The price of noise

Silence is a rare commodity these days, and we are all paying the price of it with our health.

Silence is a rare commodity these days, because society has only gotten louder. There are more cities housing more people, more buildings rising in skylines, and more trains, cars, and airplanes zipping around than ever before, amping up the decibels in communities around the globe.

View of an airplane from a field

“And we’re all paying a price for it in terms of our health,” says Mathias Basner, an associate professor of sleep and chronobiology in psychiatry at Penn. “A surprisingly big price, as it turns out.”

Loud noises can damage hearing, but there are lesser known and equally dangerous impacts on the rest of the body.

People respond to unwanted sounds by excreting stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that can increase blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate. Experience too much of it over extended periods of time and it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, among other health issues, epidemiological studies and experts have suggested.

Sleep disturbance—the focus of Basner’s research—is another underrecognized consequence of excessive noise. 

During sleep, people’s eyes stay shut, but their ears are open, and their brain is listening, monitoring for threats in the environment. They’re exposed. A honk from a car or an airplane swooshing by could wake a person up without them even knowing it and interrupt a good rest several times during the night. That, just like a sleep disorder, can cause problems in the future. Disruptions in sleep from noise have been tied to cardiovascular problems, mood disorders, cognitive decline, lower productivity, and an overall reduced quality of life.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.