Noise Nuisances of the Nation

What noises do the nation love and loathe, and where are the noisiest spots in the UK?

Us Brits have been spending more time at home recently (as if you need reminding!), leaving us exposed to annoying noises that we might not have noticed before. It could be your partner chewing a little too enthusiastically, your neighbour blasting out heavy rock music at all hours of the day, or even the sound of children loudly enjoying their youth (while us adults are miserably slouched behind our work desks). But, whatever the source of the noise, it can be a real pain to have to suffer through.

Specific noises can drive people absolutely bonkers. So much so, it can influence important decisions like where you live and even the people you date (drink slurpers, we’re looking at you). To find out the sounds we hate the most and where to get some much-needed peace and quiet (or where to avoid for its noisiness), we surveyed the British public about their noise nuisances, and uncovered the number of noise complaints in the top 25 most-populated cities.

The top 10 most hated noises

Key:

Male

Female

Rank All Male/Female Play sound
1 Loud chewing 48.92% 42.95% 54.63%
2 Construction noises 42.99% 35.53% 50.13%
3 Alarms 40.32% 38.60% 41.97%
4 Children screaming 36.19% 38.12% 34.33%
5 Snoring 35.95% 31.59% 40.14%
6 Slurping drinks 34.79% 33.56% 35.97%
7 A dog barking 31.12% 31.86% 30.42%
8 Sniffing 25.89% 24.03% 27.68%
9 Dripping taps 24.29% 21.03% 27.42%
10 Mosquitoes/other bugs 20.09% 18.92% 21.21%

The price of a moment of silence

In a world where planes fly over our heads, notification bells ring nonstop and car horns toot, getting a moment of peace feels as hard to come by as a roll of toilet paper in March 2020. But, amongst all the racket, complete silence is what over half of the nation need in order to relax, according to our survey.

This rare commodity is vital in a world where homes moonlight as office spaces, classrooms and playgrounds. So, if given the chance, what price would people be willing to pay to mute all the loud sounds that disrupt their day-to-day activities? Well, we found that nearly 20% of Brits are willing to fork out up to £50 a month to make sure they aren’t subjected to noisy disturbances. That’s enough to subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube Premium each month and still have enough spare change for snacks.

Britain’s most annoying sounds

We know what silence is worth, but which sounds have the potential to really drive us bananas? Could it be the sound of cutlery scraping on plates that makes you want to rip your ears off? Or, is it the buzzing of mosquitoes and other insects that makes you want to obsessively bulk buy bug spray?

Unfortunately, there are some sounds, like construction work and the children next door screaming their lungs out that rank high on everyone’s list of most annoying sounds, with a respective 43% and 40% of respondents identifying them as their least favourite noises.

However, the noise we can all agree on as the most irritating is happening at the dining table. Yep, 49% of Brits stated it’s the sound of people chewing that makes their skin crawl. So, for the sake of half the nation, if your loved one sounds like a cow chewing on cud, it’s best to try and nip that little habit in the bud.

While on one hand, you might want to think about taking a nice deep breath next time you hear someone slurp on their soup, there’s actually a scientific explanation for your rage. Hearing certain sounds has the potential to move some people to anger or even activate a fight-or-flight response in them. This is known as misophonia, which is a neurological condition in which specific noises, usually loud chewing, breathing and sniffing, can trigger an emotional response.

So, it’s not surprising that on the list of the top ten most annoying sounds, four are related to misophonia – loud chewing, snoring, slurping drinks and sniffing.

The most regular noise disturbances

Not everyone lives in the countryside, far away from busy roads, or is lucky enough to have the perfect neighbour who goes to bed at 9.30pm every night like clockwork. Instead, noises such as traffic, music or (heaven forbid) bad singing next door can make simple tasks like reading a book or having a work meeting an uphill struggle.

It turns out getting a good night’s sleep is a major issue for Brits too, as 37% state their sleep is regularly interrupted by noise intrusion. And the daytime is just as bad. A quarter of Brits state they can’t even binge-watch their favourite TV show or film in peace without being interrupted.

So, what – or who - are the culprits disturbing valuable sleep, and interrupting TV shows and other hobbies? Well, it turns out that ‘love thy neighbour’ might be a tall order with 34% of respondents stating their neighbour disrupts them regularly. Next up on the list of biggest distractions is construction work, with 22% of Brits reporting they’re exposed to unwanted drilling, hammering and sawing sounds. These unavoidable sounds also rank second on our list of most annoying sounds, with 43% admitting construction noises drive them crazy.

