If you’re part of the 60 percent of American adults who report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more, the air around you may be the culprit. In addition to the negative effects allergies have on sleep, new research by the University of Washington shows a link between poor sleep quality and air pollution.
The study looked at two different kinds of pollution: nitrogen dioxide, which is related to traffic, and fine particulate matter. Researchers measured sleep efficiency, the amount of time subjects were asleep vs. the amount of time they were awake, and found that people exposed to high levels of either pollutant had an increased likelihood of low sleep efficiency. Those experiencing high levels of nitrogen dioxide had a 60% increase in likelihood of low sleep efficiency, and those exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter had a 50% increase in likelihood of low sleep efficiency. Additionally, higher levels of pollution were linked to longer amounts of time that subjects were awake—i.e. insomnia—after initially falling asleep.
Martha Billings, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, and co-author of the research explains that these pollutants can irritate the nose, sinuses, and back of the throat, which can disrupt sleep or cause other breathing issues. Additionally, since these pollutants can enter your bloodstream, it is possible that they affect your brain chemistry which, in turn, can affect the regulation of breathing.
While traffic-related pollution levels may be hard to fix without changing your address, you can make adjustments to regulate the air inside your home, whether it is nitrogen dioxide or fine particulate matter. Keep windows closed and sealed, and consider a ventilation fan for your attached garage if you don’t have one. You can also reduce the amount of smoke in and around your home by not smoking, burning yard waste, and using wood-burning stoves. Additionally, use an air purifier with an HEPA filter in your home to remove pollutants and particulate matter to help you sleep and breathe easier.