When bad sleep is caused by air pollution

July 13, 2022

The relationship between the sleep and the air pollution we breathe is more intimate than what was previously thought. You don’t have to take our word for it, but you can believe the science: according to a five-years long study done by Dr. Martha E. Billings and her team at Washington University, long term exposure to various air contaminants will increase the likelihood of developing low sleep efficiency. Or, put in other words: air pollution is also one of the many culprits behind your sleepless nights.

Bad sleep due to indoor air pollution

Bad sleep due to indoor air pollution

This is probably not the first time: you are wide awake at night, tired, but unable to sleep. You may even yawn and feel very sleepy, unwilling to engage anymore with the world. And yet, your eyelids will not stay shut, no matter how hard you try. Sleep, it seems, will not come. In desperation, you may drink a cup of tea, even eat a healthy biscuit as well. You may try to think nice thoughts to help you relax. Perhaps it would help if you read a boring book? What about breathing exercises? Yet, none of that works, or at least not as fast as you would want to. Finally, at last, you drift off into unconsciousness. What you may not know is that bad sleep may be caused by air pollution.

It may surprise you to know this, but there is an intimate correlation between the quality of your sleep and the air that you breathe. You don’t have to take our word for it, but you can believe the science: according to a five-years long study done by Dr. Martha E. Billings and her team at Washington University, long term exposure to various air contaminants will increase the likelihood of developing low sleep efficiency. Or, put in other words: air pollution is also one of the many culprits behind your sleepless nights.

Air pollution can cause sleeplessness

A bad night’s sleep and her horrible cousin, Insomnia, are a rather recent invention. A byproduct of modern life. Although our ancestors in pre-modern and ancient times did experience occasional sleeplessness, the bad habit was not as rampant as it is for us today. Traditionally, we identify it with work-related stress and the pressure of dealing with personal and social issues. A health problem caused by the anxiety that comes with living in contemporary societies.

However, the link between sleeplessness and air pollution had never been clearly drawn before Dr. Billings’ study. Previous research had shown the obvious relationship between polluted air and various diseases. Yet, its effects on sleep hygiene had only been suspected.

Low sleep efficiency

But what exactly do they mean by low sleep efficiency? In a nutshell, it means being asleep for less than 88% of our total time in bed. At first, this may not seem like much, but the effects of being wide awake through various nights are cumulative over time, and the results often are disastrous for our wellbeing.

There is nothing fun about a bad night of sleep. Or even worse, not getting any at all. The range of health effects can go from the relatively harmless, such as being sleepy during the day, to the life threatening, like being involved in a traffic accident at the carriageway due low alertness. If occasional poor sleep becomes chronic, sufferers may even develop diabetes, early dementia and obesity, among other terrible conditions of the body and the mind.

Air pollution and sleeplessness

Research about sleep and air pollution

Dr. Billings’ research was carried out by investigating a data pool of 1,863 participants, averaging a mean of 68 years old.  This was just a sample focused on the Sleep and Air Pollution wings of a larger body of inquiry, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). The research was conducted between a population of several ethnic and racial groups, looking at variables such as body mass, age, income, socioeconomic status and smoking habits.

Each participant was given an actigraphy band to be strapped around their wrists. Think of them as devices like smart watches designed to measure small alterations in the blood flow, which helps calculate patterns of sleep and wakefulness. If, for example, you wake up shortly after going to bed and are unable to drift off for a couple of hours, this data is used to build a profile around your night-time habits.

The shocking results

The general analysis was then focused on two of the mayor air pollutants found in the vicinity of each participant’s home: Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and PM 2.5 particles, which are small and incredibly detrimental to the human respiratory system. The results are shocking, but in no way surprising: High exposure to NO2 will result in 60% higher odds at developing low sleep efficiency, while exposure to PM 2.5 particles numbers that probability at 50%.

And that’s just half of the bad news.

Factors that can affect your sleep efficiency

Low sleep efficiency

Do not be fooled into thinking that NO2 is an air pollutant that can be found only outdoors. Do not think that you may safely tuck yourself away from it by simply shutting the windows. Indoors themselves can produce it without us even knowing. Gas cookers generate it, wood and kerosene heaters too. Even a defective installation may produce some of it. And, of course, tobacco smoke as well. NO2 is a nasty chemical, and you don’t need to be exposed to high degrees of it to be affected. Low levels can increase the risk of various respiratory infections, decrease lung function in people who already suffer of pulmonary disease and affect the general health of asthmatics.

Exposure to NO2

Constant exposure to NO2, both indoors and outdoors, may cause chronic respiratory problems such as occupational lung disease, asthma and pulmonary hypertension. Even though modern medicine provides ample methods to alleviate our respiratory tracts, none of these conditions are, at the present time, curable. They are also more common than what is usually perceived. According to the World Health Organization, 235 million people suffer from one of these conditions.

What can we do?

Of course, we all know that bad sleep can be mitigated with a healthy diet, good exercise, contact with sunlight and a relaxed attitude towards life. But that, it seems now, is not enough. Dr. Billings is clear about it. She has stated that the improvement of air quality may be one way of enhancing a good night’s sleep. Fair enough. But how?

Air Purifiers – AIR8

At AIR8 we have developed a range of indoor filtering tools that are up to the task. If we share our indoor spaces with harmful industrial-grade chemicals, like NO2, then we need the right protection to be done with them for good. These are not words, but facts backed up by the extensive research and development process behind our products, all of it to ensure the health of our clients.

air purifiers bad sleep

The core basis of our technology are the High Efficiency Particle Air filters, or HEPA for short. Of the upmost proficiency, they can filter up to 99.9% of particles and pathogens. Everything from allergens and viruses to the ever-present tobacco smoke. We ensure that our product is the best protection for your working environment, as it will keep it clean and fresh. Our word is backed by the TÜV tests behind our name.

There is still a plenty to do to fight the pollution in our skies, but there is no reason to suffer of it while we conduct our lives indoors. There is no reason for air pollution of any kind to keep affecting our sleep habits in such detrimental ways. Not when we finally have the technology to do something about it.

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