Judge John Hodgman Episode 131: May it Breeze the Court


Our litigant Adrienne has always used fan noise to fall asleep. Her husband says the noise drives him crazy, and that it masks night sounds too well - he worries that they won't hear a burglar alarm or their daughter crying in the middle of the night. Should Adrienne keep her sleep aid, or is Patrick entitled to peace and quiet?

Thanks to Bob Canty for suggesting a variation of this week's case name! To suggest a title for a future episode, like us on Facebook at Judge John Hodgman! We regularly put a call for submissions.

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Submitted by Patrick
Exhibit P1:
Most damning is the screengrab from my phone using the app "Decibel 10th" showing the decibel level of the fan Adrienne likes as 89dB, or similar to an "Average Motorcycle".

Exhibit P2:
Public health agencies have been studying and attempting to quantify the adverse effects of ambient noise for some time. I'd like to direct the court's attention to a particular threshold determined by a World Health Organization study (Night noise guidelines for Europe. Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2009 ( http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/43316/E92845.pdf), to wit:

Above 55 dB The situation is considered increasingly dangerous for public health. Adverse health effects occur frequently, a sizeable proportion of the population is highly annoyed and sleep-disturbed. There is evidence that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.

In essence, my wife is subjecting me to a condition "highly dangerous for public health".

Submitted by Adrienne

Exhibit A1:

A short recording of my particular fan, which I think the Judge will agree is hardly noxious.

Exhibit A2:

Sleep arousal threshold is improved by fan noise (from "The influence of white noise on sleep in subjects exposed to ICU noise."). This is important I think for me as I believe my arousal threshold is on the lower end of the spectrum. I awaken easily, and this has probably worsened with age, carrying a pager, working at night, and having a young child. The fan has always helped me in situations where I had less control over my sleep environment, such as sharing a bedroom with a sibling, living in a dorm, having roommates, and now living in my in-laws' home. The fan greatly decreases my anxiety regarding ability to fall asleep.

From the study's conclusion: “Mixed frequency white noise increases arousal thresholds in normal individuals exposed to recorded ICU noise by reducing the difference between background noise and peak noise.”

Exhibit A2:

Healthy sleep environment. Using white noise is recommended by The Sleep Foundation.

“Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep – cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions. Also make your bedroom reflective of the value you place on sleep. Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring, light, and a dry or hot environment. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise," humidifiers, fans and other devices."

Exhibit A3:
Pregnancy sleep tips: emphasizes importance of good sleep during pregnancy. Now, when I am pregnant, would be an especially poor time to change my sleep routine.

“Poor sleep can also have an effect on labor and delivery. Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco recently found that women who slept fewer than 6 hours per night had longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries. Based on these findings, the researchers recommend that doctors discuss both sleep quantity and sleep quality with their pregnant patients as part of basic prenatal care and stress the importance of "sleeping for 2".”

Exhibit A4:
Infant sleep: there is some proven benefit to using fan for infants' health. - from the study “Use of a fan during sleep and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.” This is why we've kept a fan in our daughter's room.
Conclusion was “Fan use may be an effective intervention for further decreasing SIDS risk in infants in adverse sleep environments.”


surprised by the comments

Just listened to this episode very late. I agree that the husband was a jerk, but I'm surprised by all the support in these comments for the wife -- I found her equally unpleasant and inflexible. Their dynamic was one of mutual lack of respect and unconcern for the other's comfort.

I think the judge made the right call: since he's tried for 6 years to learn to appreciate her position, it's only fair that she make the same effort, if they both refuse to accept some kind of compromise position (c'mon guys, you know they wouldn't have gone for any of these compromises y'all have suggested here). Still, it shouldn't have to come to this.

Fans don't create white noise

As a trained electronic musician and audio engineer I cringed several times during this episode when the sound of a box fan was referred to as "white noise".

The noise that most box fans produce is referred to correctly as "brown (or brownian) noise" or also sometimes as "pink noise" or "grey noise" depending upon the fan in question.

See the wikipedia article for clarification: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colors_of_noise

With regards from The Woodlands, Texas.

