How Can Air Pollution Affect Your Quality Of Sleep?

According to research published in Environmental Pollution, data has shown that over 90% of people around the globe are subject to air pollution levels higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Increasing the risk for certain health conditions such as heart disease, respiratory illness, and dementia, the impact of air pollution on our health is compounded by exposure to indoor pollutants such as those from polluting stoves.

Studies have shown that air pollution may also potentially be linked to a poor night's sleep. Research published by the Annals of the American Thoracic Society points out that air pollution has been linked with instances of chronic sinus infection, as well as inflammation of the upper airway and nasal passages. Such conditions might cause breathing difficulties while sleeping.

Reinforcing these claims was a 2010 study incorporating data from over 3,000 participants that revealed links between air pollution and disordered breathing during sleep. Interestingly, seasonal temperature also proved to be an influencing factor. Researcher on the study Dr. Diane Gold elaborated telling WebMD, "[During the summer] you are at a 13% higher risk of having shallow breathing or stopping breathing for at least 10 seconds if pollution goes from the lower range to the higher range of pollution for that city."

Air pollution may shorten our time spent asleep

In addition to affecting one's ability to breathe clearly, air pollution may also shorten how many minutes of shut-eye we're getting per night. A 2019 study conducted over the course of five years involving 16,889 college students in China found that increases in air pollution levels corresponded with decreases in students' sleep duration. Specifically, an increase of one standard deviation in air pollution levels resulted in a decrease of 0.68 hours of sleep daily. Offering plausible explanations for their findings, researchers suggested that in addition to the inflammatory effects air pollution can have on our airways, that air pollution may also increase rates of depression and anxiety, which can also play a role in sleep duration.

Some experts have highlighted that improvements in air quality may have far-reaching effects. In a 2019 press release, experts from the American Thoracic Society discussed the findings of a study in which a positive correlation was detected between sleep apnea risk and increases in fine particulate pollution and nitrogen dioxide emitted by automobiles. Explaining the significance of having identified these external influencing factors, the study authors wrote that their research "has implications for regulatory standards, public health, environmental justice and health disparities," as air pollution tends to be more severe in poorer areas.