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Air pollution impacts everyone’s health across the world, but it can also affect something much closer to home: your sleep. When it comes to exploring this link, research has shown that sleep apnea may be associated with chronic exposure to air pollution. Below, you will find more about this link, its implications for indoor air quality in your home and what you can do to reduce your exposure.

What is sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts in their sleep due to a blockage of the airway. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be caused by the anatomy of the soft palate, obesity, or inflammation of the airway. Some of the most common signs of this condition include loud snoring, grogginess, and gasping for air during the night. With over 22 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea each year, it is one of the most common sleeping disorders in adults.

The link between air quality and sleep apnea

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, air pollution has significantly increased over time because of traffic and industrial sources. Though levels of air pollution have been known to affect lung and heart disease, scientists have also found a correlation between exposure to air pollution and sleep quality. Specifically, many studies have found a relationship between long-term exposure to traffic and outdoor pollutants and sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea.

One study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) concluded that people with higher levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM2.5) had greater odds of sleep apnea. These are two of the most common air pollutants people are exposed to on a daily basis. PM2.5, also called particle pollution, is made up of fine inhalable particles that are too small to be seen except through a microscope. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a traffic-related pollutant that forms from the burning of car fuel emissions.

For the study authors, the rationale behind exploring this connection is that inhaling these pollutants can result in upper airway irritation and swelling, which causes restricted breathing that can lead to sleep apnea. Inhaling polluted air resulting from poor air quality might also affect the central nervous system responsible for controlling breathing and sleep patterns. This may cause your body to stop breathing suddenly in your sleep or cause symptoms to worsen.

Implications for indoor air quality

Though the pollutants linked to sleep health, PM2.5 and NO2, originate from the outdoors, that does not mean they remain outdoors. Outdoor air pollution can enter a home and continue to accumulate, amplifying the indoor sources of air pollution from everyday activities like cleaning or cooking.

Pollution is not the only factor that could be contributing to or aggravating sleeping disorders. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep problems are common for people with allergies. If you have allergies, indoor allergens in the bedroom may lead to nasal congestion, which can also increase the risk of sleep apnea. Common household allergens include dust, pollen, mold, and particles found in pet hair. Exposure to these allergens may cause inflammation of the nasal passages, which can also make snoring much worse for people who already have the condition.

Five ways to reduce exposure to pollutants

There are a number of ways to reduce your exposure to allergens and other pollutants in your bedroom, as well as tips for reducing your exposure to outdoor air pollution.

  • Reduce your outdoor exposure: Check local air quality reports on and plan your activities, especially when air pollution is especially severe.
  • Vacuum and dust often: Allergens and particulate matter often hide in dust making it easy for them to settle into your home. One effective solution is to use a HEPA vacuum and a microfiber dust rag on a weekly basis to manage dust levels in your bedroom.
  • Close bedroom windows: Use your air conditioning system instead of opening windows if you have allergies, or if you live near a freeway/areas of high traffic pollution. Pollen and damaging outdoor particulate matter can drift inside your home easily, so it is best to limit your exposure in the area where you sleep.
  • Change HVAC filters on time: When you do not change your filters on time, it can cause the air system to become less effective in protecting your air quality. It is best to change your filter every 30 days.
  • Use an air purifier: An air purifier can help reduce levels of indoor air pollutants in your home and bedroom. Unlike traditional air purifiers that simply trap pollutants on filters, the Molekule air purifier uses PECO technology to destroy them.

Though the relationship between sleep health and air pollution could be supported with more research, there is a link between sleep apnea and poor air quality. The tips above can help reduce your exposure to the pollutants that can disrupt sleep for you and your family.

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