Sleeping apart

I have to disagree with the Judge about sleeping apart- I think those Ancient Roman rulers wanted to the freedom to sleep with someone else, rather than to be alone.
I've recently had a somewhat similar problem in that my ex needed total silence to sleep and was disturbed by the noise of me rolling over in bed or breathing, so I was kicked out into another room. I know it's not that, like everyone else, I sometimes snore, because a)I've had other partners who didn't complain, b)he did it to his previous girlfriend as well, and c)even when I was in another room, with two closed doors between us, the sound of my computer's fan used to drive him crazy.
I felt a lot less close to him as a result of separate rooms, missed the intimacy (and compromise)of sleeping together, and I have to say that this contributed to our breakup... so good luck everyone & I hope you can train yourself to sleep well.

Another option, perhaps win-win?

I liked the ruling, but as I was listening to it, another solution came to mind and I'm surprised Judge Hodgman didn't suggest it.

From my understanding of the case...

1) Adrienne needs the fan to fall asleep.

2) Patrick can fall asleep to the fan.

3) Patrick doesn't like the fan because he's afraid of not hearing things during the night.

So... have the fan on for an hour when they're going to bed and have it turn off after that. A simple electrical socket timer would do the job, wouldn't it?

As a married man, I found the judge's comments about the nature of compromise in a marriage and the metaphor which is sharing the bed an apt one. I liked this show a lot - the ruling caught me off guard!

Bad judgement, your honor.

Adrienne is 7 months pregnant and a working physician? Let her have the damn fan and sleep. Patrick seems merely annoyed with the fan, he didn't claim an inability to go to sleep with it on, just "stress". Adrienne clearly has a very hard time sleeping without the white noise and is likely going to suffer significant sleep loss. Patrick's burglar panic points to other anxiety problems that he needs to deal with without making his pregnant wife and her patients suffer.

Furthermore, sleeping with white noise in our noisy environments is perfectly healthy, we don't need to hear every twig snap anymore, we live in a modern, safe society with doors that lock. Sure, it's a good skill to learn to sleep without the white noise, but she's obviously figured out how to travel and still support her sleep needs.

Sure, try the headphones and the MP3, there's no harm in making an attempt, but if that doesn't work, she doesn't deserve to suffer. 6 years and 2 kids later is the wrong time to decide your partner doesn't deserve the fundamental tools that allow her to rest and recover.

This was a bad case to sacrifice to the MRA idiots.

Fan Death

Good ruling—it seems appropriate and polite to use headphones (or anything quieter than 89 dB) for a white noise sleep aid. I wish the husband had mentioned the possibility of "fan death," a very real fear of Koreans. Don't sleep with the fan on, you may die!

This might help Adrianne....

Bought a pair of these years ago, and they are awesome. John or Jesse, can you please make sure they see this comment?


And for the record, I often enjoy falling asleep to heavy metal


I wanted to comment about exactly THIS PRODUCT! I think it's definitely the answer to their problems: she can get the white noise she needs while still being comfortable, and he can feel confident in his ability to hear...marauders? I guess? Still: DEFINITELY a good compromise, I think!


zzz... market
goodluck with finding a compromise!

Headphone option

At the risk of buzz marketing, these headphones seem designed for this problem.
SleepPhones Headphones from ThinkGeek

Metal sleep aid

I also had repeatedly fallen asleep to metal in the past ... Although I am no longer fond of ambient noise when falling asleep, and would probably find the box fan a nuisance.


I think the fan is the focal point of anxiety for Patrick. I agree that Adrienne should learn to sleep without one. However, this ruling will probably not sate the root need: Patrick's knowledge he can keep his family safe.

Headband headphones

I like the mp3 option. I hate to buzz market but headband headphones work quite well. There are different kinds so you can do some research and see what works for you. Should be worth a try. Good luck

Yay! I agree with the good

Yay! I agree with the good Judge on this judgment!

The advantage of an mp3 or some kind of similar device is perhaps the programmable nature, which would let one fall asleep to the sound, while not disturbing the other all night.

