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30th January 2020

Improving the sleep health of rural communities

PhD Student Claire Dunbar – improving the sleep health of rural communities

Impact wind turbine noise has on sleep.

The impact wind turbine noise has on sleep is the focus of an important new study being supported by The Hospital Research Foundation.

Flinders University PhD student Claire Dunbar is investigating how wind farm noise affects a person’s sleep compared to traffic noise and silence, in a study that is one of a first to analyse these issues in a controlled laboratory setting.

Some people living near wind turbines report poor health outcomes such as dizziness, headaches and sleep disturbance, however more studies are needed to provide more definitive evidence.

In this study, participants spend seven nights in a world-class sleep laboratory at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health so researchers can monitor their brain’s electrical activity (called electroencephalographic [EEG] measurements).

“Patients are wired-up to EEG equipment on their head, which then measures each person’s EEG brain-wave activity when they are exposed to wind turbine or road traffic noises at different levels while sleeping,” Claire says.

“Our team includes acoustic engineers who are experts in noise measurement and reproduction. They use specialised recording and speaker equipment able to play noises with sub-audible components that normal amplifiers and speakers can’t reproduce”.

“The first night is designed to help participants get used to the lab environment, experimental protocol and sleep measurement equipment. The remaining six nights each have different noise exposures, to examine the impact of various noise outcomes on sleep. Some of these evaluate how loud the noise needs to be to trigger awakening and how different noise types affect sleep.”

So far 63 people have taken part in the study, giving researchers more than 441 nights of sleep data which is still being analysed.

Claire’s inspiration to explore the potential impact of wind turbines on sleep stemmed from her undergraduate studies in psychology, where she discovered how crucial sleep is for mental and physical health.

“Noise exposure has the potential to interfere with sleep through annoyance, insomnia and sleep disruption effects. Associations between noise and sleep can lead to hyper vigilance.” she says.

“This can make it more difficult to fall asleep in the presence of noise and has the potential to develop into chronic insomnia. Wind turbine noise has lower frequencies that can travel further and into residences more readily than higher frequency noises such as traffic noise.

“This year I have also developed a sleep health education program in collaboration with the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, for rural South Australia and am travelling to rural communities to present and raise awareness of sleep problems and provide community resources available for those seeking assistance.”

Claire is very grateful for the support that THRF has given her, claiming she wouldn’t be where she is today without it.

“Without this support it would not be possible for me to gain high quality research training while helping break down barriers to sleep health awareness and treatment pathways for rural communities,” she says.

“Every impact, every person I have the privilege to help, every outreach program and every day I get closer to completing my PhD is only possible through the support of THRF.”

Participants for this study are still needed and anyone interested in participating in the sleep study can email [email protected]