When you think about the negative impacts of climate change, concerns such as natural disasters and food scarcity probably come to mind. But did you know that climate change can also affect people’s health on an individual level?
According to a new study, one way it does is by disrupting sleep. It’s been found that rising temperatures erode sleep and can cause physiological effects tied to sleep deprivation.
Study Findings: Rising Temperatures Erode Sleep
A 2022 report published in One Earth found that warmer temperatures around the world are reducing sleep quality, especially among elderly adults, women and residents living in lower-income countries.
Researchers had participants living in different locations wear sleep-tracking wristbands in order to collect data about how well they slept. Over 7 million sleep records were collected from more than 47,000 people living in 68 countries.
The data revealed that warmer nighttime temperatures harm sleep, most often by delaying sleep onset (in other words, making it harder to fall asleep). People already living in hotter climates are disproportionately impacted, suffering the most from rising temperatures.
Another finding: Those living in warmer climates lose more sleep per degree of temperature rise. In other words, the hotter it gets, the worse people tend to sleep.
Further analysis predicted that if we don’t do enough to lower greenhouse gas concentrations and stabilize climate change, each person could lose between 50–58 hours of sleep every year by 2099.
Why/how does the climate affect sleep?
In order to sleep well, your body needs to cool down. When you’re falling asleep there’s increased blood flow to your skin and extremities, which helps lower your core body temperature.
Both your skin and core body temperature are more sensitive to the environmental temperature during sleep. Being too hot (or too cold) can cause wakefulness because your body is outside of its ideal “thermoneutral zone.”
This can cause sweating, restlessness, and other issues that keep you tossing and turning.
Other Effects of Climate Change
How do rising temperatures affect human health? We know from other research that climate change can take a toll on both our physical and mental health, including by increasing air pollution and chronic stress and disrupting the distribution of healthy food and clean water.
Insufficient sleep is another way that climate change may harm our health, considering that chronic sleep deprivation is a risk factor for many diseases and symptoms. A lack of sleep has been associated with health problems including:
- Reduced cognitive performance
- Weight gain/obesity (being tired tends to increase one’s calorie intake)
- Diminished productivity
- Compromised immune function
- Poor cardiovascular and metabolic health
- Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, irritability and anger
Tips for Better Sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for your metabolism, regulating your appetite, decision making, memory, concentration and much more.
Having trouble sleeping or suffering from insomnia? Here are some tips:
- Get sunlight exposure during the day. This helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Exercising can also make you sleepier at night.
- Limit exposure to blue light that’s emitted from electronic devices during the two hours before bed.
- Make your room as dark as possible, such as by avoiding electronic light from devices and using blackout shades.
- Have a fan running for white noise or use a white noise machine.
- Keep your bedroom cool if possible, ideally in the mid to upper 60s Fahrenheit.
- Don’t eat a big deal too close to bedtime. Try to have dinner at least two to three hours before going to sleep to limit indigestion.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after noon (or altogether if you’re sensitive to their effects).
- Does climate change affect sleep? In one recent study, researchers found that rising temperatures erode human sleep globally.
- Higher temps reduced sleep quality most among elderly adults, women and residents of lower-income countries.
- When it’s hot outside, it tends to make people stay up later and struggle to fall asleep easily.
- According to researchers, if we don’t do enough to stabilize the climate, each person may lose up to 59 hours of sleep every year by 2099. Lack of sleep puts us at risk for many health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity.