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Does Dirty Air Keep You Awake?

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: May 22nd 2017

new article illustration

MONDAY, May 22, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Air pollution may harm your sleep, researchers say.

"Prior studies have shown that air pollution impacts heart health and affects breathing and lung function, but less is known about whether air pollution affects sleep," said lead author Dr. Martha Billings.

"We thought an effect was likely, given that air pollution causes upper airway irritation, swelling and congestion, and may also affect the central nervous system and brain areas that control breathing patterns and sleep," added Billings, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

She and her colleagues looked at more than 1,800 people, average age 68, in six U.S. cities. They wanted to see if the two most common air pollutants -- traffic-related pollutant gas (NO2) and fine-particle pollution -- affected sleep efficiency. Sleep efficiency is a measure of the percentage of time in bed spent asleep versus awake.

People exposed to the highest levels of NO2 over five years were nearly 60 percent more likely to have low sleep efficiency than those with the lowest NO2 exposure, the study found.

Those with the highest exposure to fine particle pollution had a nearly 50 percent increased likelihood of having low sleep efficiency.

The study was presented Sunday at an American Thoracic Society meeting in Washington, D.C.

The research can't prove a direct cause-and effect relationship. Still, "these new findings indicate the possibility that commonly experienced levels of air pollution not only affect heart and lung disease, but also sleep quality," Billings said in a society news release.

"Improving air quality may be one way to enhance sleep health and perhaps reduce health disparities," she added.

Studies presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on insufficient sleep.