2.38 a.m … It’s only been 4 minutes since I last checked the time on my smartphone trying to sleep… I have been laying in bed for about two hours now trying to fall asleep… With envy I listen to the soft even snoozing of my partner right next to me. I just wish I could fall asleep.. Impossible! I feel desperate by now because I have to wake up in 3 hours & 12 minutes for an early meeting and I can’t be looking tired & sluggish, when I need to express confidence, energy & exude power. Damn! I am tired, my body needs sleep, but sleep is bent on playing the devil’s advocate. I try deep breathing closing my mind. I am distracted. Should I calm my mind down by working on to do list for next few days?

After a couple of minutes my To do list is done, checked, double checked and triple checked. I know what I need to do when I wake up… but wait I am not sleeping, so I can’t wake up… But why? Why can I not sleep? And most importantly, when will I fall asleep tonight? »

Familiar with this situation? Unfortunately, a fair amount of us urbanites are. Body is totally exhausted but we just can’t fall asleep & what’s worse is that our mind is wide awake, alert & crystal clear: all the pictures of the stressful day run through our minds, the crazy boss, the broken heart, the empty bank account…

While enduring a repeated sleepless night ordeal, instead of trying some solutions I had read, I decided to investigate why I was sleepless in in the first place. 

I remembered that in a survey  conducted prior to launching UrbanMeisters, more than 4 out of 10 Urbanites linked ‘Quality of sleep’ to Pollution. We questioned over 400 people in big cities around the world on pollution in every day life:

Q: Please specify how pollution impacts your health and well being (multiple choice):

So as a true UrbanMeister I was intrigued, took my tablet and started to research how pollution affects our bed time. Might as well use the time to end my sleepless saga – I thought.


First step: So what’s the definition of « good sleep »

Sleep is vital and a fountain of youth – when consumed in moderation!

Did you know that we spend 24 years of our lifetime sleeping? To understand watch this video.

Sleep is vital for our health & well-being, because it enables our brain and body to restore itself & recover. There is a lot of on-going research, but there’s still a lot of mystery around why we need sleep. I particularly liked the following quote of Professor Maiken Nedergaard, New York « You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time. »

Professer Nedergaard & her colleagues reviewed a number of theories on why sleep is so crucial to humans. Some interesting questions they asked & findings they proposed:

  • Metabolic waste products of neural activity were cleared out of the sleeping brain at a faster rate than during the awake state. This finding suggested how sleep serves a restorative function, in addition to helping better memory. 
  • There is a part of the brain—the locus ceruleus—in which dendrites die if sleep is withheld.
  • They noted that the brain & spinal cord lack a drainage system like liver, kidneys, our skin etc. Draining plays a key role in the immune system by clearing toxins. “So why does the brain not have it especially when brain has 10 times the energy demand of other human organs? And needs to dispose of excess proteins and fluids? » Sleep helps brain dispose of these toxins by releasing them into other drainage systems as other organs demand less energy when the body sleeps.
  • Nedergaard & her team realized that a number of neurological disorders—including Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias—are characterized by an accumulation of proteins. 


The best cosmetic you can use – free!

Also, the term « beauty sleep » is not a fairy tale, but proven phenomena by scientist (Source). According to PhD Michael J. Breus, PhD, if you’re getting fewer than 6 hours, it’s likely affecting your appearance. The specialist is also know in the US as the “Sleep doctor”. Anita Sturnham, a London dermatologist confirms that when we do not get sufficient sleep, the body releases cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when you have stress & it’s not the best news for our our skin. Lack of sleep leads to dull and pale skin, wrinkles and dark circles are more visible (Source).


Is there something as oversleeping?

Sleep is indeed a tricky process. The recipe is not sleep longer = live longer. Most studies show that adults who sleep about 7-8 hours per day live longer:

  • Sleeping below can lead to issues like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and even brain damage.
  • However sleeping more than this is also a bad thing as it can lead to similar damage.
  • For more information on how much sleep you need, watch the fun and informative videos of the AsapScience team. We liked for example this one on how much sleep you actually need: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVQlcxiQlzI


3.54 am… Ok, health, mental well-being and beauty get affected by lack of sleep, so it’s definitely something I wanted to address on UrbanMeisters. I decided to continue researching ( since, there was still no sign of sleep coming up…)


Do air pollution & sleep have a connection?

We have been talking a lot about air pollution on UrbanMeisters, as it was the top concern for all of you – the study we conducted we saw that air is really the most concerning aspect of pollution for us urbanites. We have already explained in previous articles indoor pollution can actually be 2-5 times higher and can cause various issues for our health and well-being. According to WHO it can even be 10 – 30 times higher. This is because of exposure to airborne chemicals and particulates that are used in furnishings, building materials and other household products, but also mold and the accumulation of toxins because of poor ventilation. Read here our selection on indoor air pollution

Now poor indoor air quality in our bedroom can result in restlessness and a lack of sufficient oxygen in the blood explaining why sometimes we wake up feeling tired, cranky and K.O. Also the deep breathing that occurs during sleep causes the body to inhale many irritating particles that agitate the respiratory system and cause coughing, sneezing, inflammation of the sinuses, and other sleep disturbing effects (Source).

