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Traffic May Keep City Dwellers Awake, Harming Health

TUESDAY, Sept. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Nighttime noise pollution -- in particular the din of traffic -- in urban areas puts city residents at risk for disrupted sleep and annoyance, researchers report.

Such chronic sleep disturbance could lead to serious health consequences, including increased risk for heart attack and high blood pressure, according to the new study. In addition, nighttime noise can also lead to poor sleep quality, which can cause morning tiredness and insomnia.

In conducting the study, the researchers examined noise pollution in Atlanta, and the surrounding communities in Fulton County, Ga. This area has a high-density road network, which includes Interstate Highway 285.

The study utilized the U.S. Federal Highway Administration's Traffic Noise Model to produce road traffic noise maps for both day and night. The investigators also collected data on the speed and volume of traffic in the area to estimate traffic noise exposure and the percentages of the local population that would be highly annoyed or have high levels of sleep disturbance.

"Our research estimated that the percentage of the overall populations at risk of high annoyance is 9.5 percent, and highly disturbed sleep at 2.3 percent," study co-investigator James Holt, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a CDC news release.

The study revealed the most densely populated cities in Fulton County were most affected by noise. Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta contributed to 79 percent of people annoyed by the noise in Fulton County. Meanwhile, Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Roswell contributed to 78 percent of sleep disturbance.

The researchers also estimated that just over 11 percent of the daytime population and nearly 4 percent of the nighttime population of the smaller city of College Park were at risk for experiencing annoyance or sleep disturbance. Of those at risk, 68 percent of those at risk for annoyance and 64 percent of those at risk for sleep disturbance lived by I-285.

The researchers noted that noise could affect a greater number of people living in more densely populated cities.

"We believe it is time to begin extensive traffic-related noise research and establish up-to-date policies to control and abate noise problems for our communities," said Holt. "Adequate restful sleep and mental well-being are as essential to good health as adequate nutrition and physical activity. Assessing and alleviating environmental noise is an essential element for improving or creating healthy communities where adults and children can play, work and live."

The study was published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

While the study suggested an association between nighttime noise exposure and health risks, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about sleep.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Sept. 11, 2012

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