Sleep deficit is a global issue that affects individuals in various parts of the world. One specific location where residents have been facing sleep disruption is Omagh, a small city in Northern Ireland. Since September, residents have been kept awake at night due to a sustained buzzing or humming noise accompanied by vibrations. This phenomenon is not new and has been observed by Glen MacPherson, a former University of British Columbia lecturer and current high school math teacher and ethnographer, since 2012. MacPherson's research suggests that only a small percentage of people, around 2% to 4%, can hear this "Worldwide Hum." However, what is likely disturbing the sleep of Omagh residents and others in heavily populated areas is low-frequency noise (LFN), which is mostly caused by human- or industrially made sources such as ventilation systems, traffic, airplanes, and wind turbines.
Sleep disruption caused by low-frequency noise can have significant consequences. It can lead to increased levels of lighter stage 1 sleep, decreased deep sleep, and disrupted rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where most dreams occur. Chronic exposure to background noise has been linked to cardiac changes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, increased stress hormones, and structural changes in the brain. In the short term, these noises can cause crankiness and fatigue, while over time, they can affect cognition and memory.
Low-frequency noise is a problem worldwide, and in 2022, the World Health Organization issued guidance on the health impact of these environmental noises. Various sleep experts suggest that even short-term exposure to unfamiliar settings and noise can disrupt sleep quality. For travelers, maintaining a stable wake time and getting exposure to sunlight or light upon waking can help regulate sleep. Creating a dark sleep environment, using eye masks, and using earplugs or masking sounds can also be beneficial. Smartphone apps can provide plans for shifting time zones, sleep schedules, and meal planning to minimize the impact of travel on sleep.
It is important to prioritize sleep and find strategies that work for individuals to ensure a good night's rest, especially during the holidays when stress levels can be high. Quality sleep can help mitigate stress and allow individuals to be their best selves.