One of the more overlooked effects of global warming may already be having an impact on people’s well-being worldwide, new research suggests. Rising temperatures driven by climate change are altering people’s sleep patterns and having a knock-on effect on the physical and psychological health of those affected.
That’s according to the findings of the largest study ever conducted into the phenomenon, indicating that fewer people are getting sufficient rest than at any other point in recent history.
Quality downtime plays a critically important role in supporting the body’s key functions. It’s long been known that cooler temperatures make for better conditions for sleeping, which in some parts of the world is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve due to global warming.
According to the analysis conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the average citizen worldwide is now losing approximately 44 hours of sleep per year. Fewer people than ever before are getting the recommended 7 hours per night, but some groups are being affected by rising temperatures more than others.
More Prevalent Among Women
For example, the study found that sleep loss in relation to global warming (per degree) is significantly higher among women than men – approximately 25%. In addition, those within the 65+ age bracket are twice as likely to be affected as their younger counterparts, while individuals in the world’s poorer countries are three times more likely to be affected.
For the purposes of the study, the research team analyzed the sleep-tracking wristbands of more than 47,000 people across 68 countries, taking into account more than 7 million collective hours of sleep.
Prior studies have drawn links between global warming and a long list of adverse effects on human health. Examples of these include a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke, an increase in suicide rates, and a major spike in psychological health issues.
In addition, the ability to work productively and efficiently decreases as temperatures rise.
The researchers who conducted the study wanted to assess whether disturbed sleep as a consequence of rising temperatures could be partially to blame for these adverse effects.
“For most of us, sleep is a very familiar part of our daily routine; we spend nearly a third of our lives asleep,” said Kelton Minor, at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and who led the research.
“But growing numbers of people in many countries around the world do not rest enough,”
“In this study, we provide the first planetary-scale evidence that warmer than average temperatures erode human sleep,”
“It might actually be the tip of the iceberg because it’s very likely our estimates are conservative.”
Concerningly, the team reached the conclusion that people are currently showing no signs of being able to adapt to the rising temperatures.
Huge Global Populations Already Affected
According to Minor, the effects of poorer patterns attributed to rising temperatures are already being felt by enormous populations worldwide. The results of the study suggested that in a city with a population of 1 million people, a night-time temperature over 25° C would adversely affect the quality in more than 46,000 people.
“And if you look at the heatwave that’s transpiring right now in India and Pakistan, we’re talking about billions of individuals exposed to conditions expected to result in considerable loss,” Minor warned.
It has been known for some time that the human body needs to cool at night to allow a person to both falls asleep and to get restful sleep. Women’s bodies cool earlier in the evening than men’s when going to bed, meaning higher night-time temperatures may have a bigger impact on women.
There is much that can be done to keep temperatures cool indoors, such as installing high-quality window shutters to deflect heat, or introducing air conditioning.
But as this simply is not an option for millions of households already affected by rising temperatures, the issue is only set to worsen as global warming increases.
The results of the study suggest that the effect global warming is having on this quality is being felt in all countries worldwide, irrespective of their climate or economy. Where overnight temperatures exceed 10° C, the impact is abundantly clear.
“Worryingly, we also found evidence that people already living in warmer climates experienced greater sleep erosion per degree of temperature rise,” said Minor.
“We had expected those individuals to be better adapted.”
An Escalating Climate Crisis
The research team reached the conclusion that policymakers need to take urgent action to minimise the negative impact of heat-related sleep loss in towns and cities worldwide.
In the UK, official advisers to the government warned last year that insufficient efforts were being made to protect the public from the escalating climate crisis, and the risks posed by regular heatwaves.
While the study produced evidence to suggest that people in poorer nations are more likely to be affected than those in wealthier nations, the team admitted that further research in such areas was needed.
“Lower-income people are underrepresented in the data and we’re very transparent about that,” said Minor.
Even so, Minor warned that unless urgent action is taken on a global basis, the sleeping patterns and the subsequent well-being of everyone may be in jeopardy.
“Our decisions, collectively as societies, will have costs in terms of sleep,” he warned.
How Quality Windows Shutters Can Improve Mental Health
One of the biggest points of appeal of quality window shutters is their thermal efficiency. Irrespective of how hot it gets outdoors, robust window shutters make it easier to maintain cooler temperatures indoors. Companies like RiverSideShutters are happy to provide the shutters you need.
In addition, precision-fitted shutters can aid in creating near-total darkness indoors at any time of day or night. A dark environment coupled with cool temperatures holds the key – particularly during the warmer months of the year.
This alone has the potential to make a major contribution to a person’s physical health and psychological wellbeing. The better an individual’s routine, aka nighttime hygiene, the more likely they are to maintain a good state of physical and psychological health.
But what’s equally important (where conditions indoors are concerned) is ensuring adequate exposure to natural light.
A Significant Spike in Depression Diagnoses
NHS figures suggest that during the course of last year’s unprecedented lockdowns, there was a major spike in the number of people experiencing depression symptoms – up to one in every five adults.
This was attributed in part to the fact that more people are spending more time indoors than at any point in UK peacetime history. Locked away from their normal lives and denied access to natural light, millions of people’s homes quickly became their own personal prisons.
A lack of natural light has been shown to have a major impact on the human body’s physical and psychological health. Natural light assists with the regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters, which are directly associated with a person’s mood, behavior, and general wellbeing.
Consequently, the best window coverings to bring into the home are those that provide robust protection from heat and light when needed, but can also be opened fully to allow interior spaces to bathe in natural light. This is precisely what premium window shutters are designed to do, providing more precise and effective control over the indoor environment.
Expert Advice for Everyday Mental Health Maintenance
With the issue of global warming only set to worsen before it improves, experts are advising the public to take a more proactive approach to their night hygiene.
Various activities and positive lifestyle habits have been linked with better sleeping patterns and improved overall well-being.
A few examples of which include the following:
Read a Book
Simple yet effective, extensive studies have drawn direct links between reading books on a regular basis and lower levels of stress, anxiety, and general psychological distress. Reading also has physical health benefits, including but not limited to lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate.
Rest Your Mind Before Bed
Heading to bed with a head full of chaotic thoughts is a recipe for a poor night’s sleep. Consequently, experts recommend taking the time to rest your mind (ideally for an hour or two) before heading to bed. Taking a bath, reading a book or simply cutting down sleep-harming screen time can all make a welcome contribution to a good night’s rest.
Spend More Time Outdoors
Research suggests that with more people working from home than ever before, fewer people are taking the time to soak up the fresh air and sunshine outdoors. Experts believe this is having a direct impact on the general public’s health and wellbeing and is also adversely affecting sleep patterns. Whether the weather conditions outdoors are amicable or not, it is still essential to make time to head outdoors on a regular basis.
Eat Well and Exercise
There are also well-documented links between a person’s general lifestyle habits and both their sleep quality and their general well-being. Eating a balanced diet is essential, as is minimizing alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco use at all costs. Regular exercise also plays a role in supporting good physical and mental health and is essential for a good night’s rest.
Consult with a Professional
Suffering in silence due to poor sleep hygiene is both inadvisable and counterproductive. If you have any concerns whatsoever regarding your sleep or your everyday well-being, they should be raised with your healthcare provider at the earliest possible stage.