Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports will not see an increase in night flights, the government has said.
Residents say their sleep is disturbed by noisy planes
Current restrictions on flights between 2330 BST and 0600, due to finish on 29 October, will remain until 2012.
But the number of noisier aircraft allowed to fly at night is to be reduced, said Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander.
Many people living beneath flight paths say their sleep is disturbed by aircraft noise.
Among councils opposing an increase in night flights were Wandsworth, Richmond and Windsor and Maidenhead.
Wandsworth Council leader Edward Lister said the three councils had launched legal action to stop the disruption worsening.
"Sadly these planes will still be able to fly. But at least we have stopped things from getting any worse," he said.
Mr Alexander said: "I consider that for each airport the decision strikes the appropriate balance between the need to protect local communities from excessive noise and the benefits that services can bring to the national, regional and local economy."
The decision follows a year-long consultation process by ministers.
At Heathrow, during the six-month winter season, there are an average of 16 flights a night between 2330 and 0600 GMT.
The Department for Transport had previously said quieter, modern planes would mean more could take-off and land, without causing any more disturbance to people living under the flight path.
Night restrictions, governed by the transport secretary under the Civil Aviation Act, apply at Heathrow in west London, Gatwick in Sussex and Stansted in Essex.
These limit the number of take-offs and landings, and include a noise quota.