While there isn’t much you can do to stop construction workers from doing their day job, it might be time to invest in a decent pair of headphones to help drown out the noise.

The loudest place to live in the UK

With the flexibility to work remotely now, many office workers no longer need to be within commuting distances of the workplace. But before you flee the city in search of a bigger garden and an office space, it’s important to do some research to suss out any potential noisy neighbours.

We delved into crime statistics to find out which region logs the most noise complaints each year and it was our capital city that ranked highest on the list. London had the most noise complaints with 189 counts per 10,000 people. With a population of around 8.9 million, that works out to be around 47,131 complaints a year. If you want a better chance of getting on with your neighbour, then you should head to the South West. With a population of 5.6 million and only 27 complaints per 10,000, there’s a good chance you won’t need to make one yourself

Now, it’s not just noisy neighbours that can keep us up at night. Noise and light pollution is a very real problem in the UK and can harm people and wildlife. This can include road and air traffic noises, constructions sites and nightlife establishments. The city of Coventry scored the highest on Numbeo’s noise and light pollution index with a score of 67.5 out of 100 (with 100 representing the worst level of noise and light pollution). This was followed by Bradford (65.52) and Portsmouth (65).

If you’re looking to escape to somewhere a little quieter, the city of Hull is the place for you. It scored just 25 for noise and light pollution, leaving you less exposed to traffic disturbance.

The loudest places in britain

Noise Complaint Scale

High Low

1. London

Population

8,900,000

Noise Complaints

189

Noise & Light pollution

55.28

Noisiest city

N/A

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£41.29 per month

2. Yorkshire Humber

Population

5,486,000

Noise Complaints

64

Noise & Light pollution

65.62

Noisiest city

Bradford

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£16.99 per month

3. North East

Population

2,657,000

Noise Complaints

56

Noise & Light pollution

47.73

Noisiest city

Newcastle

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£21.06 per month

4. East of England

Population

6,235,000

Noise Complaints

55

Noise & Light pollution

48.44

Noisiest city

Norwich

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£24.99 per month

5. West Midlands

Population

5,908,000

Noise Complaints

47

Noise & Light pollution

67.50

Noisiest city

Coventry

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£27.74 per month

6. South East

Population

9,175,000

Noise Complaints

46

Noise & Light pollution

65

Noisiest city

Portsmouth

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£19.80 per month

7. East Midlands

Population

4,811,000

Noise Complaints

43

Noise & Light pollution

60.71

Noisiest city

Northampton

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£29.08 per month

8. North West

Population

7,300,000

Noise Complaints

34

Noise & Light pollution

55

Noisiest city

Manchester

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£21.81 per month

9. South West

Population

5,616,000

Noise Complaints

27

Noise & Light pollution

46.55

Noisiest city

Bristol

How much they'd pay for peace and quiet

£19.08 per month

The most relaxing sounds

While some people long for peace and quiet, silence isn’t everyone’s idea of a relaxing environment. Almost a quarter of Brits feel anxious, stressed, panicked or angry when exposed to prolonged periods of complete silence. So, what do we listen to hear in order to relax and chill out? Whether it’s the latest pop song that’s dominating the charts or something a little more retro, music is what over two-thirds of Brits listen to the most to help them unwind.

In second place is watching TV, with nearly 40% of the nation flicking on their favourite TV show or film to chill out. It turns out listening to dialogue and enjoying various storylines can be a great form of escapism. Another, rather eclectic choice that 6% of Brits enjoy is ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) noises, with certain noises triggering a tingling sensation in some people. This differs from person to person, but ASMR sounds can include lip-smacking, chewing food, tapping on surfaces or whispering – basically someone who suffers from misophonia’s worst nightmare

It’s no secret that unwanted noise intrusion can bring out the worst in us. So, if you want to preserve your sanity, or stop yourself from writing a passive aggressive note to your neighbours, it’s best to recognise your triggers and try your best to avoid them. And if all else fails? Having a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones to hand might do the trick, too.

Methodology

The survey was conducted with a sample size of 3001 people across the UK with Censuswide.

The noise and light pollution data were collected from Numbeo.

The population of each city was collected from The Geographist.

Noise complaint data was sourced from The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

Soundbites attributes

Eating: Attribution 3.0

Builders drilling: Sampling Plus 1.0

Baby crying: Attribution 3.0

Snoring: Attribution 3.0

Slurp: Sampling Plus 1.0

Small dog barking: Attribution 3.0

Sniff: Attribution 3.0

Waterdrop: Attribution 3.0

Mosquito: Attribution 3.0