You were able to fall asleep for a couple hours when you turned in for the night. But now you’re wide awake at two in the morning. You try switching positions. Minutes pass and you still can’t fall asleep. You close your eyes and count some sheep. That was useless. Now you’re back to staring at the beady, red numbers of your alarm clock.
There are plenty of reasons for sleep disorders and as to why you may be up at odd hours of the night, unable to get a good night’s sleep — stress, caffeine, alcohol, even the wrong room temperature. And now there may be one more item to add to the list: air pollution.
In a recent study, people who lived in areas of higher levels of air pollution woke up more frequently during the night and spent longer periods of time trying to fall back asleep compared to people who lived in areas with low levels of air pollution. Specifically, in areas with higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, people were 60% more likely to experience low sleep efficiency, which the researchers defined as being awake for more than 12% of the time spent in bed. And in areas with higher levels of small, airborne particulates, such as dirt, soot, and smoke, people were 50% more likely to have low sleep efficiency. So if you’re looking for a better night’s sleep, you may need to find a better place to sleep. One with cleaner air.
However, despite the findings, it remains unclear if the link between air pollution and poor sleep is a direct cause-and-effect. Factors linked to air pollution, such as noise from frequent traffic, were also thought to have affected the results of the study. As for how air pollution may cause poor sleep, some researchers suspect that air pollutants can cause sleep disruptions because they irritate the nose, sinuses, and throat, and make it difficult to breathe. Others theorize that air pollutants are small enough to enter the bloodstream and affect the brain’s sleep patterns.
While further research is still needed to explore the direct links between air pollution and sleep, there are other impacts air pollution has to your health. High levels of nitrogen dioxide have been linked to increased numbers of hospital admissions and mortality rates, usually caused by respiratory diseases, asthma and lung cancer, and cardiovascular diseases like congestive heart failure. Even without all of that, a cough or difficulty breathing can develop with short exposure to air pollution.
For more than a decade, scientists have talked about the impact of air pollution on the environment. And now, your health is another major concern. One thing is for sure, it’s a collective effort to reduce the effects of air pollution. Cleaner air quality will benefit the environment and your health. This means less smog, and you can finally get that good night’s sleep.