Air Quality
Read Time: 3 min

you could be losing more sleep than you realise in the summer heat

and June 22, 2022
Shows a girl enjoying afternoon summer siesta

Many of us take our sleep routines for granted, using a give-and-take formula, where we oversleep one moment and remain sleep-deprived the next. What stays constant in our sleep behaviour, especially during hot and humid times is turning the AC on, all of it done on auto-pilot.

This AC-living is not restricted to just sleep, it is a daytime staple as well – from air-conditioned homes to offices and schools to even cars or cabs, it seems like time spent non-AC is a rarity.

Living non-AC 

This however is not the case for many people who do not have access to cooling devices like an AC or a misting fan. A lot of us have experienced that one pesky night where for whatever reason, the electricity fails and then you’re just lying there in unbearable heat – unable to sleep, unable to stay still.

Any movement seems better than no movement (cue furious newspaper swaying) , because it nudges the air a bit, giving illusions of a breeze. Not too long ago, this wasn’t the case – Remember those nights, when the entire family would huddle upstairs with gaddas (mattresses) in tow, being lulled to sleep in the shade of summer stars on the terrace? The climate wasn’t as harsh as it is now, where one is not able to fall asleep without an AC for company. This dilemma may seem like a non-issue but it is in fact the opposite. 

Paying the Sleep Cost 

People all over the world are likely to lose 50 to 58 hours of sleep each year by 2099 due to the climate crisis, a new study revealed. The likelihood of getting less than seven hours of sleep increased by 3.5% if the minimum outside night-time temperatures exceeded 25 degrees Celsius or (77 degrees Fahrenheit)  compared with the baseline temperature of 5 to 10 degrees Celsius ( 41 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Researchers also found evidence that people living in warmer climates lose more sleep per degree compared with those in colder climates, and that people adapt to the latter, better. The increase in sleep loss, observed in warmer places suggests that people cannot adapt to warmer temperatures easily, lead study author Kelton Minor, a doctoral candidate at the Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science at the University of Copenhagen said.

A Sound Sleep in Time of Climate Change

People consistently underestimate how much sleep they need (due to multiple factors of course) and this causes a gap to form – between the sleep one needs and the sleep, one actually gets. Lack of sleep has been associated numerously with reduced cognitive performance, diminished productivity, compromised immune function, adverse cardiovascular outcomes, depression, anger, and suicidal behaviour.

Climate change is harming us more than we care to realise. When linked with global weather and climate measurements, sleep-tracking data from wristbands proved that warmer night-time temperatures harm sleep, with unequal affects – the elderly, residents of lower-income countries, females, and those already living in hotter climates are disproportionately impacted. 

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Heat Islands in Our Cities

Moving from the specifics of sleep loss that one incurs due to climate change , to the ubiquitous heat phenomenon playing catalyst for our woes, is something called the Urban Heat Island effect. These islands occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This effect increases energy costs (e.g., for air conditioning), air pollution levels, heat-related illness and mortality and they are virtually everywhere now.

Cities of today seem to ignore parts of their population that do not have access to cooling systems. The recent heatwave that ran a rampage across India just showed its inordinate impact, yet again – trapping us in its vicious loop.

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