Add white noise. “Background noise is good for two reasons,” says David Neubauer, M.D., associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, in Baltimore. “It helps block outside noises, like road-repair workers and your neighbor’s stereo. Beyond that, psychologically, it’s soothing.” A constant stream of low sound or a variety of recognizable ones―ocean waves, rain, summer crickets―can keep sudden noises from waking you up. Plus, some people find the sounds themselves calming.
Try: Fans, window air conditioners, or anything else that drones continuously. A sound machine is ideal if you don’t want to run a fan or an air conditioner all night and if you’d rather hear chirps, croaks, or rushing water.
Play music or talk radio. It’s important to use a device with a timer so the noise shuts off within an hour or so and doesn’t wake you later, during lighter phases of sleep, says James B. Maas, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Cornell University and a coauthor of Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance ($14, barnesandnoble.com).
Plug your ears. Earplugs made of soft foam or moldable silicone, which conform to the shape of the outer ear canal, are inexpensive and easy to use. You can still hear, even well enough to have a conversation, but sound is muffled and unlikely to wake you.
Try: Super Leight Pre-Shaped Foam Ear Plugs or Mack’s Safe Sound Soft Foam Earplugs ($4 for 10 pairs at drugstores). Roll a plug between your fingers until it’s small enough to slip gently into the outer ear canal; it will slowly expand to fill the space.