How does pollution affect sleep apnea?

Yound people breathing fresh air

Sleep apnea sufferers often ask if pollution affects their condition - air pollution in particular, but other types of pollution like indoor pollution too. It’s a very current issue with the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) being held in Paris at the end of November 2015. Below you’ll find some information on the connection between sleep apnea and pollution, as well as some tips on how to manage it.

To what extent are sleep apnea and pollution connected? We know that Sleep-Disordered Breathing (SDB) and air pollution have separately been linked to cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.
In 2010, researchers from Brigham, Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health (USA) established the first link between air pollution and Sleep-Disordered Breathing.* Using data from the Sleep Heart Health Study (involving more than 6,000 participants between 1995 and 1998), and air pollution monitoring data from Framingham (Massachusetts), Minneapolis, New York City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Tucson, the study revealed the importance of pollution and temperature in the management of SDB. During the summer, the increase of both particles ejected from car exhausts and temperature, aggravated breathing disorders. Consequently, it aggravated sleep apnea symptoms too. “Particles may influence sleep through effects on the central nervous system, as well as the upper airways. Increases in apnea and hypopnea index were associated with increases in short-term temperature over all seasons, and with increases in particle pollution levels in the summer months”, wrote Dr. Zanobetti from the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.

Minimizing the impact of pollution and temperature peaks on sleep apnea patients

During a pollution or temperature peak, anything that provokes daytime tiredness or breathing disorders will make the symptoms of sleep apnea worse at night. These simple measures are therefore highly recommended:
- Don’t play sports, especially important for those who suffer from exercise-induced asthma.
- Avoid using highways or main roads.
- Air your house for a minimum of 15 minutes each day, either early in the morning or later in the day when it is coolest.
- Use a bike or walk if possible, instead of driving your car.
- Drink lots of water during the day to reduce the risk of dehydration and excessive tiredness.

In other words: try not to do anything too energetic, and try not to spend time in (or even contribute to) the pollution you are trying to escape! The more tired you become during the day, the more you risk suffering from sleep apnea syndrome during the night.


*Associations of PM10 with Sleep and Sleep-disordered Breathing in Adults from Seven U.S. Urban Areas
A. Zanobetti, S. Redline, J. Schwartz, D. Rosen, S. Patel, G. T. O’Connor, M. Lebowitz, B. A. Coull, D. R. Gold. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2010; DOI. This study was funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency.