Prenatal exposure to particulate air pollution linked to sleep disruption in early childhood

Thursday, May 02, 2019

First study to make connection

CLEVELAND -- Babies exposed to particulate air pollution while in the womb are at increased risk of having altered sleep patterns as toddlers – a condition that may have lifelong, irreversible effects on their overall health. That’s the principal finding of new research co-authored by Kristie R. Ross, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Pulmonology at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The study was published online in January 2019 in the journal Environment International.
”This is an area that is not well understood and appreciated even by health care providers,” said Dr. Ross. “Particulate air pollution exposure can disrupt fetal brain development, but associations between fine particulate matter exposure during pregnancy and child sleep outcomes have not been previously explored.”
The connections in the brain required for the development of sleep are formed in utero, as early as seven weeks into pregnancy. REM and non-REM sleep also are established prenatally, as early as 28 weeks. Research shows that interrupting these processes can result in reduced sleep duration, more time spent in bed not asleep (reduced sleep efficiency) and circadian rhythm abnormalities once the child is born.
Dr. Ross’ new research shows that prenatal exposure to particulate air pollution is just such an interruption.
“Sleep is an active process controlled by the brain,” she said. “It is vulnerable to disruption from a number of different things, and toxin exposure is one of those things.”
Previous research has shown that exposure to particulate air pollution affects fetal brain structure, function and development, with some linkages to cognitive and behavioral disorders in children. In addition, prenatal exposure to particulate matter in the air has been shown to alter neurotransmitters across several brain regions and cause changes in the child’s circadian pathway genes, specifically during the third trimester of pregnancy.
However, until now, there have been no published studies examining the impact of prenatal exposure to particulate air pollution on sleep patterns in early childhood.

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