The 9-Cent Item That Saved Me from Having to Move Again

published Nov 23, 2018
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(Image credit: Liz Calka)

When my husband, son, and I moved into our new apartment eight weeks ago, we fell in love with our new warm and welcoming building as well as the energy of the neighborhood itself.

While looking at the place, we noticed a fire station two blocks away—but how busy could it be at night? Ha! Joke was on us because rare is the night when New York City’s finest don’t race up the avenue outside our windows on some life-saving mission.

Still, we love our place and don’t want to have to move, so figuring out a solution to the incessant sounds that seem to begin right when we hit maximum REM is high priority. So I set out to find products that might drift us off into noise-reducing sleep:

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First up The Authentic Sleep Sound Machine by Hammacher Schlemmer ($50). Oh how I wanted to love this beige box with its two adjustable levels of white noise. But, after a few nights spent testing it out, I quickly learned that, even in its loudest setting, the sounds of sirens still overpower the device. I think it would have been fine for a noisy suburban street, but for my New York avenue? Thank you, next.

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So then I tried Noise-Masking Sleepbuds by Bose ($249). It was very cool to set up the app and put on these super-comfy earbuds before plugging into soothing sounds all night long. I got to bed super quick, but unfortunately, the minute I heard any honking or sirens I was jolted awake and out of my spa-like zen—well before I was truly ready to be up and get ready for work. Again, I think these may work if you have trouble falling asleep, but they don’t help drown out the noise like I need them to.

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I’ll admit I was getting discouraged so I tried to cozy up my space. I plugged in my diffuser by Saje Wellness ($80) which steamed out the most delicious sleep-inducing scents and I cocooned myself in a comfy faux-fur Peyton & Parker lined pillow ($16) and blanket ($20) from JCPenney… still the noise—the noise!

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Something told me I might have to go old-school in my quest for quiet. In the end, what worked best surprised me. Turns out, good old-fashioned ear plugs have been the best way to block out the sleep-interrupting noise that punctuates most of our evenings. And there’s even better news: Ear plugs are incredibly inexpensive (I found a bag of 200 pairs of 3M earplugs for $17.95 on Amazon, which translates to about 9 cents for a pair) and tackle the most annoying frequencies, too.

Turns out, the little old-fashioned gizmos have some solid science behind them: Once you insert the soft foam material into your ear canal, it expands inside for maximum noise reduction. Unlike the white noise machines, which add additional noise to the room at all frequencies and mask the irritating sounds, ear plugs actually act as a barrier and block the sound from entering your ears.

“Earplugs are better at blocking low-frequency sounds, such as the ones that pass through walls, closed windows, and doors,” says Ted Madison, a noise expert at 3M’s personal safety division. “For example, when your neighbor’s music is too loud, you mostly hear the bass [low-frequency], not the treble.”

Though I don’t even want to even talk about the possibility of a loud neighbor, it’s nice to know that my 9-cent solution might be able to take on whatever this new apartment throws my way.

Editor’s note: A reader kindly pointed out that if you sleep with earplugs in, you might not be able to hear a smoke or carbon dioxide alarm if they go off during the night, so please use your discretion.