Penn Medicine Team Leads FAA-Sponsored Research into the Impact of Air Traffic Noise on Sleep

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Media Contact:Jessica Mikulski | jessica.mikulski@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-8369September 30, 2013

A team of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are part of a new initiative by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) focusing on environmental goals for noise, air quality, climate change and energy.  As a core team partner in the new Air Transportation Center of Excellence (COE), led by Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Penn team will focus on the impact of transportation noise on sleep. The FAA anticipates providing research funding for the entire Air Transportation COE with $4 million a year over the next 10 years.

Penn’s research, led by Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc, assistant professor of Sleep and Chronobiology, Department of Psychiatry at Penn, will focus on understanding the impact of aircraft noise on sleep and on developing models that predict sleep disruption for different aircraft noise levels and profiles.

“We know that chronic sleep disturbance is associated with multiple health issues including high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. What is not fully understood is how much aircraft noise impacts sleep in communities around airports, and how sleep disturbances due to aircraft noise compare with those due to other things (other noise sources, weight, age, stress, etc.),” said Dr. Basner. “Through our work with the COE, we aim to build on existing models and develop a better understanding of how aircraft noise characteristics affect sleep.”

By coupling the resulting sleep disturbance models with noise prediction tools, Basner and colleagues hope to show potential awakening patterns in communities for a wide range of different airport and air traffic scenarios. The research team, which also includes David F. Dinges, PhD, professor and chief, Division of Sleep and Chronobiology, Department of Psychiatry, and Sarah McGuire, PhD, a post doctoral fellow in the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology, is currently preparing a U.S. field study on the effects of aircraft noise on sleep.

Basner notes that U.S. field research efforts on the effects of aircraft noise on sleep have lagged over the past 30 years, while aircraft noise has continued to evolve. Within this period, air traffic has changed significantly, with substantial increases in traffic volume and significant improvements in noise levels of single aircraft. “Therefore, these new FAA funded field studies are critical to collect current sleep disturbance data for varying degrees of noise exposure to further current scientific knowledge of air transportation’s impact on sleep,” he says.

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