Is Air Quality Affecting Your Sleep? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

See how improving the air quality in your home can lead to better sleep health, with actionable advice from sleep experts.


If you want to have better sleep hygiene, one key factor that often goes overlooked is the quality of the air you’re breathing through the night. Most of us are aware that sleep can be affected by factors such as having a bad mattress, traffic noise, temperature, stress levels, and too much screen time before bed—but did you know the air you’re breathing can also play a vital role?

In this article, we’ll look at the connection between air quality and sleep and consider how poor air quality can lead to sleep disturbances and sleep disorders. And perhaps most importantly, what can you do to ensure your bedroom promotes restful sleep when it comes to air?

Understanding Air Quality

Air quality describes the cleanliness of the air around us. It’s measured by the presence of pollutants, including particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. Let’s look more closely at some of these.

Particulate Matter

The term particulate matter (PM) is used to describe a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that may be found in the air. PM is made up of dust, dirt, soot, and smoke that may come from different sources, including vehicle emissions. Depending on where you live, PM may also come from industrial activities and natural sources like wildfires.

If PM particles have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), they can potentially penetrate deeply into your respiratory system. In some cases, they may even enter your bloodstream and lead to significant health risks.

In some cases, PM2.5 can irritate your airways and disturb your sleep, which can cause your sleep patterns to become disrupted. This occurs when the particles trigger inflammatory responses and oxidative stress, which wreaks havoc on your central nervous system and circadian rhythm.

Carbon Dioxide

Most of us have heard of (CO2)—this colorless, odorless gas is produced when humans and animals breathe, when fossil fuels combust, and as a result of and other natural and anthropogenic processes. So there’s plenty of it about!

Carbon dioxide occurs at a level of around 400 parts per million in the fresh air. However, in confined spaces where there are more people, levels can rise to unhealthy levels.

CO2 is not a pollutant in the traditional sense, but if there are high levels of it in your bedroom, studies have found it can cause headaches, impaired mental function, and lethargy.

A study of working professionals found a 50% reduction in decision-making performance when CO2 levels were 1,440 parts per million or above. The presence of carbon dioxide in the air has also been found to significantly decrease sleep quality.

Nitrogen Dioxide

NO2 is another colorless gas, but unlike CO2 it is poisonous to humans. NO2 forms when fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas, or diesel) are burned at high temperatures. The main source, therefore, is the trucks, cars, and buses on our roads. However, indoor combustion, as occurs and wood-, oil-, gas- or coal-burning appliances can also cause it to be released into the home environment.

This air pollutant can certainly affect sleep, partly because of its negative effects on the lungs. It can cause inflammation of the airways as well as irritate the eyes, nose and throat. A five-year study found that high levels of nitrogen dioxide increased the chances of having low sleep efficiency by almost 60

Volatile Organic Compounds

Did you know your household products—and even the mattress you’re lying on—could release harmful particles into the air? Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of organic chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. They may be present in paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing, and new furniture. Because they vaporize easily, VOCs can contribute to indoor air pollution and potentially impact human health.

High levels of VOCs have been found to cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, nausea, and even more serious long-term effects such as liver and kidney damage. When it comes to sleep, they can profoundly affect sleep quality and duration.

How Do I Know if the Air Quality is Good?

There are a few tell-tale signs that the air quality in your sleep environment might need some attention. These include:

  • Increased snoring
  • Dry throat upon waking
  • Unexplained nighttime awakenings
  • Headaches

Improving Air Quality

Let’s look at some ways you can improve the air quality of your sleeping environment.

  • Use an air purifier to filter out unwanted pollutants. Look for products that are designed to filter out the specific pollutants that are prevalent in your area. Devices with HEPA filters will work well for particulate matter, while those containing activated carbon are ideal for VOCs.
  • Regularly clean your bedroom and rest of your home with a powerful vacuum cleaner—this avoids a build-up of dust and dirt. Dust surfaces every week.
  • Wash your bedding at least once a week and clean your mattress protector every couple of months to avoid the build-up of dirt particles.
  • Ventilate your sleeping area to reduce indoor pollutant levels, especially if you've been using chemical cleaners. If you can, sleep with the window open and keep your bedroom door open to encourage good air flow to your sleeping quarters.
  • Keep indoor plants that help clean the air naturally. Spider plants, rubber plants, aloe vera, snake plants, and peace lilies are all known for their air-purifying abilities.

Monitoring Air Quality in Your Bedroom

Understanding the significant impact of air quality on sleep highlights an often overlooked aspect of sleep hygiene. By acknowledging the role pollutants play in disrupting sleep patterns and overall health, we're equipped with the knowledge to take actionable steps towards creating a healthier sleep environment.

Whether it's through the use of air purifiers, regular cleaning, or incorporating air-purifying plants into our bedrooms, improving air quality is a tangible way to enhance our sleep quality and, by extension, our well-being. With these insights and solutions at hand, we can all look forward to a future of restful nights and rejuvenated mornings, underscored by the breath of cleaner air.


Written by

Georgia Austin

Professionally trained copywriter, editor, and content marketing strategist with over 7 years of experience—working with brands like Nike, Siemens, Toshiba, Tommy Hilfiger, Culture Trip, and Klook.

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