Posted by: kaleidophonic | June 20, 2012

Some random thoughts on noise pollution…

It’s so hot… Montreal is sweltering under the first heatwave of the summer, and my apartment’s thermostat tells me it’s 33 degrees celsius in here. Whew.

The heat is making it hard for me to sleep, and for two nights in a row now I’ve been waking up with a sore neck. At first I thought it was just because I was so warm all night, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I become of the fact that the noise from my fans might be the true culprit. I have a ceiling fan and a standing fan, both of which I set on high at night before I go to bed. They’re not quiet… the ceiling fan makes an annoying “tic tic tic” sound as it revolves, and the motor of my standing fan is fairly noisy. Add to the fact that I have all my windows open so street noises come in, as well as the hum from all my neighbours’ air-conditioning units, and, well, my nighttime isn’t very quiet.

While noise can obviously cause sleep disturbances, such as loud or sudden noises waking you up, it can also inhibit people from attaining deep sleep. In addition to this there is the factor of noise-induced anxiety, which I think might be what’s going on with me. The noise from the fans makes me unconsciously tense, so I clench my jaw and the muscles in my neck, thus waking up sore in the morning.

It’s a pretty crappy situation, but I’m not sure what to do about it. If it’s too hot I won’t sleep at all, and a crummy sleep is still better than being a total zombie the next day, especially given that I need a reasonable amount of intelligence in my line of work. I can’t just shut my brain down and be a robot. A whisper-silent fan would be ideal, but I’m a poor grad student, with little extra cash to spare on the luxury of silent household appliances.

This leads me to make a point about noise pollution that too-often goes unremarked: that while it tends to be people in the middle-to-upper classes who file noise complaints, those people most affected by noise are those in lower income brackets. We live in more densely populated areas, meaning more sounds from our neighbours. We can’t afford the costs of better-built condos with sound-insulated walls and ceilings, or detached dwellings. Any many lower-income neighbourhoods are located near sources of noise such as railroad tracks, highways, factories, airports, busy intersections, or shopping malls. No quiet tree-lined suburbs for us. Luckily my neighborhood is relatively quiet after dark, with the exception of drunken shouting, which actually seems to happen about once every night. Sigh.

I do actually have a window-mounted A/C unit. But I rarely use it. You might think I’m crazy (and maybe I am) but I have my reasons. First of all, I try to keep my ecological footprint to a minimum. A/C units draw a lot of power from the grid – this is why there are often power outages or brown-outs during heatwaves: everyone has their A/C on full, and the system just can’t handle all the demand. The irony of this is that all this electricity flying around and the friction of all those running motors actually creates MORE heat. Another reason I don’t use my A/C very often is that I find it creates this really nasty stale air in my apartment, which gives me a sore throat. Yuck. Thirdly, I did a bit of experimenting the other day: I had the apartment sealed up and the A/C on all day, but somehow when I got home after working it felt stickier and warmer in my apartment than it did outside. I think what might be happening is that all the cool air I’m generating is sinking down to the first floor (I’m up on the third), pushing the hot air up to me. And then the hot air gets trapped up here because I’ve got all the windows closed. WTF. So, I just opted to let the breeze in, keep myself hydrated, and wash my feet with cold water every now and then (you’d be surprised how much this helps, actually). I even came up with a neat way to keep my kitty hydrated: tuna-flavored ice-cubes. Yum!

Anyways, just thought I’d offer these random ramblings. Maybe tonight I will try sleeping with earplugs, even though I find those things hurt my ears after a few hours. Hopefully they won’t cause me to sleep through my alarm in the morning…

In the meantime, stay cool, Kaleidolings!

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