Deteriorating air quality in Indian cities has become a concern for health experts, environmentalists, and people in recent years. Air pollution is one of the leading health threats of our times. A study published recently in The Lancet Planetary Health journal estimates that 77 per cent of India’s population is exposed to outdoor air pollution levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) safe limit. It also says that around 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017 could be attributed to air pollution.
According to Global Burden of Disease study, 2018, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), caused by long term lung exposure to toxins in the air, killed one million Indians.
But, the impact of air pollution is not limited to heart and lung health as is commonly believed. Long term exposure to air pollution can interact with the normal functioning of the entire body, including your sleep and mood.
In recent years, researchers are analysing the impact of air pollution on the overall functioning of the brain and sleep related problems. A small body of research is pointing towards a link between exposure to air pollution and sleep apnea — a serious disorder that occurs when breathing is interrupted during sleep.
People with sleep apnea tend to stop breathing briefly during their sleep, which is not only debilitating but may also have larger implications on health. Breathing interruption may cause shortage of oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body.
According to research published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, there is a positive correlation between obstructive sleep apnea and increase in two of the most common air pollutants: fine particulate pollution, known as PM2.5, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
It is estimated that air pollution causes irritation, swelling and congestion in the upper airways, and may also affect parts of the brain and central nervous system that control breathing patterns and sleep.
Due to their toxicity, air pollutants might have a role also in the etiology of mental disorders leading to anxiety, changes in mood and problems in cognition and behavior by impacting the central nervous system.
An emerging body of evidence points out at a clear link between sustained exposure to poor quality air and mental health. In 2011, researchers at Ohio State University published a mice study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry that found a clear link between long-term exposure to air pollution and physical changes in the brain, as well as learning and memory problems, along with depression.
If you live in an Indian city, chances are that you are exposed to toxic air on a daily basis. Here are small steps that one can take to minimise the impact of bad air:
Use masks while commuting on roads on peak hours
Have air purifiers installed as workplace and at home to ensure that you breath in clean air for most duration of the day
Exercise indoors on particularly bad air days
Reduce your own carbon footprint by using car polling and public transport as much as possible .