Add sleep-disordered breathing to the list of health ailments associated with heavy air pollution. New findings may further fuel the green movement by providing another reason to curb emissions.
People living in highly-polluted urban areas get poorer quality sleep, which is often plagued by breathing problems. The effects only get worse during the sweltering summer heat, when ozone alerts are often issued.
Sleep disordered breathing and air pollution both increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
The study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine used data from the Sleep Heart Health Study (1995-1998), a project exploring the cardiovascular symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing.
The authors narrowed down the field of participants from around 6,000 to about 3,000 to include residents from seven places: Framingham, Mass., Minneapolis, Minn., New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz.
Researchers cross-referenced the results from the Sleep Heart Health Study with pollution data from those cities during the period of the original study. The Sleep Heart Health Study looked at trends in sleep quality, blood oxygen levels and number of breathing pauses. It included controls for external risk factors, such as smoking.
Results show a spike in sleep-disordered breathing cases when the temperature increased, along with pollution levels.
The authors speculate sleep disordered breathing may be more prevalent in poor urban environments. These types of neighborhoods are often exposed to the brunt of automotive and industrial air pollution.
Residents of low-income areas are especially at risk for sleep-disordered breathing due to the lack of nutritious food options in low-income areas. Because grocery store chains stay clear of these “food deserts” residents opt for fast food or the junk food sold at liquor stores. The rate of obesity, a risk-factor for obstructive sleep apnea, is generally higher in these neighborhoods.
There are a few things you can do to counteract urban pollution and prevent breathing pauses. The Sleep Education blog recommends staying in an air conditioned area when an ozone alert is issued or the temperatures are high. Over the counter allergy medication may also reduce allergies from the pollution.
If this does not result in more restful sleep or your family or partner continues to notice pauses in breathing you may have obstructive sleep apnea. In this case we recommend you seek treatment at an AASM accredited sleep center.
Image by Ben Amstutz