When it comes to getting quality sleep, your home’s air quality matters. But how do you know if your indoor air quality (IAQ) is good enough? According to Jamie Gold, a Mayo Clinic certified wellness coach who has written a book on this subject, good IAQ is characterized by having minimal pollutants. Or as Peter Mann, CEO of Oransi, puts it, good IAQ is the same as outside air. In this article, I’ll discuss how air quality and sleep are interconnected. I’ll also provide practical advice for improving your home’s IAQ, all backed up by studies and expert advice. Please note: We are not medical professionals, so if you have any healthcare-related questions, it’s best to consult your doctor.
The Connection Between Air Quality and Sleep
Poor IAQ can make it more difficult to get quality rest. A 2019 study in Proceedings stated: “The quality of indoor air in bedrooms is of great importance not only for better quality of sleep but also for better quality of life.” If the air quality is poor, you may have difficulty falling asleep. And once you do, your sleep is less restful, causing you to wake up groggy. (1)
I spoke with Tony Abate, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at AtmosAir Solutions, and he agrees that IAQ can impact sleep. He says poor IAQ can increase your chances of sleep apnea, which causes repeated interruptions in your breathing patterns.
High doses of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air contribute to poor IAQ. According to a 2012 study in Environmental Health Perspectives, increased indoor CO2 concentrations were shown to cause health issues such as headaches or sinus congestion, which can negatively impact sleep. So when measuring it, the researchers recommend it be lower than 20,000 parts per million (ppm). For your reference, 20,000 ppm means there are 20,000 particles of carbon dioxide in a million particles of air. (2)
Volatile organic contaminants (VOCs) also cause poor IAQ. According to the EPA, VOCs are typically man-made chemicals found in paints, refrigerants, and pharmaceuticals. (3) Joseph P. Urso, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ActivePure Technology agrees that chemicals can significantly disrupt good IAQ. He told me that chemical contaminants and pollution that become part of your home’s dust have a much harmful effect than organic matter in dust. These VOCs and other pollutants decrease the IAQ, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
You can even see the effects of IAQ in dorm rooms. After examining the effects of air quality in single-occupancy student dormitory rooms for sixteen individuals, a 2015 study in Indoor Air concluded that sleep quality can be improved by having better bedroom air quality. To help with this, the researchers suggest reducing the levels of CO2 concentration. (4) Given the effects poor IAQ can have on sleep quality, you may be wondering how you can improve the air in your home.
How to Improve the Air in Your Bedroom
Feel free to get rid of the potted plants.
First, let’s talk about what doesn’t work. Case in point: using indoor plants to improve IAQ. You’ve probably heard the claim that indoor potted plants can improve air quality. But recent research runs counter to this belief. After reviewing numerous studies and IAQ experiments, a 2019 study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology concluded that potted plants do not improve IAQ.
The study explained that sometimes plants can produce spores and other biopartical emissions, along with certain VOCs. This, the researchers say, would counteract any IAQ benefits plants can provide. (5) So while indoor plants may look pretty, they likely won’t do much for your IAQ.
Keep your home clean and reduce the chemicals.
Let me restate the obvious: Chemicals aren’t good for IAQ. One of the first things you can do to keep your air from being contaminated, according to Joseph P. Urso, is to use natural cleaning solutions. He also recommends taking off your shoes when you enter your home, in case they have any lingering chemicals on them. Other tips he gave include cleaning your floors often to cut back the dust and using a damp cloth rather than a feather duster to keep dust from relocating to the air. Finally, he recommends keeping your bedroom allergy free, such as by using an organic mattress.
A 2008 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) recommends keeping dry-cleaned clothes out of your home for at least a few days, since these contain trichloroethylenes, which can be potentially harmful if kept at room temperature. The researchers also found that it’s best to avoid room deodorizers, perfumes, and other pungent chemicals. (6) Not only will this improve your IAQ, your home will smell much nicer.
Use an air filter to clean the air.
