Poor indoor air quality can damage sleep. Here’s how to improve it.

By Tony Abate, CIAQP, CMI

A mix of indoor air pollutants, such as dust, pollen, spores, gases, bacteria, and viruses, surrounds us. Many studies have shown them to damage our health and well-being. But does bedroom air quality affect our sleep?

A study performed at the Technical University of Denmark found air quality to have a definite effect on sleep and cognition. Researchers compared students who slept in dorm rooms with improved ventilation and air quality with other students whose rooms remained as is. In the rooms with improved air quality, the students spent more time asleep when in bed and scored better on tests taken the next day to measure concentration and attention.  

Contributors to Poor Bedroom Air Quality

The air quality in bedrooms can become poor for several reasons. 

Most people sleep with their bedroom doors and windows shut, concentrating airborne pollutants. Those pollutants can find their way into our noses, throats, and even our lungs.

Bedrooms can contain molds, pollen, and pet dander. Bedding and mattresses can harbor dust mites. 

Have you been prematurely woken from a stuffy nose, dry throat, or cough? This can happen after breathing in hours of concentrated pollutants. If the particulate matter is 2.5 or smaller (1/25,000th of an inch), it can embed deep in the lungs, causing respiratory distress and eventually leading to chronic conditions like allergies and asthma.

Improving Bedroom Air Quality 

The US Environmental Protection Agency has identified three important factors to improve indoor air quality: 

  1. source control,
  2. ventilation, 
  3. and air cleaning. 

Here is some advice specific to improving air quality in a bedroom.

  1. Dust mites from bedding can be controlled by more frequent washing in hot water and by using special mattresses and pillow covers. 
  2. If the bedroom is carpeted, consider replacing it with hard flooring. Or vacuum it frequently with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter-equipped vacuum. 
  3. Clean the room often using cleaners that emit only low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  4. Use low-VOC emitting products if painting or refinishing in the room.

Improving Ventilation With Forced Air Systems

Ventilation can be improved in several ways.

If you have a forced air system, set the fan to “on” rather than “auto,” especially at night. Forced air systems have a filter to remove pollutants. Keeping the fan on lets the filter capture pollutants all night and provide continual airflow and ventilation. 

Also, consider upgrading its filter to a high-efficiency one to capture more airborne pollutants, and complement it with air purification technologies such as bipolar air ionization or ultraviolet light systems.

Bipolar air ionization is exceptionally good at flooding the room with beneficial ions, which are naturally abundant in clean outdoor air. The ions reduce dust and spores, break down VOCs, and neutralize bacteria, viruses, and molds in the room. Ultraviolet systems sterilize heating/air conditioning system parts (like cooling coils) and help to reduce bacteria and molds that can grow on these surfaces.

Improve Ventilation Without Forced Air Systems

Even if you do not have an air system, you are not out of options for cleaner air.

Try cracking open a window, even slightly, which will lower the concentrations of airborne pollutants. But avoid this during high pollen or allergy seasons or when outdoor air quality is poor (like periods of wildfire smoke or high ozone).

Also, there are many self-contained standalone air purifiers available. These can offer one or many air purification technologies, like HEPA filtration, carbon filters to reduce gasses and odors, and ultraviolet and bipolar air ionization technologies. Be sure the unit’s square footage capacity is suited to the room’s size, and look for its clean air delivery rate (CADR), a standard developed by the American Home Appliance Manufacturers. I recommend a CADR of 300 or more.

Using these strategies can improve your air quality and your sleep, which in turn improves your overall health.

Photo 183000752 © Olga Prystai | Dreamstime.com