Furthermore, the judge is right, one can't always assume he or she be in the exact same circumstances every night under which to fall asleep.

box fans for the white noise.

I've used a box fan too for 20 years.
I now have switched to a heater for the white noise a box fan would produce and the warm air to breath.
I can tell ya. sleeping with warm air has saved me numerous colds, i used to get.
summers I switch to a fan as it get's warm enough naturally.

I know rhythmic noise are supposed to help a person sleep but it's the opposite for me. I hate ticking clocks, trickling water, chirping crickets and distant dogs barking.

I'm in my 40s.

ps. love the show.

Dozing off is hard to do...... air filter an option?

I have grown up with an air filter/purifier near my bed. Some 33 years later, I can still find it difficult to sleep without white noise in the background. An air purifier usually has a very soft fan with minimal air flow when on low. This might be an acceptable compromise or at least help Adrienne wean off of the noise.
It's also great with allergy season!

Best of luck

Disappointing judgment

Adrienne is a physician; no doubt she already has peculiar sleep habits developed during Residency and Call nights. She NEEDS to sleep; she has patients that depend on her to be functional at work. (For the record, I am married to a physician with strange sleep patterns). That she is anxious about NOT being able to sleep argues that there might be some Insomnia issues there.

A pillow speaker or a timer are excellent solutions; better, in fact, than those offered by the Judge. Best yet would be to pitch that husband into another room. He was taking too much delight in causing her discomfort.

Ruling was dismally wrong

It is widely known that the reason white noise is soothing is that it drowns out intermittent noise by laying down a comforting bed of static noise. The human brain is wired to pay attention to intermittent noise--our ancient ancestors would have to be prepared to wake swiftly if a predator approached during the night--and in today's noise-polluted modern world, sources of intermittent noise are more plentiful than ever.

All this is to say that the need for white noise during sleep has strong precedent and is backed up by neuroscience. It is not merely a personal preference.

Judge, your ruling this week was not only wrong, but harmful. The woman in the podcast was audibly traumatized by your ruling, whereas the man was a gloating a**hole. If the man in this story cannot sleep with white noise, then there is something wrong with him for which he should seek medical attention. You, Judge Hodgman, owe this woman an apology.

If that fan is anywhere near

If that fan is anywhere near 89db, it's way beyond what I would call "comforting."

I think the Judge made his ruling primarily on the fact that he felt this was more of a habit than a necessity for the woman and she has apparently made absolutely no effort make the situation more tolerable for her husband.

As stated in the podcast and the comments there are lots of options, headphones, pillow speakers, put the fan on a timer, get a quieter fan, etc.. yet she has made no effort to try any of them. She says "This is the way I've always done it, so this is the way it has to be." Maybe she could use a 50db fan, but she has apparently never even tried.

The nature of the dispute pretty much required one side to give in, but I think the ruling was not so much that the husband was "right" but more that she needed to at least try some other options. There is a HUGE spread between an 89db fan and complete silence, they have to be able to find a solution.

Heavy Metal = Heavy Sleep

Straw man? Good sir, how dare you? I used to fall asleep to music by the band Kiss as a toddler (yes, my uncle was probably a terrible babysitter) and bands like Pantera, Nine Inch Nails, and Tool, as an adult. It can be done. But no box fans... those things stress me out!

Box fan timer

How about Adrienne put the fan on a timer and run it for 1/2 hour? Patrick, would that work?

Pillow Speaker!

I've used a pillow speaker for years and it's great and disturbs no one!

Speaker Pillow on Amazon


I sleep with a fan AND with earplugs for a certain neurotic type of sleep assistance (it's the perfect and only mix for me). Anyway, as someone who understands just how hard being forced to use headphones might be, check this out that I just heard about: http://www.sleepphones.com/

Pillow Speaker

I second the speaker pillow recommendation. I've gone to sleep listening to old time radio (primarily Jack Benny and The Shadow) cassettes, CDs, and podcasts since I was a teenager listening to them late at night on a local AM radio station. My wife has no idea when it's playing and it can only be heard when lying directly over it on the pillow.