How Does Barometric Pressure Affect Sleep?

5 min read

Last Modified 2 August 2022 First Added 15 December 2020

By Nat Took

A good night’s sleep isn’t always easy. There are lots of factors that can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep. Some of these you have to control over, such as your caffeine intake or how late in the day you do exercise. Other factors, however, are out of your control. One such factor is the weather and, in particular, barometric pressure. With different weather comes different levels of pressure in the Earth’s atmosphere, and, rather surprisingly, this can affect our chances of a good night’s rest. Here, we explore barometric pressure in a little more detail and explain the effects it can have on sleep.

What is barometric pressure?

Also known as atmospheric pressure, barometric pressure is the pressure caused by the weight of the air above us.

The air above us is contained within the Earth’s atmosphere. Although air is generally light, there is a lot of it, and gravity pulls down the air molecules slightly. Because of this, the pressure is greater nearer the Earth’s surface. In fact, 75% of the atmosphere’s mass creates a thick layer of no more than 6.8 miles above the Earth’s surface.

atmosphere above earth

On average, this pressure is 101,325 Pascals (Pa), which translates to 14.696 pounds per square inch (psi).

While these figures are accurate as an average, barometric pressure is variable and many factors can affect it. Weather is one of the key factors which change the pressure of the atmosphere; it tends to be lower on rainy days than sunny days. Barometric pressure can also be affected by altitude; the higher the altitude the lower the pressure. Quite simply, this is because there is less air above you.

The effects of barometric pressure on sleep

Low barometric pressure can often correlate with cold, stormy weather. Storms themselves can affect sleep, as lightning flashes and thunderclaps are loud and likely to wake you up. But even without a storm, low barometric pressure has effects on your body that make it difficult to sleep. For instance, cold weather caused by low pressure can aggravate arthritis, making it difficult to get comfortable at bedtime.

dark sky and lightning

Low barometric pressure at high altitudes also causes lower oxygen saturation. Although the effect of this isn’t as stark as changing altitude, it can still make you drowsy. But just because you’re drowsy, it doesn’t mean you’ll sleep easier. That’s because, with less oxygen, we find it more difficult to breathe. Airflow is important for getting to sleep and this is why low barometric pressure can have an impact on your ability to nod off.

Low barometric pressure fatigue

Low barometric pressure can also cause fatigue. This happens for several reasons.

Firstly, low barometric pressure is synonymous with low light levels. These low levels of natural light can cause our bodies to produce more melatonin. This extra melatonin can cause drowsiness during the day. Here’s what Verlo had to say on the matter:

“A lot of it has to do with ultraviolet (UV) light, or the lack thereof. Like most living things, humans need sunlight to thrive. Sunlight, which is made up of UVA and UVB rays, increases serotonin production. Serotonin is the hormone that makes us feel happy, so it’s normal to feel a bit down in the dumps on overcast days.

In addition, dim light prompts the pineal gland to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates circadian rhythms. The low light conditions associated with rainy weather can lead to a spike in melatonin, making you feel drowsy.

Yet another reason for feeling tired or “down” in rainy weather is the effect of barometric pressure. Lower barometric pressure, which tends to accompany stormy weather, reduces the amount of available oxygen in the air. Drowsiness is one of the first signs of insufficient oxygen.”

Related: Melatonin and sleep

Additionally, the pressure difference affects the balance of pressure between your body and the atmosphere. Because of the lower pressures outside of the body and the higher pressures in the body, in particular the sinuses, you may feel sinus headaches and muscular aches. A change in barometric pressure can also reduce your blood pressure, which may lead to dizziness.

If you have issues with blood sugar, low barometric pressure can make this even more difficult. During spells of low pressure, the thickness of your blood is increased, which makes it harder to control blood sugar levels. Regardless of feeling tired and drowsy, all this makes it difficult to sleep. In extreme cases, storms and low pressure can even cause insomnia.

clock at early morning with woman unable to sleep

How to sleep better during low barometric pressure

You may not be able to change the weather, but there are a few things you can do to sleep better when atmospheric pressure is low:

1. Accept that the weather is out of your control

Simply accepting that sleep is likely to be difficult due to the weather can work wonders for improving your rest. This takes the pressure off and allows you to relax.

2. Expose yourself to daylight

Even if the sky is overcast, getting out in natural light can help your body to produce the right hormones at the right time, keeping your circadian rhythm in tune.

3. Stay active

A little activity can go a long way in helping you to sleep at night. This will help to get rid of the drowsiness, which in turn will make it easier to sleep at night.

Read more: 10 ways to sleep better at night

Happy woman sleeping

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