Oh, Those Noisy Dorms!

Has your college student complained about the noisy dorms yet? If not, it may be coming. And they may not be exaggerating. Dorms can be wonderful, homey, fun, social spaces – but they can also be noisy and boisterous.

How noisy a dorm is might depend on the school and the culture. There are certainly party schools where there may be more activity and other schools where life may be more laid-back. And the noise level may also depend on the particular dorm at any given school. Different residence halls often have reputations as party dorms, athletic dorms, international dorms, substance free dorms or quiet study dorms.

And just how much all of that commotion bothers your student will depend on their interests and tolerance. Some students thrive on being in the midst of all of the activity and social life while others find it off-putting at best and overwhelming at worst.

What’s the problem with the noise?

There are constantly all sorts of sounds in a dorm – it isn’t all partying. Students may be bombarded with loud voices, music, alarms, beeping microwaves and phones, furniture scraping the floor, doors slamming, showers running, toilets flushing, and sneezing, coughing and snoring. When a lot of people live together, there are sounds.  Students may need to adjust their expectations.

But even students who are prepared, or who may make a fair amount of the noise themselves, may find sounds interfere with studying, sleeping, and the general peace and quiet of the sanctuary of their room.

Getting ahead of the problem

There are a few things that your student might do to prevent, or at least reduce, the noise they need to deal with.

  • Ask whether the college offers quiet(er) study dorms. They may designate some residence halls as 24 hour quiet dorms.
  • Beyond finding a quiet dorm, when it comes time to choose a room, your student might try to find a room on a higher floor to reduce noise from above and also be further from street noise and/or look for a corner room or room at the end of a hall.
  • Your student can negotiate with their roommate early to lay some ground rules for noise within the room. (Is music OK? How late? Visitors? Open door?)
  • Your student might also raise the question at regular hall meetings to see how others on the hall feel about quiet times.
  • Find ways to make the room as soundproof as possible. Put a rug on the floor and acoustic material or fabric hangings on the walls and inside of the door, add curtains, get or create a fabric headboard for the bed and use a draft stopper at the bottom of the door. All of these things can add to the décor while dampening the sound that comes into the room.

These measures may help mitigate the noise in the dorm, but are not likely to eliminate it. So how will your student work around the noise to be able to function comfortably?

Daytime and studying

If noise is interfering with your student’s studying, that’s obviously not a good thing. But if it can’t be eliminated, your student will need to find some strategies to be able to get that studying done. Most dorms have what they might call “courtesy hours” during the day – students are asked to keep noise to a reasonable level and to be respectful of others. But “reasonable” may be relative.

  • Study elsewhere. Take advantage of the library, quiet study lounges, empty classrooms, the town library, anywhere quiet. Dorm rooms are often not the most productive places to study anyway as there are too many distractions (including that bed calling you for a nap.)
  • Use noise cancelling headphones or listen to music with headphones to drown out ambient noise.
  • Invest in earplugs.

What about sleeping?

Studying somewhere else or shutting out sounds with headphones may work for study time, but if you can’t get a good night’s sleep it’s difficult to face the next day. What can your student do to try to sleep through a noisy dorm?

  • Use the padding mentioned above to dampen sounds.
  • Ask the RA to enforce quiet hours. Courtesy Hours (reasonable noise) are for daytime, but most dorms request Quiet Hours (no noise heard outside of rooms) from about 10:00 in the evening until about 8:00 in the morning.
  • Get a white noise (or pink noise) machine to mask outside noise.
  • Sleep with a fan to mask the noise.
  • Speak respectfully to noisy neighbors to request that they lower the volume.
  • Find a wind-down sleep routine that may help you get to sleep more quickly and easily.
  • Rearrange the furniture to position your bed as far away from the noise as possible.
  • Improve other sleep conditions in the room – make sure the room is dark and cool. Use blackout curtains, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, avoid screens and blue light near bedtime.

Having to work to find quiet may take new college students by surprise, so talking about the possibility even before they leave home may help. College is a social place and they should expect a certain amount of disruption. They may even embrace the energy around them and be able to go with the flow.

And of course, your student should make sure they’re not the one making the noise! “Use your indoor voice” takes on a whole new meaning.

Helpful items:

Want to help your student out with their quest to reduce noise and gain sleep? Here are a few items that might be helpful.

Wall tapestry

Blue Light Blocking Glasses

White Noise Machine

Noise cancelling headphones

Bed tent — pop-up privacy tent

Zen indoor table-top water fountain

Related articles:

Is Your Student’s Dorm Room Too Comfortable?

Sweet Dreams! Is Your Student Getting Enough of Them?

Helping Your Student Stay Healthy Living in the Dorm

Helping Your College Student Reduce Roommate Conflict — But Why a Little Conflict May Be a Good Thing


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