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

PHILADELPHIA — 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.

In addition to Penn, other Air Transportation COE core team partners include Boston University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, the University of Dayton, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Washington, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Tennessee.

The FAA has established Centers of Excellence with more than 75 universities conducting research and education in nine other topic areas focusing on: commercial space transportation, airliner cabin environment and intermodal research, aircraft noise and aviation emissions mitigation, advanced materials, general aviation, airworthiness assurance, operations research, airport pavement and airport technology, and computational modeling of aircraft structures. The COE program is a cost-sharing research partnership between academia, industry and the federal government. For more information, visit the COE web page at


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 16 years, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $398 million awarded in the 2012 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital — the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2012, Penn Medicine provided $827 million to benefit our community.