Environmental Sleep Factors

Taking it to the Sheets: Why Sleep is so Important
The importance of quality sleep isn’t a new concept. In fact, it was more than 2,000 years ago that Greek physician Hippocrates




The importance of quality sleep isn’t a new concept. In fact, it was more than 2,000 years ago that Greek physician Hippocrates wrote, “Disease exists if either sleep or watchfulness be excessive.”

The truth is the same now as it was then: Sleep is a vital part of your overall health and wellbeing. Get enough and you’ll boost everything from your energy levels to your brainpower. Get too little and you put yourself at higher risk of a range of diseases and conditions, from diabetes to depression. (1, 7)

What has changed from ancient times, however, is that sleep deprivation is increasingly common in today’s more-developed countries. Millions of people worldwide are not getting the sleep they need—a trend that robs them of the daily, necessary rest and rejuvenation afforded by quality sleep. (14)

In a pioneering 1999 study by Spiegel, et al., researchers discovered that sleep deprivation has a harmful effect on a body’s metabolism and endocrine functions—simulating what is seen in advanced aging. As a result, the study found that “sleep debt may increase the severity of age-related chronic disorders.” (14)

Based on this study, it could be argued that sleep prevents premature aging. (And we thought beauty sleep sounded good.)




Poor quality and duration of sleep—which may be caused by sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless legs syndrome—poses a serious threat to one’s physical, mental, emotional and social health. Clinical research shows that insufficient sleep affects work, chores, concentration, forgetfulness, mental tiredness, alertness, irritability, energy, daytime sleepiness, and social functioning. (9)

Conversely, research shows that sufficient, quality sleep provides myriad benefits—from contributing to a fresh, energizing start to your day to boosting your productivity, sociability and overall wellbeing. Years of clinical research tell us that proper sleep can:


– Improve your overall wellbeing and quality of life. (1)

– Boost your immunity and help you fight infection. (1)

– Help you perform better—and more safely—in work and school. (1)

– Strengthen your memory. (2)

– Help you metabolize sugar, which can help prevent diabetes. (1)

– Prevent vascular complications such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke. (8)

– Lower your risk of early death. (3)





Environmental conditions, such as temperature, noise, light, bed comfort and electronic distractions, play a significant role in one’s ability to get proper sleep—and, subsequently, in overall sleep-related wellness.

For instance, in an Israeli study of eighth- and ninth-grade students, researchers found that those adolescents with excessive electronic media habits experienced daytime sleep-related problems.  The study found that students with televisions in their bedrooms went to bed later in the night and slept less than those without televisions. The authors of the study point out that these findings raise a public health concern regarding lifestyle and functioning in young people. (10)

Environmental noise is another significant factor when it comes to influencing sleep-wake behavior and sleep quality. Research shows that high sound levels during sleep—whether from traffic, neighbors, or disturbances in your own home—can decrease your sleep intensity, cause you to wake more often during the night, and can even increase your stress hormone secretion. According to a German study by Kohlhuber, et al., the results of this poor sleep quality reach far beyond the short-term consequences of reduced cognitive performance and general tiredness. Their study showed that the long-term consequences of repeated sleep loss due to environmental noise may include heart disease and increased medication intake. (11, 13)

When it comes to noise and sleep, research suggests that intermittent sounds—such as an occasional honking or revving car—is more disturbing than continuous noise. For this reason, one study found that young adults who live in urban areas may be chronically sleep deprived to some degree—a condition, the study found, that affected these adults’ moods. (12)

There are several ways to decrease the noise and other environmental conditions that hinder quality sleep. Make your bedroom more conducive to sleep—and improve your odds of getting a good night’s rest—with these suggestions:

·         Make your bed an inviting place to be. Buy comfortable bedding, including pillows, sheets, and comforters or other coverings. (4)

·         Turn out the lights. Tell your body it’s time to sleep by darkening your room. Eliminate as much light as possible, blocking sunlight with curtains or shades.

·         Turn off the TV. Keep all electronics—from televisions to computers to cell phones—out of your bedroom.

·         Turn down the volume. Make sure sound levels during the night are significantly lower than during the day. Block out distracting sounds by turning off any electronics, such as televisions or radios, closing the bedroom door, and using heavy curtains if traffic noise or other outside noise is a problem. (5, 6, 11)

·         Adjust the thermostat. Find the temperature at which you are most comfortable sleeping.

·         Protect your bed. Use your bed only for sleep and sex—and not as an office or family recreation space.




Submit your questions about environmental factors that disturb sleep to be answered by our sleep experts.  Questions and answers will be posted on May 1, 2012.



1.      Sleep health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=38. Accessed February 18, 2012.

2.      Tamminen J, et al. Sleep spindle activity is associated with the integration of new memories and existing knowledge. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2010;30:14356.

3.      Cappuccio FP, et al. Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep. 2010;33:585.

4.      Terzano MG and Parrino L. Origin and Significance of the Cyclic Alternating Pattern (CAP). Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2000;4:101–123.

5.      Tomoyuki Kawada. Noise and Health—Sleep Disturbance in Adults. J Occup Health. 2011; 53: 413–416.

6.      Bluhm, Gosta, and Charlotta Eriksson. Cardiovascular effects of environmental noise. Noise and Health. 2011;13: 212-216.

7.      Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. www.cdc.gov/sleep. Accessed February 18, 2012.

8.      Culebras, A. Sleep Disorders. In: Kris Heggenhougen and Stella Quah, editors International Encyclopedia of Public Health, Vol 6. San Diego: Academic Press; 2008: 21-26.

9.      Lasch KE, Abraham L, Patrick J, Piault EC, Tully SE, Treglia M. Development of a next day functioning measure to assess the impact of sleep disturbance due to restless legs syndrome: the restless legs syndrome-next day impact questionnaire. Sleep Med. 2011 Sep;12(8):754-61. Epub 2011 Aug 6.

10.  Shochat T, Flint-Bretler O, Tzischinsky O. Sleep patterns, electronic media exposure and daytime sleep-related behaviours among Israeli adolescents. Acta Paediatr. 2010 Sep;99(9):1396-400. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2010.01821.x.
PMID: 20377536.

11.  Kohlhuber M, Bolte G. Influence of environmental noise on sleep quality and sleeping disorders-implications for health. Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz. 2011 Dec;54(12):1319-24. German. PMID: 22116482.

12.  Carter NL. Transportation noise, sleep, and possible after-effects. Environment International. 1996;22:105-116.

13.  Okada A., Inaba R. Comparative study of the effects of infrasound and low-frequency sound with those of audible sound on sleep. Environment International. 1990;16:483-490.

14.  Spiegel K, Leproult R, et al. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. The Lancet. 1999;354:1435-1439.