How air pollution robs you of a good night's sleep

Scientists have discovered that higher levels of air pollution can prevent people from having restful sleep and can make them develop health-affecting sleep disorders.

In 10 seconds? Here is another good reason to cut air pollution: it can seriously affect your sleep and by association, your health. Scientists have found a link bad air and snoring and even calculated how much time people might be losing each night. (Read the science)

Man trying to sleep but cannot due to air pollution

What's the discovery? We used data from the INTERMAP follow-up study in China and looked at the link between measured air pollution (of smaller, PM2.5 particles and black carbon in the air). We found that people in highly polluted environments can lose about 40 minutes of sleep each night. Bad air can also up your chances of turning into a regular snorer by 20-30%. Moreover, it can make sleep apnea, a disorder of repeatedly stopping and starting breathing in your sleep 4x more likely! Although a large-scale study did not establish a causal link between pollution and disturbed sleep, it suggested that cleaner air can definitely help us rest better. (Read the paper)

Is this the only piece of research suggesting this? No, researchers have looked at how the two most common pollutants, fine particles (referred to as PM2.5) and traffic-related nitrogen dioxide, NO2 affected sleep. They have studied the sleep quality of a large multi-ethnic group of people of whom half already had sleep apnea. In this large, multi-ethnic group study, the team estimated the air pollution exposure using statistical tools on environmental data from local monitoring sites in US cities. Researchers established that sleep apnea could increase by 60 percent with every 5 microgram increase in yearly exposure to larger, PM2.5 particles and also more than by third for 10 parts per billion increase in yearly NO2 exposure. 

Is this the only piece of research suggesting this? No, a study I participated in investigated a different aspect of pollution-related sleep. We used data from the INTERMAP follow-up study in China and looked at the link between measured air pollution (of smaller, PM2.5 particles and black carbon in the air), people’s sleep duration, and whether they snored or stopped breathing during the night. (Find out more)

And what were the results? We managed to quantify how much sleep was lost due to pollution. Our results suggest that people can lose up to 40 minutes of sleep per night. This is substantial for anyone’s health and well-being and long-term exposure to this undue stress would have many detrimental effects - tiredness, lack of concentration, accidents, high blood pressure and mood swings. (Read more)

So, what can be done? Ideally, all stakeholders including citizens, politicians, policy-makers and researchers will need to continue to work together globally, to reduce air pollution. At the individual level, people should minimize their exposure to air pollution, for example, quit smoking, inhaling smoke from campfires, crop-burning, and potentially fitting their homes with devices that lower air pollution, especially in their bedrooms. All this could improve their quality of sleep and even relationships! Think of the blessing of a snore-free night! (Find out more)

Peaceful sleep near a campfire? Think twice!

The intimate stories, the relaxing sounds of burning logs - people associate campfires with peaceful sleep. 

But the air pollution from burning wood smoke can also cause the opposite.

Smoke exposure does horrible things to your lungs, and it has actually been found to increase your blood pressure both immediately and later.

Additionally, the fine particles in the smoke created by open fires can get into the eyes and lungs, make existing conditions worse or cause bronchitis.

Experts say, toxic substances break down to less harmful ones only at really high temperatures, which rarely happens around campfires. Additionally, we also need to consider the harmful environmental impact of burning stuff.

(Psst, Thirumagal distilled 10 research papers to save you 940.1 min)

Thirumagal Kanagasabai

by Thirumagal Kanagasabai

Postdoctoral Fellow, studying Environmental Epidemiology at McGill University, Canada.