There's a New Reason We're All So Tired

Now do you care about climate change?

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May 26 2017, 9:43pm

Soren Hald / becon / Getty Images

Hey, how about we skip the cutesy intros about climate change keeping you up at night (literally! LOL!) and get straight to the point: The Earth is getting hotter and it's screwing with our sleep.

In a new report published in Science Advances, researchers discovered a "robust link" between higher-than-normal nightly temperatures and poor sleep. Which is apparently news to science, but not to anyone who's ever been a human in hot weather.

A quick primer on sleep before we dive in: Our circadian rhythm is largely regulated by our internal temperature—which drops a bit to prepare us for sleep and rises again when we're awake. Even the smallest change in internal or external temperature can throw it off. Pretty simple.

For the study, researchers examined data from 765,000 US residents who participated in the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, and compared their monthly reported nights of insufficient sleep to monthly historical nighttime temperature data from 2002 to 2011. With this information, researchers determined that for every nighttime temperature increase of 1 degree celsius, there were three nights of restless sleep per 100 people, per month. For the entire US population, that 1-degree increase translated to about 110 million extra nights of poor sleep annually, according to study authors.

Assuming the earth continues to get hotter year after year (it's not that farfetched, since Earth hit its hottest day on record in 2016, which broke 2015's record, which broke 2014's record), researchers projected that by 2099, high temps could cause several hundred million extra nights of poor sleep annually.

People's sleep was obviously most affected by warmer nights during summer—there were three times as many sleepless nights compared to colder months. Researchers also found that the effects of temperature on sleep weren't static among different demographics (is anything, ever?). Those with an income of less than $50,000 were three times as likely to have their sleep affected by hot temperatures as high-income groups, while anyone over 65 years of age were twice as likely to be affected than younger adults. And that's just in the US, where we were lucky in the temperature department, relatively speaking.

"Sleep has been well-established by other researchers as a critical component of human health. Too little sleep can make a person more susceptible to disease and chronic illness, and it can harm psychological well-being and cognitive functioning," says Nick Obradovich, the lead study author who thought of the research idea during a 2015 San Diego heat wave. "What our study shows is not only that ambient temperature can play a role in disrupting sleep but also that climate change might make the situation worse by driving up rates of sleep loss."

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking the White House's A/C units should just magically stop working this summer. You know, for science.

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