Global Warming Could Potentially Impact Sleep Quality

For those who have trouble sleeping at night, climate change might be the culprit to blame.

Nick Obradovich, who studies how people interact with climate, had an epiphany during October 2015 after experiencing sleepless nights when San Diego temperatures were reaching the high 90s. His friends and colleagues were undergoing the same experience as him.

“Clearly the heat was taking a toll,” Obradovich said. “It was just too hot to sleep.”

Once the lack of sleep set in, he decided to study how global warming affects sleep quality as well as who might suffer the most from the impacts.

“Concern over climate change has kept climate scientists up at night for years with worry, but now it may also keep the rest of us awake, not from worry — but from real discomfort,” Obradovich, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy school of government and a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, said. “What our study shows is not only that ambient temperature can play a role in disrupting sleep but also that climate change might make the situation worse by driving up rates of sleep loss.”

Over the decades, Americans will be robbed of many nights of quality sleep from the growing increase in temperatures, with the poor and elderly being the most affected, according to the new study published in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers used data from 765,000 U.S survey respondents between 2002 and 2011 while also reporting their own nights of insufficient sleep to daily temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental Information. They combined historical estimates with climate health model projections and detailed the possible effects on sleep in correlation to future climatic changes.

“Our study represents the largest ever investigation of the relationship between sleep and ambient temperature and provides the first evidence that climate change may disrupt human sleep,” according to the study’s abstract.

The scientists discovered that nightly temperatures 1 degree Celsius above normal could potentially mean 110 million more nights of insufficient sleep each year for Americans.

Health experts have stressed the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Those who don’t receive a full seven hours every night are at greater risk for obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, mental disorders and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one-quarter of people across the U.S. claim they sometimes don’t receive enough sleep, while one in ten suffers from chronic insomnia.

“Poor sleep and less sleep have a wide range of impacts,” Sara Mednick, co-author of the study and sleep researcher at UC Riverside, said. “It can impact immune function. People have a greater likelihood of getting sick.”

Although the scientists only conducted the study in the U.S., Obradovich claimed if he obtained data from developing countries, he could have seen even “greater effects.”

“I wasn’t sure we would see an effect,” Obradovich said. “But, in fact, we do observe an effect, which suggests if we had data from [developing countries] we might observe greater effects. We don’t have sleep data from around the world, but assuming the pattern is similar, one can imagine that in places that are warmer or poorer or both, what we’d find could be even worse.”

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