Air pollution may disrupt sleep: research

High levels of air pollution over time may get in the way of a good night’s sleep, according to research presented at an international thoracic conference in the US.

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Researchers at the University of Washington studied the impact of two of the most common air pollutants: NO2, a traffic-related pollutant gas, and PM2.5, or fine-particle pollution, on the sleep of more than 1800 people.

The group with the highest levels of NO2 over five years had an almost 60 per cent increased likelihood of having low sleep efficiency compared to those with the lowest NO2 levels.

The group with the highest exposures to small particulates (PM2.5) had a nearly 50 per cent increased likelihood of having low sleep efficiency.

“These new findings indicate the possibility that commonly experienced levels of air pollution not only affect heart and lung disease but also sleep quality. Improving air quality may be one way to enhance sleep health and perhaps reduce health disparities,” said lead author Dr Martha Billings who presented the findings at the American Thoracic Society Conference 2017.

“There may be acute sleep effects to short-term exposure to high pollution levels as well but we lacked the data to study that link,” Dr Billings added.

According to Dr Billings, it’s thought air pollution not only causes upper airway irritation, swelling and congestion but also affects the central nervous system and brain areas that control breathing patterns and sleep.

Future studies will explore the association between other air pollutants and sleep and how they may disrupt sleep patterns and whether traffic noise is the driving factor contributing to poor sleep quality.