According to a 2015 study in Lung India, efficient air filters have been proven to successfully remove allergens that can decrease IAQ. The study also stated how there are more health risks associated with indoor air pollution than there are with outdoor air pollution. (7)
One common indoor pollutant is smoke. If you’re not a smoker, this is still something to consider. Alaina Ross, RN, says smoke-inducing products like a candle, burnt dinner in the oven, or a fireplace should be considered. To reduce the negative effects smoke has on IAQ, she suggests replacing air filters as needed and opening up windows, which brings us to the next tip.
Keep the room ventilated.
When the weather is nice, consider opening a window! The Proceedings study I mentioned earlier found that homes with windows left open at night were exposed to less amounts of CO2 concentration. I chatted with Dr. Giuseppe Aragona of Prescription Doctor to talk more about ventilation. If it’s too cold or stormy to open a window, he recommends keeping doors open so odors and old air aren’t stuck in one room.
The study I mentioned from Indoor Air backs up what Dr. Aragona said. In it, the researchers stated that CO2 levels are often poor when a window or door is closed. When a window was open, the CO2 was in the 525 to 840 ppm range (far below the 20,000 ppm danger threshold).
But wait, there’s more! Ventilation can occur aside from opening windows and doors. For instance, Jamie Gold recommends making sure you’re using kitchen and bathroom ventilation fans as needed.
Use a dehumidifier or a humidifier.
When considering IAQ quality, you may want to pay attention to how much moisture is in the air, especially if you live in a humid area (looking at you, Floridians). According to WHO, “When sufficient moisture is available, hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi – particularly mould – pollute indoor air.” As such, they recommend preventing or minimizing persistent dampness indoors to improve air quality. (8)
Peter Mann says dehumidifiers can help if the humidity levels are above 50%, since he claims at that point, mold growth can occur. But if the humidity is below 30%, he suggests using a humidifier to keep the IAQ from getting too dry.
Maintain your HVAC system.
Tony Abate says that mold, dust, bacteria, and airborne viruses can be caused by poor HVAC systems, so it’s important to keep yours properly maintained. If you want to improve your HVAC system, he suggests adding a bi-polar ionization device, which sounds like something out of sci-fi, but in reality it emits ions into the air to find and neutralize contaminates.
Frequently replace your furnace filter.
Another solution for boosting IAQ is simple and typically won’t take much time: replacing your furnace filter regularly. Arie Van Tujil, a licensed home inspector, says this is the most common issue he sees with homeowners. He recommends replacing your furnace filter monthly so it can properly clean out airborne pollutants.
Check the Air Quality Outside.
Ran Korber, CEO of BreezoMeter, says that air pollution levels change dramatically on an hourly basis. He explains that air quality can even be different from one street to the next. In order to ensure you’re not bringing in polluted air from the outside, he suggests checking the air quality around your house, which you can do by using their free air quality app. This will help you understand when to take preventative measures like closing windows & switching on an air purifier if the air quality is particularly bad outside.
Last Word From Sleepopolis
Well folks, we’ve reached the end of our recommendations for improving your bedroom’s IAQ so you can get that deep, restful sleep your body needs. And remember, we aren’t medical experts, so please consult your healthcare provider with any sleep-related medical concerns you may have.
- Gladyszewska-Fiedoruk, K. Indoor Air Quality in the Bedroom of a Single-Family House—A Case Study. Proceedings, July 8, 2019
- Satish, U et al. Is CO2 an Indoor Pollutant? Direct Effects of Low-to-Moderate CO2 Concentrations on Human Decision-Making Performance. Environmental Health Perspectives, Dec 1, 2012
- Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency, https/www.epa.gov/indoor-air-qualiy-iaq/what-are-volatile-organic-compounds-vocs
- Strøm-Tejsen, P et al. The effects of bedroom air quality on sleep and next‐day performance. Indoor Air, Oct 9, 2015
- Cummings, B et al. Potted plants do not improve indoor air quality: a review and analysis of reported VOC removal efﬁciencies. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, Nov 6, 2019
- Dales, R et al. Quality of indoor residential air and health. CMAJ, July 15, 2008
- Vijayan, V et al. Enhancing indoor air quality – The air filter advantage. Lung India, Sep-Oct 2015
- World Health Organization. WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: dampness and mould. WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2009