05/11/2009 12:54 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Stormy Weather, Stormy Sleep

Have you ever had trouble sleeping when a storm blows through? (No, I don't mean being awakened by the sound of thunder or the pelts of rain on your window.) If you suffer with obstructive sleep apnea, listen up: there's new evidence that the weather can worsen your sleep-disordered breathing. In other words, when the pressure drops, so does your ability to achieve smooth, restful breathing during the night. 

Surprisingly, not much has been studied when it comes to connections between the weather and sleep. Lots of studies have been done to show the effects of high-altitude, which also worsens sleep apnea; but weather-related changes in atmospheric pressure and breathing during sleep has been a neglected area of study. Until now.

I've written a lot about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common sleep disorder whereby one briefly stops breathing multiple times during the night when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. This results in:

  • fragmented, poor sleep
  • low blood oxygen levels
  • an increased risk for myriad health problems, including hypertension, heart disease, mood and memory problems
  • the recommendation from your doctor to use a machine called a CPAP at night to keep your airway open for sound sleep

This new wrinkle in the mystery of sleep opens the door wide open for much more exploration. We have no idea how the atmospheric pressure could affect apnea. It's still a big question that researchers are now going to investigate. Weather has always carried with it an aura of mystique. People have blamed it on everything from bad moods to joint and muscle pain. I predict that some of those connections are very real.

Something to think about this week as we watch wicked weather pass through parts of the US.

And blame it on the rain. 

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

This sleep article is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.