One European in five is exposed to excessive noise overnight that may damage their health, the World Health Organisation said Thursday as it released new guidelines for night-time noise in Europe.
"Just like air pollution and toxic chemicals, noise is an environmental hazard to health," said Rokho Kim, who led the project for the WHO's regional office for Europe.
"While almost everyone is exposed to too much noise, it has traditionally been dismissed as an inevitable fact of urban life and has not been targeted and controlled as much as other risks," he added in a statement.
The recommended average level of 40 decibels corresponds to a quiet street in a residential area overnight, the WHO said.
Those who toss and turn with slightly higher levels get away with "mild health effects" such as a bout of insomnia, it added.
But above 55 decibels -- the noise of a busy street -- people run the risk of more severe effects such as blood pressure problems and heart attacks, as the body and brain react to sound while they are asleep.
"One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to such noise levels," according to the UN health agency.
The peer-reviewed 162-page set of guidelines was produced with 35 scientists and health experts after a six-year assessment of scientific evidence.
"Noise has emerged as the leading environmental nuisance in Europe, and excessive noise is an increasingly common public complaint," said Srdan Matic, head of non-communicable diseases and environment at WHO Europe.