound sensitivity disturbs sleep”

  1. Ugh, I too am super noise sensitive, I live in a house but for me it’s the sound of the trucks on the road which start each morning around 4am ish. We live on the main road through town and traffic starts up again around 4am every morning. After 10 years here, we finally had the money to have our bedroom sound proofed a couple of months ago. OMG glorious! Such a difference. Not sure if it is doable in your apartment or not but one thing you can try is attaching thick draping fabric to the ceiling and down the walls. I find this can really help mute sounds traveling from above. Or you could leave her a holiday present of nice quiet slippers with a note “for your early morning loft time” LOL Sorry your neighbor doesn’t ‘get it’ and it’s more considerate.


    1. I’ll have to look into some soundproofing options. Hadn’t considered that. Thanks for the idea!! Glad you’ve found some relief. I’ve had trouble with sounds interrupting sleep before but they were more isolated events instead of something ongoing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I fell into a bout of depression few years ago precisely of this issue. People say I’ll get used to the noise, NO, they’re wrong, I don’t!!! I still get angry and my heart still race every time I hear my neighbours from upstairs. If its bedtime, I use sleepphones and play my favourite music, doesn’t always drown out the noise but at least listening to my favourite music makes me less agitated, I don’t have an issue with the cord so far, I suppose the noise was driving me so mad, choking to death in sleep doesn’t sound as bad by comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ouch! Yeah nothing to get used to here either. Glad you found some relief with sleep phones. I wish I could make something like that work. But I don’t have trouble falling asleep, just staying asleep in the morning. And once my heart starts going fast, playing music isn’t really going to help calm me down.

      I hope you’ve found other ways of coping too. Depression and choking by cord (even accidentally) …. people care about you, I promise! Not alone. No matter how challenging the circumstances are, at least one person cares and I have no doubt many more.

      Liked by 1 person

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