Air Clean Up

Is Pollution Ruining Your Sleep?

Jun 11 2017 Read 474 Times

As one of the most pressing environmental concerns facing people all over the world, the ill-effects of poor air quality on human health are no secret. Coronary and cardiovascular complications are continually linked to the inhalation of contaminants such as particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

However, it’s possible that air pollution may also have detrimental effects on our bodies that have not been previously considered. As well as being suspected of damaging skin, increasing the likelihood of autism in youngsters and even causing as much depression as unemployment or bereavement, researchers from the University of Washington in the USA have published a study linking air pollution to inhibited sleep patterns.

The study

A standout presentation at the recent annual conference of the American Thoracic Society, the research paper took in data compiled from 1,863 volunteers in six US cities. The authors first estimated pollution levels inside the homes of the participants by analysing air quality in their neighbourhood over a five-year period.

“Your nose, your sinuses and the back of your throat can all be irritated by those pollutants so that can cause some sleep disruption as well as from breathing issues,” explained Martha Billings, co-author of the paper. Billings went on to say that the regulation of our breathing could also be affected by the amount of pollutants in our bloodstream, which could further disrupt sleep.

The participants themselves were asked to wear a special medical-grade wrist device capable of detecting minute movements during the night time for a period of seven days, giving an indication of the quality of their sleep cycles. These results were cross-referenced with the five-year data, as well as with basic lifestyle factors such as smoking proclivity, age and any outlying medical conditions.

The experiment showed that those participants who had been exposed to the highest levels of NO2 and PM2.5 over the previous five years were more likely to experience poor sleep patterns than those who had been breathing purer air.

What it all means

Though the study does highlight a possible link between air pollution and poor sleeping patterns, it’s far from conclusive. Firstly, the sample size was fairly small, with a single week’s sleep not providing a comprehensive overview of the participants’ habits.

Furthermore, it’s also unclear whether the interrupted sleep was caused by the poor air quality or by other factors associated with pollution, such as noisy traffic or power plants.

However, the study did underline the need (as if any further warning was required) to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution in our towns and cities. With poor air quality linked to 40,000 premature deaths in Britain each year and over three million deaths worldwide, it’s clearly an issue which requires immediate attention – if only for the sake of a good night’s sleep.

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