The Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Indoor Air Quality

Man sleeping with a CPAP mask

If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may check out your bed’s mattress or linens, or you might pay attention to the amount of light or noise in your sleep environment. But chances are you haven’t given much thought to the indoor air quality in your bedroom. However, recent studies show that a link exists between sleep apnea and indoor air quality.

Scientists have long speculated about a possible connection between sleep apnea and air quality in general, with studies over the last decade starting to explore the issue. Air pollution, both outdoor and indoor, has been proven to have a negative effect on overall health. Studies now indicate that pollution affects sleep negatively as well.

Sleep Apnea and Air Pollution

Scientific research beginning in the early 2010s began to establish a verifiable connection between air pollution in general and sleep-disordered breathing, including sleep apnea. As many as 17% of adults in the United States experience breathing disturbances during sleep. The most well-known of these is sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing briefly while sleeping, with episodes occurring many times each night and causing extreme sleep disturbance.

The groundbreaking 2010 study showed that air pollution resulted in low blood oxygen levels, reduced sleep quality and an increased risk of sleep apnea and other breathing-related sleep disorders. Related studies have shown that increased levels of pollution increase the risks of shallow breathing or breathing stoppages during sleep.

The presence of as little as a 5-microgram increase in particulate matter, which irritates the lining of the nose, mouth and throat, can result in a 60% greater risk of sleep apnea. The study showed this increase in sleep apnea and sleep disruption regardless of ethnicity, income level, neighborhood and other physical conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes.

Sleep Apnea and Indoor Air Quality

It didn’t take long for researchers to pose the question: If outdoor air pollution has a causative relationship with sleep apnea, what about indoor air quality? In fact, recent studies are indeed showing the expected connection. Particulate matter inside the bedroom increases the severity of obstructive sleep apnea in significant ways. Not surprisingly, the more particulate matter in the indoor air, the greater the increase in sleep apnea.

Studies show that 68% of people experience poor sleep when their bedroom environment exposes them to particulate matter in the air. Respiratory disturbances during sleep, including sleep apnea, are especially strong during the dry season, with sleep-disordered breathing occurring far less frequently during seasons of high humidity.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

The good news is you can improve the indoor air quality of your bedroom and your entire home. Take steps to remove particulate matter from the air, allowing you to breathe more freely during sleep. Try these improvements to improve indoor air quality:

Put Up the No Smoking Sign

One of the greatest contributors to particulate matter in indoor air is cigarette smoke, which is filled with carcinogenic chemicals to boot. Forbid smoking in your home, no matter who is asking.

Turn on the AC

Your air conditioning system does far more than chill the air inside your home. It also helps filter out particulates and other outdoor air pollution to keep your indoor air fresh and healthy. A central air conditioning system will improve the air quality for your whole home, but even a room air conditioner for your bedroom can make a difference. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home and you’re able to install it, consider adding a whole-home HEPA air filter to purify air further.

Use an Air Purifier

Air purifiers are designed to remove dust, pollen, mold and bacteria from your indoor air — basically, all that particulate matter that’s aggravating your sleep apnea. Running an air purifier at night in your bedroom can make a big difference to the quality of your sleep. Look for one that meets or exceeds HEPA filtration standards, like the SoClean Air Purifier.

Clean Your Air Ducts

You probably don’t give a second thought to the air ducts moving heated and cooled air through your home — but when dust and other particulate matter collects there, it can affect your breathing. Clean the ducts and change any air filters to keep those particulates out of your indoor air.

Stop Using Scented Products

That lemon-fresh scent that you spray into your air is actually a combination of chemicals and particulate matter that may be harming your indoor air quality. It doesn’t matter if they smell good when scented products hinder your ability to breathe freely at night.

Opt for Hard Floors Instead of Carpets

Carpets grab hold of dust and pet hair as if they were trying to make sure all that particulate matter stays in your environment. Hardwood or tile floors are easier to clean, so you can remove all that sleep-disrupting material out of your airspace. If you can’t remove carpets, make sure you vacuum at least twice a week (more if you have cats or dogs), and use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter if possible.

Decorate Your Space With House Plants

Plants keep outdoor air in balance by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, and they can do it in your home as well. Add some fresh, green plants around your home to improve air quality. If you’re sensitive to pollen, do a little research when choosing plants to make sure you don’t bring any pollen indoors.

Are there any other ways you’ve found to improve the air quality in your home for better sleep at night? Let us know in the comments below.

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