When dust and pollen are left to float around or settle on your bedside table — cue sneezing, coughing, itchiness, congestion, and difficulty breathing — these triggers can disrupt a good night’s sleep.
Doctors confirm that people with indoor allergies are more likely to struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep. Couple that with a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea, and you may be looking at restless nights.
Poor sleep from allergies could roll over into the next day, creating headaches, morning sluggishness, daytime sleepiness, and increased reliance on sleep medication. Decreasing the amount of allergens in the air, however, may help.
As air pollution increases worldwide, air purifiers have seen an uptick in interest. We spoke to experts about how an air purifier in the bedroom can positively impact our health and overall sleep — and how to find the best air purifier for your bedroom.
Pros and cons of an air purifier
There may not be an overall pollution solution just yet, but affordable, easy-to-access air purifiers can help us keep our sleep sanctuaries safe. Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network, says purifiers are one of the most useful items you can get for easy nighttime breathing.
“An air purifier in your bedroom can make sure certain allergens and pollutants don’t irritate you while you sleep,” Parikh says. If your sleep disruptions are caused by allergies, an air purifier could increase your sleep quality.
While Gupta cautions that air purifiers themselves are not cures to allergens, she does also confirm that air purifiers could help reduce allergy symptoms. There are small studies that suggest portable air cleaners may help adults and children with asthma or allergies breathe easier — even when they’re sensitive to cats or dogs living under the same roof.
Research also shows air purifiers can contribute to easier breathing, better Zzz’s, and even better heart health by lowering your exposure to airborne pollutants. If the air pollution outside is high and you can’t open your windows, it makes even more sense to install an air purifier inside, notes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
An air purifier that can remove particles in the size range of 0.1-1um may even reduce virus risk in a small space. (Air purifiers alone, however, are not effective protection from viruses.
How do air purifiers work?
According to the EPA, the air inside your home could be five times as polluted as the air outside. And with most of us spending 90% of our time indoors, an air purifier may soon become standard equipment in our homes.
So here’s how they clear the air:
The gadgets work by utilizing a fan that sucks in and circulates air, trapping harmful particles like smoke or dust inside. Next, a filter – or multiple filters – made from paper, fiber (usually fiberglass), or mesh rids the air of particles and pollutants, then a release system pushes clean air back into the room. Some use a process called electrical attraction, though that type comes with considerable drawbacks, which are discussed below.
According to the EPA, higher fan speeds and long run times filter more air through the air cleaner, but how well these filters work also depends on where you place it.
Depending on the model, your unit may go on a bedside table or on the floor but you should always place your air purifier wherever the concentration of pollutants is the highest. One way of assessing where pollution is the highest is by noticing where, in the home, your allergies seem to bother you most. There are also air-quality specialists who may be able to come in and tell you where that is.
Wherever you place it, the most important thing is to make sure the airflow is not obstructed. Keep them away from curtains and anything else that might inhibit airflow. And if the cleaner creates an uncomfortable draft, then redirect the airflow away from you.
How to choose the best air purifier for your bedroom
With so many options on the market, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Use these tips to select a high-quality air purifier.
1. Look for a HEPA filter on the label
An air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter is a must, because it’s “the most effective at removing airborne particles and allergens from indoor air,” Gupta says.
HEPA filters mechanically remove 99.97% of airborne particles like dust, pollen, mold, and bacteria larger or equal to 0.3μm (1/83,000 of an inch) in diameter. Translation: For every 10,000 particles of this size, only three will be able to pass.
2. Check the CADR
For the most effective setup, choose an air purifier with a clean air delivery rate (CADR) that matches the size of your bedroom. Typically, manufacturers note this on the label in square feet. For a bedroom that has high ceilings (8+ feet), size up. If your space is too large for a single cleaner, get multiple models to run in the same room.
3. Choose one that’s expert approved
Want to narrow your options fast? Pick out an air purifier from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's list of certified asthma & allergy friendly® cleaners. These options can remove nearly 98% of allergen particles from the air.
Then, scan the label for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers' AHAM Verifide® mark. This means all packaging claims about energy, volume, and performance are backed by independent laboratory analysis.
4. Avoid air ionizers and ozone generators
Remember the electrical attraction method we mentioned earlier? Air purifiers that claim to electrically charge particles to remove them from the air (often onto a plate which you then wipe out) should be avoided as they emit harmful levels of ozone as a byproduct. Ozone is known to cause lung irritation and worsen asthma.
In the past, some marketers have claimed these products create "energized oxygen" or "pure air,” but this marketing practice that has long drawn the ire of scientists, environmentalists, and regulators as these ionizing air cleaners do just the opposite.
While technology continues to shift towards ionization technologies with lower ozone emission, experts highlight that people who have asthma and allergies in particular should avoid devices with an ionizer as research is still unconclusive on whether benefits outweigh the risks.
At the end of the day, it’s your HEPA filter that will do most of the air purifying work. Ionizers cannot remove large particles such as pollen, house dust, and fungal spores, according to the EPA. Some manufacturers also have the ionizer as an optional feature, which means it won’t be in use unless you turn it on, but these products tend to be more expensive than air purifiers without an ionizer.
Are there any cons to owning an air purifier?
Besides ionizers or ozone generators, there are other potential downsides to having an air purifier running while you sleep. First, consider the noise. The higher the airflow, the more pollutants will be removed from the air in your bedroom, and the louder your purifier will be.
If you’re a light sleeper, you may want to look for air purifiers that come with sleep timers, so you don’t find yourself getting up at night to turn off a noisy machine. However the noise of your air purifier may also depend on size and how often your fan runs. If you find your air purifier is smaller and more consistent throughout the night, lucky you! It now doubles as a sound machine.
Another important consideration: maintenance. It’s easy to buy a model and treat it well for the first few months only to begin to neglect it over time, or think it stops working when you actually need to change the filter.
How to maintain an air purifier
After you’ve found your fit, don’t forget about upkeep.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance. Dirty filters won’t work as well, so replace your filter according to the recommended schedule. Some models have carbon pre-filters which typically need to be replaced every three months, while HEPA filters should be replaced about once a year.
However, this can vary depending on how often you run your air purifier, so be sure to follow the label instructions. If your air purifier comes with a light indicator, change filters when the change filter indicator light flicks on. Keep the model clean and dust-free to ensure maximum effectiveness, Gupta and Parikh advise.
Finally, remember an air purifier isn’t a one-and-done fix for clean air in your bedroom
The following tips will round out your strategy for better breathing in your sleep:
- Keep surfaces like your furniture and photo frames clear of dust.
- Swap drapes and blinds for shades or washable curtains.
- Shut windows and doors to keep allergens like pollen out.
- Seal pillows, mattress, and box spring with zippered plastic or allergen-resistant covers.
- Wash and dry bedding on high-heat settings to zap dust mites.
- Vacuum at least once a week.
- Use a dehumidifier to combat mold.
- Control pests with poison baits, boric acid, or traps rather than harsh chemicals.
- Make your bedroom a pet-free (read: dander-free) zone.
Part of avoiding allergy symptoms is the maintenance and prevention, so that they don’t surprise you, especially during high-pollen-count seasons. Having a cleaning routine can help with that. If you’re scheduling when you need to purchase or use your filter replacements, don’t forget to add a reminder for dusting, vacuuming, and laundry around that time, too.
Not only will this leave fewer areas for dust to collect, it will also help keep your visual space free from the anxiety of clutter.
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