How Does Air Pollution Affect Sleep and Health?

This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr. Ahmed ZayedOpens in a new tab.

In the past years, as the number of deaths due to air pollution and air pollution rates themselves kept on growing, more and more studies have been done in order to support these findings.

But while there were many studies that investigated the effects of air pollution on our lung and heart health, there were fewer studies that were dedicated to the impact of air pollution on our sleep. 

All of that changed in the past few years after more and more people were asking for help for their sleep-related issues. Finally, the link between air pollution and sleep-related issues was unraveled, and as it turns out, air pollution is to be blamed for even a greater negative impact on our health altogether.

Let’s look into a bit deeper in the link between air pollution and our poor sleep quality,Opens in a new tab. including the risks that happen as a result. 

How does air pollution affect your sleep? 

Poor air quality reflects negatively on every aspect of our health, including our sleep, according to some recent studies. One of the ways that air pollution is affecting our sleep quality is by increasing the risk of sleep apnea. Since air pollution causes congestion in the upper airway, while the build-up of mold, dust, and pollen cause common allergies, the risk of sleep apnea is growing.  

Sleep apnea is referred to as a potentially dangerous sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop and starts throughout the nightOpens in a new tab. repeatedly.

Eventually, when the individual wakes up in the morning, they struggle with a morning headache, fatigue during the day, irritability, memory problems, low concentration, and low mood, among many other symptoms. But the symptoms are not the only thing that we need to be afraid of.  

Multiple studies link sleep apnea to various health risksOpens in a new tab., including diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, worsening of ADHD (Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), and even stroke, among many others. If we look deeper into this link, we can refer to air pollution as one of the risk factors not only for sleep apnea but also for all of the additional health risks that come with it. 

A 2019 studyOpens in a new tab. looked at the link between two main air pollution particles – PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. The results showed that people who lived in areas where there is a higher amount of these two air pollution particles were more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. 

In addition, air pollution also increases the risk of sleep deprivation due to insomnia and common sleep disturbances. Not only does sleep deprivation lead to low mood and increases the risk of common vehicle accidents, but it also brings additional health issues as well.

Once again, air pollution is increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other serious health conditions by causing sleep deprivation. And these are only some of the negative effects that air pollution has on our overall health – both physical and mental. 

Additional health risks that we need to consider 

Air pollution is listed as one of the top 10 health threats of 2019. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is guilty of killing about 7 million people each year. And although these deaths might not be caused by poor sleep quality, as discussed earlier, poor sleep quality is linked to so many dangerous health risks than we can count.  

But that is not all – Air pollution is also found guilty in causing a long list of many other health risks and problems. It represents an especially big problem for people who tend to be more sensitive to its negative effects, such as pregnant womenOpens in a new tab., children, the elderly, and chronically ill patients. 

While it is certainly not a secret that air pollution has a negative impact on our health, a recent study has shown that there are more and more severe health issues that air pollution is to be accounted for. The rising air pollution has also been linked to an increased rate of miscarriages, urinary tract infections, heart failure, strokes, different types of cancer, and many more.  

Air pollution is also linked to a higher risk of dementiaOpens in a new tab. among people of all ages. Although more research needs to be done to discover the exact cause and mechanism of action, in this case, the results are pretty promising and inform us of a link that we were not aware of in the past. 

Prenatal exposure to air pollution increases the risk of wheezing and asthma among children, despite the fact that the mother may or may not have struggled with asthma herself. Air pollution, especially traffic-related pollution, has been found as the cause of asthma in children above the age of 4, but also in adults as well.

But not only can air pollution cause asthma to happen, but it can also cause more common exacerbations of pre-existing asthma cases, causing the symptoms to significantly worsen over timeOpens in a new tab., as suggested by scientific research published in 2014.  


Air pollution has a long list of negative effects on our health, both physical and mental, causing nothing good to happen. If you are feeling tired, irritated, have low concentration and memory problems, on the top of dealing with insomnia, or maybe sleep apnea, perhaps it is time to question whether or not it is the air pollution that has something to do with this.

The truth is that there are so many negative effects that we are aware of, but there are also many more that are left to be discovered in the fight against air pollution. 

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed, MD holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. An avid contributor to the Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune, Dr. Zayed believes in providing accurate and accessible information to general readers. With years of writing and editing content in the medical niche, Dr. Zayed likes to think of himself as a man with a mission, keeping the internet free of false medical information.


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