Trouble Sleeping? Blame It On The Air!

Indoor pollution and sleep

Do you spend most of your nights tossing and turning in bed?

Have you been waking up in the middle of the night?

Have you spent more time awake than asleep after hitting the bed?

If yes, then it’s time to check pollution in your house as it could be due to indoor air pollution. Even if you don’t experience any such issues while sleeping, chances are that you are inhaling dust and PM2.5 (Particulate matter of 2.5 microns in size) particles while you are asleep that is compromising the quality of your sleep.

Poor quality sleep can be due to numerous reasons that range from the use of devices close to bedtime or due to an underlying health problem. However, one of the common and preventable causes of troubled sleep in people of all ages might be the poor quality of air in their home. Wondering how indoor pollution can impact your sleep? Read this!

What are the most common indoor air pollutants?

We spend approximately one-third of our day sleeping, yet little is known as to how exposure to indoor air pollutants during sleep impacts human health and sleep quality. According to 2016 study on household air pollution and its effect on health[1], indoor air pollution is the leading cause of disability-adjusted life years in Southeast Asia. There are at least sixty sources of household air pollutants, which range from tobacco smoke, mosquito coils, and cooking fumes to room fresheners and chemicals used for cleaning that can contribute to indoor air pollution.

How do we end up breathing polluted air while sleeping?

A 2017 study done by American researchers[2] has revealed that exposure to indoor air pollutants in the sleep microenvironment can affect the quality of sleep. The sleep microenvironment can be defined as the space encompassing a mattress, pillow, bedding materials, bed frame, and the amount of air within the area of sleep.

The sleep microenvironment is also home to numerous bacteria, fungi, mold, dust, and chemicals. Bacterial endotoxins, compounds released by bacteria, have been found in higher levels in infant mattresses as compared to the mother’s mattress. Moreover, mattresses and pillows are an ideal medium for the growth of the fungus due to the high moisture levels induced by sweating and high temperatures. The mass of dust that accumulates on mattresses, pillows, and bedding is an important parameter that can affect exposure and transport of the settled particles into the air causing pollution.

Studies[2] have shown that infant crib mattresses and mattress covers are a source of a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Moreover, bed frames and wooden cribs may release formaldehyde, a volatile gas that is known to cause indoor pollution.

How does indoor air pollution cause poor quality sleep?

A study that was presented at the American Thoracic Society’s annual conference[3] showed that greater exposure to nitrogen dioxide and small particulate matter known as PM2.5 is linked to a higher chance of having low sleep efficiency. According to this study, high levels of nitrogen dioxide increased the odds of having low sleep efficiency by almost 60%, while high levels of PM2.5 increased the odds by almost 50%. Sleep efficiency was measured as the proportion of time participants spent asleep in bed at night compared to being awake in bed. Moreover, the presence of these indoor pollutants can irritate the nose, sinuses, and throat, which can also lead to breathing issues and sleep disruption.

A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that air pollution increases the risk of breathing problems during sleep[4]. The short-term increase in particulate matter PM10 in the household can increase the risk of sleep-disordered breathing. It can impair the breathing and may lead to symptoms such as snoring, partial cessation in breathing, and disturbed sleep. In the long run, it may also cause obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) in adults which is characterized by episodes of complete or partial upper airway obstruction during sleep.

Bedrooms, when compared to the rest of the home, have been found to be poorly ventilated. As the ventilation is reduced, it causes inhalation of air loaded with pollutants released into the sleep microenvironment, which in turn can affect your breathing and sleep. Several recent studies have indicated that poorly ventilated bedrooms can be associated with higher CO2 concentrations, which can adversely affect sleep quality and next day performance[5].

Bottom line:

Given the fact that you are exposed to numerous pollutants, it is difficult to avoid pollution in your home. However, to get rid of impurities and dust and minimize the effect of indoor air pollution on your sleep and overall health, investing in an air purifier is not a bad idea. Opt for the one that removes almost 99% of indoor air pollutants and keeps the air clean and fresh to turn your sleep into a healthy one.

This article is sponsored by Honeywell Air Purifiers.


1. Apte K, Salvi S. Household air pollution and its effects on health. F1000Res. 2016 Oct 28;5. pii: F1000 Faculty Rev-2593. eCollection 2016.

2. Boor, Brandon & Spilak, Michal & Laverge, et al. Human exposure to indoor air pollutants in sleep microenvironments: A literature review. Building and Environment. 2017. 125. 528-555.

3. Air Pollution May Disrupt Sleep. Press Releases from the ATS International Conference American Thoracic Society.

4. Zanobetti A, Redline S, Schwartz J, et al. Associations of PM10 with sleep and sleep-disordered breathing in adults from seven U.S. urban areas. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010 Sep 15;182(6):819-25.

5. Strøm-Tejsen P, Zukowska D, Wargocki P, Wyon DP. The effects of bedroom air quality on sleep and next-day performance. Indoor Air. 2016 Oct;26(5):679-86.

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