In a study by Antonella Zanobetti, PhD, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, showed that air pollutants increase the risk of sleep-disordered breathing which has been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (Source). In a recent study it was however proven that when you control the quality of air in your bedroom, sleep quality improved and the test persons felt better next day, less sleepy, and more able to concentrate (Source).

Of course best would be to re-do your bedroom and for example:

  • Use non toxic paints and colours to avoid emissions of VOC – Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are released into the air at room temperature.  
  • Choose hard floors over carpets and if you choose carpets than choose if you need carpets, choose natural materials over synthetics. If you choose hard floor, choose real wood over laminates (they are pure plastics).
  • Whenever possible, choose solid wood furniture over pressed wood products to avoid formaldehyde emission. Formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation; coughing; fatigue and severe allergic reactions and has been classified as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. A lot of furniture looks like wood, but is made from particleboard, plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Read more here. Solid wood may be more expensive, but do not forget that recycle is always the best option anyways

But let’s be realistic. You cannot redo you bedroom tomorrow, so kickstart with some quick fixes:


1. Screen the materials in your bedroom:

  • Carpet, floor and curtains are home to lead and other toxins, as well as pollen, pet dander and dust: Ok carpet is cosy, but it is a source of air pollution. If possible, choose wood, cork or sisal carpets (without a foam backside). If you still cannot live without your carpet, vacuum two or even more times per week. Use a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes, and a HEPA filter ensures that the bad stuff will not get blown back out in the exhaust. Mopping the floor picks up the dust that vacuuming leaves behind. Clean with basic supplies like vinegar and baking soda or chose non-toxic natural detergents and micro-fibre cloths.

  • You breathe what’s in your Mattress: Given the fact that in the ideal case we would rest 7 to 8 hours on the mattress, it is particularly important that the mattress has no negative effects. However, there is toxic and wild jungle out there and so we decided to cover this in a separate article coming up in the next few days and giving a clear guide  – when to replace your mattress and how to make sure your new one is green and nice. Until then keep in mind that it is vital for your health to search for a comfortable, durable organic mattress that is made of the purest & natural materials available.

  • You are skin to skin with your bedding, pillow and your pyjama: Dust mites are often found in bedding and pillows: Use allergen-proof bedding and pillowcases. Consider buying machine washable bedding. Wash pillows, sheets and comforters weekly. Conventional laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and air fresheners in solid, spray, and oil form may all emit chemicals. Avoid synthetic fragrances in laundry products and go for fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products, like the ones from the Honest company in the US, form Bio-vert in France or AlmaWin in Germany. Tells us your tips what eco detergents you are using and drop us a quick line here.

  • Do not store shoes or worn clothing in your bedroom and avoid items that are dust magnets like books.


2. Air your bedroom

Open windows so toxic chemicals don’t build up in your house & bedroom. In case of pollen allergies keep rooms ventilated with a filtered air-conditioning system.

In any way, an air purifier is actually a must have for any urban. The choice of team UrbanMeisters team is Airocide. Airocide uses a technology that NASA developed for the space shuttles and that has been used since then in hospitals, clinics, schools in the US to curtail the spread of infectious airborne disease. Its advantage over HEPA filters is that it filters like HEPA Dust Mites, Pollen, Mold, Bacteria, but also VOC, Odors and smoke that normally can only be filtered by Charcoal purifiers. Also it’s the only brand to filter all types of viruses. This is because it uses a totally different technology that does not work without filter. Finally we love its design & it also automatically shifts to a quieter setting at night. (While for the moment it’s not available outside of the US, you can drop us an email here if you are interested and we will contact the supplier for you)

For a review on air purifiers & worldwide shipping check: http://www.plentyair.com/

NASA research shows that indoor plants like fern, spider plant and aloe vera act as living air purifiers, the foliage and roots work in tandem to absorb chemical pollutants released by synthetic materials. However make sure that the plants are also ok for your pets and not poisonous if ingested if you have kids. Read here more on plants 



3. Does the night smell peaceful?

There are studies that prove that some smells can have an effect on your sleep Source. One study found that smells (both good and bad) influence our dreams. Lavender has been shown to relax us by decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. In one study, researchers monitored the brain waves of subjects at night and found that those who sniffed lavender before bed had more deep sleep and felt more vigorous in the morning. Of course, lavender is not a cure for insomnia, but could help you get a calming routine. Try it out.

4:05 am… Ok, indoor air pollution is not new to me & I had already adopted some of the advice. So I think this can’t be the only reason why I was still sleepless… . So I went back to solve the sleep-mystery wide-awake & searched “pollution and lack of sleep”. Stay tuned to see if I found the reason by signing up here. Or if you have a guess, post it below. Until then, have a good and green night. 

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