It cools but the air-con may also impair your sleep quality, Latest Health News - The New Paper

It cools but the air-con may also impair your sleep quality

Increase ventilation and service your air-con regularly to clear dust and make it work more efficiently

The recent spells of hot weather have caused many people to switch on the air-conditioners.

The cool air can be such a huge relief and help many of us achieve a better quality of sleep.

But you may also wonder if the air circulating around the room might be doing more than just cooling you down.

While it has obvious pluses - like keeping you cool on sweltering days - switching on the air-con also has its drawbacks.

We speak to Professor James Trevelyan, founder of eco-tech start-up Close Comfort, to find out more about the effects air-conditioning has on our health.

How does urban warming deteriorate sleep quality?

Cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside because there is less vegetation and lots of machines such as air-cons and vehicles that release heat.

Most artificial surfaces get hot in the sunlight and release that heat through the night as well.

Most people can sleep comfortably with a temperature of 24 deg C at night.

With urban heating, the temperature around city buildings can be up to 10 deg C warmer, which is uncomfortable for sleep.

Therefore, people use air-cons, which, in turn, cause more urban heating. People without air-cons suffer.

What are some of the negative impact an air-con has on quality of sleep?

Traditional split air-cons recycle stale room air. There is no fresh air ventilation. Therefore, carbon dioxide and human body emissions gradually build up in the air all the time.

These air-cons also continually remove moisture from the air and this drying action can affect the skin and cause it to become dry, flaky and itchy.

It can also lead to eye irritation and breathing difficulties.

What are some of the negative impact an air-con has on health?

The well-known "sick building syndrome" is associated with acute discomfort from headaches, eye, nose or throat irritations, a dry cough, dizziness and nausea, even fatigue, and affects productivity.

It results mainly from the effects of traditional air-conditioning.

The causes are inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants such as volatile organic compounds, and biological contaminants often related to bacterial action in accumulations of skin particles and other biological material inside air-conditioning ducts and components.

Other causes include low-temperature drafts near cold air outlets.

Most of these problems can be alleviated with higher quality maintenance of the building and air-conditioning systems.

However, many building owners are reluctant to pay the higher costs.

What are some ways we can improve our air-cons so it will not hurt sleep quality?

Probably the easiest way to reduce the health impact of air-conditioning is to increase ventilation, preferably at least half a cubic metre of air each minute for every person.

Keep a window open to allow some fresh air to come in.

Of course, that increases the cost of running your air-con, but it should significantly improve sleep quality and ensure the best beauty sleep.

How often do we need to service our air-cons?

It definitely helps to clean filters regularly.

Check your filters after a couple of weeks and you might be surprised how much dust accumulates, especially in a bedroom or where people move around a lot.

Your air-con will also work more efficiently, reducing running costs.

With some experience, you will learn how often to clean your filters.

What are the optimal settings that we should take note of ?

Keep the temperature setting as high as possible.

This reduces your running cost, dust accumulation and dehydration, all of which will benefit your overall well-being, your skin and sleep quality.

Is it better to use a traditional air-con or a portable one?

The big advantage of portable air-cons is they enable much more ventilation and fresh air, improving health and sleep quality.

Avoid older portable ones with large exhaust pipes that you have to fit to a window.

They are extremely noisy and inefficient - you will spend two or three times as much on electricity for the same cooling effect as a split or built-in ducted air-con.

Also, room humidity steadily increases while you use them. The exhaust pipe causes this problem.

By exhausting hot air to the outside, the machine has to draw outside air in through openings in the building, reducing the cooling effect.

The new personal air-cons avoid this problem and are much smaller, lighter and easier to move. They are genuinely portable.

They work best with the window open, so you sleep in natural fresh air. Your skin and nasal passages will thank you.

They are also much quieter, typically with the same sound level as an electric fan.

And you will spend far less on electricity than any type of traditional air-con.

They are also better for the environment, significantly reducing urban heating and your carbon footprint as well.

This article was first published in Her World Online (