According to the environmental organisation Pure Earth, toxic pollution affects more than 200 million people worldwide. Air pollution specifically kills more than 2 million people each year, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. In smaller amounts, air pollution may cause respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease and increases in asthma.
Now a new study has found that there may be a correlation between air pollution and difficulty sleeping. Using data from an ongoing study called the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), researchers in the US found that people in the study who lived in areas with high levels of air pollution were 60 per cent more likely to sleep poorly, than those who lived in areas with cleaner air.
Lead author of the study, Dr Martha E Billings said that sleep deprivation has a whole range of negative side effects, “Not having enough sleep and having low quality sleep affects people’s performance, increases the risk of vehicle accidents and lowers mood,” she said. “Over time, there is a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer in people who are not getting adequate sleep, so there is a lot of implications as well as general well-being and the quality of life.”
While the study only found an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship between air pollution levels and sleep quality, researchers believe that there are many ways that air pollution could be impacting on our ability to sleep well, including potential airway irritation. “Sometimes those small particles can get into the blood stream, and that could affect regulation of sleep in the brain,” suggests Dr Billings. “That’s our hypothesis, but we still need further studies to show whether this is really the case.”
The findings have not yet been published in a peer review journal.