The conversation around how indoor air quality (IAQ) affects our health continues to gain traction, and the discussion extends to inside our homes. Poor air quality has been shown to detrimentally impact our wellbeing, and can prevent us from getting enough good-quality sleep to function properly.
How does air pollution affect our sleep quality?
Research has shown that air pollution could have a direct link with quality of sleep. In one study, participants sleeping in rooms with higher levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5, were shown to have lower sleep efficiency overall. (Sleep efficiency describes the time spent in bed asleep, compared to lying awake.)
In large enough quantities, these pollutants irritate our airways, sinuses, noses and throats, as well as causing lip dryness – resulting in breathing problems and sleep disruption. Co-author of the research, Martha Billings, hypothesised that pollutants entering the bloodstream could also directly affect the brain, and further impact breathing ability as we sleep, causing intermittent sleep.
On a wider scale, it’s been found that people who live in highly polluted areas are up to 60% more likely to sleep poorly. Those in homes with better air quality also have less trouble getting to sleep in the first place, falling asleep more quickly than those in rooms with higher levels of air pollution.
Why does sleep quality matter?
Many sleep experts say our bedrooms should be reflective of the caves we once dwelled in – cool, dark and quiet. In modern day life, however, many aspects get in the way of creating this sleep haven.
Lack of sleep, or poor quality of sleep, can cause conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, lower immunity, and cardiovascular issues – among many others. Overall, poor sleep quality can have a huge impact on daily life and wellbeing, especially when the issue is long-term.
The main causes of poor air quality in bedrooms
Poor IAQ can be an accumulation of a number of factors. The outdoor environment can have a huge impact on the quality of the air in our homes. For the purpose of this article, however, we’re focusing solely on indoor factors that affect our indoor air quality.
If you’re interested in learning more about outdoor air quality, read our interviews with Ran Korber (CEO and co-founder of BreezoMeter), and Jemima Hartshorn (founder of Mums for Lungs), or download our comprehensive report – 2020: Our Air in Review.
In many cities, confined living arrangements have forced us to get creative with our space, but drying clothes or sheets in bedrooms can cause excessive moisture to remain in the air. In high levels, humidity can encourage dust mites and mould, both of which affect sleep quality and negatively impact our health overall.
Lack of ventilation
Bedrooms are often some of the smallest rooms in a flat or house, with windows and doors closed the majority of the time for privacy and noise reduction. This causes poor air quality as these rooms are rarely ventilated effectively, trapping harmful pollutants as the air stagnates.
Ideally, indoor humidity should be between 40 and 60% (this changes from summer to winter). When the surrounding air is too dry, our sleep can be disrupted by dry and irritated nasal passages.
Toxic chemicals from things like paint, aerosol cans, air fresheners, and candles linger in the air and find their way into our bodies as we sleep. This creates irritation in our airways, skin, and eyes – all of which can cause sleep disruptions.
How can you improve your air quality?
- One of the simplest and most effective things is to cut off pollutants at their source. Avoiding the use of open fires or wood burning stoves inside the home will hugely cut down pollutants, as will minimising candle use or opting for candles made of soy and beeswax.
- The most effective way to improve the air quality in your room is to invest in a high-quality air purifier, such as Aerum’s clean air solution. These devices are designed to cleanse the air in our homes of impurities, such as dust, smoke and pet hair using an integrated filter and fan system. It’s impossible to eliminate the toxins in our homes completely, but an effective air purifier will remove over 99% of the airborne pollutants that impact our sleep.
- If the poor air quality in your bedroom is a result of mould or damp, a dehumidifier will help to reduce any extra moisture in the air. On the other end of the spectrum, if dry air is the issue a humidifier would be appropriate to create the optimum humidity level.
- Create a draught in your bedroom. Unless your bedroom faces a heavily polluted road, opening the windows and door as frequently as possible will clear the room of pollutants by creating a through-draught. Even just opening it a crack is enough to make a positive difference, and won’t change the overall temperature of your home.
- Make use of the extractor fans in your kitchen and bathroom to clear particulate matter lingering in the air as a result of cooking or using beauty products.
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the importance of air quality in our homes and workplaces, but by implementing small changes and having a greater awareness we can reduce the negative impact of poor air quality on our sleep and overall wellbeing.