Poor and elderly will feel the heat most, study said
As the news breaks that the United States will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, word comes that rising nighttime temps due to climate change could mean insufficient sleep for many, according to a new study.
An analysis of federal health data and weather records found Americans’ reported nights of insufficient sleep more than double as nighttime temperatures rise during summer months.
That suggests people will have even more trouble getting appropriate shut-eye in years to come due to climate change, study lead author Nick Obradovich predicted.
“Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of unusually warm nighttime temperatures,” Obradovich, a postdoctoral fellow with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said. “If you look at the climate model output for temperatures in 2050 and 2099, we project there will be an increase in insufficient sleep as a result of that increase in temperature going forward.”
Americans will experience 9 million more nights of poor sleep in a month in which nightly temperatures average 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. That’s 110 million extra nights of insufficient sleep a year, the researchers said.
For this study, researchers gathered data on Americans’ sleep quality from an ongoing survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers pulled weather data for the city in which each survey participant lived and compared nighttime temperatures to reports of sleeplessness. They found:
- People making less than $50,000 a year reported about three times as much sleeplessness on warmer-than-average nights, compared to those with higher incomes.
- Adults 65 or older had two times the number of sleepless nights during hot weather as younger adults.
- Low-income elderly were in the worst shape, with 10 times as many sleepless nights as everyone else.
“The hottest times of the year and in the most vulnerable populations are where we see the largest effects,” Obradovich said, noting that means people with little money either live in places without air conditioning or can’t afford to run their AC regularly.
Seniors are more vulnerable to hotter temperatures because they aren’t as able to regulate their body temperature as well as younger people, Obradovich said.
The investigators admit their findings draw conclusions that bear further study, but what is clear is that poor sleep can impact the quality of life and ability to work in major ways. In addition, more frequent hot nights could lead to an increase in deaths among the elderly, who need sleep to allow them to recover from heat stress, Obradovich said.
Also of note: The study’s data are based on the United States, a wealthy nation with fairly temperate weather. “If we had such data from India or Brazil, we might expect the effects would be larger in those countries,” he said.