Scientists suggested humans could experience more difficulty sleeping as climate change continues to result in higher temperatures worldwide. The paper, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, predicts the poor, without access to air conditioning, and the elderly, will be most affected by this phenomenon. The researchers said that if carbon emissions continue at their currently high level, the world will experience more difficulty sleeping – they predicted that by 2050, there will be an additional six sleepless nights for every 100 Americans. By 2099, that amount would more than double to mean 14 additional nights with difficulty sleeping.
Scientists already know that temperatures too cold or too hot can make sleep tougher for anyone. But this research is the first to investigate how warmer temperatures from climate change could affect sleep patterns. The research was led by Dr. Nick Obradovich, a political scientist who researches the politics of climate change and its human impacts. He began the research while finishing a doctoral degree at the University of California. The idea for the research came to him during a 2015 heat wave in San Diego.
”I wasn’t sleeping. My friends weren’t sleeping. My colleagues weren’t sleeping. The levels of grumpiness were higher than normal.”
Obradovich used data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which asked people to recall their sleep patterns from the previous month. In several cities, he found a correlation between higher temperatures and sleep disturbances. He made forecasts using that data paired with computer estimates of temperature increases in particular places.
He recognized that the survey about personal sleep patterns was questionable given that it relied on people’s memory. He said further research would use a sleep laboratory to investigate how people respond to temperature changes.
“Those ideal data don’t exist and would be prohibitively expensive to collect,” Obradovich said.
Other scientists hesitated to draw conclusions from the study, given the possible changes to human society over the next century. For example, perhaps a larger, or smaller, percentage of the population will have air conditioning in their homes. According to Jerome M. Siegel, who heads a University of California Los Angeles sleep lab:
“It’s sort of a nice exercise — yes, this is something that might affect people. But this would be way down on my list of things to worry about with climate change, even though I’m a sleep researcher.”