Dampness, Mold, And Sleep

Last updated: May 6, 2019

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The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Mold grows in moist places and in almost every home the kitchen sink and bathroom are exposed to water and moisture every day. It can be recognized as greenish, grayish, or (most commonly) black spots in dark wet corners. When mold develops you can feel a musty smell coming from the area.

Mold can be found in closets, under carpets, and even in our linen and mattress. If you live in a humid area your home is more likely to develop mold, but this doesn’t mean it can’t grow in warm, arid areas as well.

Some strains of mold produce mycotoxins, substances that can harm those allergic to mold as well as those who are not. Sleeping in a damp, musty room can be very dangerous. There has been research that has shown that people of all ages can be affected by mold – they can’t breathe properly while sleeping, have poor sleep quality, skin rashes, and many other problems.

What is mold and how does it affect us?

Mold is a type of fungus. For example, if a piece of your food gets moldy, it means there are many tiny organisms on it. The bigger the surface they occupy, the more organisms there are. In nature, mold breaks down leaves or animal carcasses. This role of mold is very important.

Mold spores travel through the air until they find a good place to live in. They are always in the air and we breathe them in every day, which is harmless because there normally aren’t many spores around us. However, if mold gets into our home and begins spreading it will release a lot of spores in the air – which can be not only smelly and unpleasant but also dangerous.

The most common type of house mold is black mold. It is usually found in showers, on or under bathtubs, in or under sinks, on drywall, wallpaper, and in closets. It can even be found on soft surfaces like carpets, damp clothes, and mattresses (they absorb human sweat and remain warm for a long time).

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What happens after being exposed to too much mold?

Some types of mold (including the black mold) produce mycotoxins – chemical compounds toxic to humans and animals. If you are allergic or have asthma you may suffer from the following problems:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Fever
  • Breathing problems.

If you are not allergic you can still have problems with:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Skin and eye itchiness

If these symptoms are not treated or not adequately diagnosed and a person continues spending time (especially nights) in the spore-ridden room, long-term mold exposure may include one or more of these:

  • Psychological and cognitive problems (anxiety, mood swings, memory loss, confusion, foggy mind, etc.)
  • Seemingly inexplicable weight gain
  • Stomach pain, muscle cramping, limb numbness, and hair loss

Generally, people who have an impaired immune system for whatever reason (HIV, chemotherapy, or just weakened immune system) are at a higher risk for having severe symptoms. It’s worse for those with asthma and allergies or other respiratory problems (like cystic fibrosis). Children and the elderly are also at high risk of getting easily sick.

However, some may have a genetic predisposition where their body is unable to properly clear out toxins, which is the case with about 25% of the population. Even though you may be otherwise healthy, your body may just respond to mold more severely than others.

Health problems caused by mold are known as mold poisoning. If you suspect you have mold poisoning you can do a blood test to determine whether there are any biotoxins in your body.

Mold and sleep

Bedroom

Mold can be found in various parts of our home, mostly due to water damage. It can even develop in the bedroom. Popular construction materials like drywall and sheetrock can help mold grow.

Having mold in your bedroom is potentially compromising to your health. If we spend about a third of our life sleeping (in a damp room) then we also spend a third of our life inhaling dangerous mycotoxins.

If there’s a musty odor in the bedroom you should pay attention to less-visible spots, even if you can’t see any mold right away (it’s usually black or dark green or gray). Examine corners, wooden furniture, windows and window sills, the ceiling, humidifiers (if you use one), closets, and any hidden places.

Those who live on high floors of a building are less likely to have mold in their apartment, but those who sleep in basement bedrooms should be extra careful. In case of a flood or pipe burst, you should seek professional help to dry out the rooms and get rid of anything that could be a good basis for mold development.

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There are companies which offer help with mold testing and remediation. You can also test your home for mold by putting special mold growth plates in the house and have them analyzed in a lab.

You probably won’t suffer any mold problems if you clean the house regularly, vacuum, open the bathroom window or ventilate every time after showering, and if it’s very humid – use a dehumidifier. Always fix any leaky pipes, avoid carpets in parts of the house where you use water (kitchen, bathroom). As soon as you notice black spots anywhere in the house, scrub them thoroughly and clean its surrounding because mold spreads easily.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Mold and sleep problems

A study conducted under the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) program, operating under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed alarming facts.

Americans who reported mildew odor in their homes had poor overall health and sleep problems; along with rashes, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and even poor vision.

While our body is relaxed when we sleep it’s also working hard to repair any problems. The brain cleans up harmful chemicals, human growth hormone gets released in order to repair tissues and support growth, and our memories are consolidated.

If it is difficult to breathe due to poor air quality the brain has to be constantly ‘alert’ for breathing. This makes it impossible to get full restorative sleep. When sleeping in a room with mold we tend to wake up frequently (probably due to more time spent in light sleep).

One study conducted on over 16,000 residents of northern European countries has shown that dampness is directly linked to insomnia. The researchers found that water damage, visible mold, and floor dampness are linked to insomnia in and of themselves; but if these signs of damage are coupled with dampness, there is even more chance for a person to suffer from insomnia.

Another study from 2015 examined the relationship between home mold, dampness, and child health. It showed that children sleeping in damp conditions couldn’t sleep through the night and had a short sleep time on average. Only about 7% of children didn’t have sleep problems.

Conclusion

Overall we can conclude that people who sleep in damp conditions with visible mold are simply not getting enough sleep or have poor sleep quality. Sleep deprivation takes a serious toll on one’s health, not only when it comes to concentration and energy; but it is also linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more.

Mold is usually easy to spot or smell, but you can also test your home to make sure you’re safe, especially if you have sleep and health problems that nobody can explain. Doctors often don’t ask their patients about their sleep environment.

Once successfully diagnosed, mold toxicity can be treated with medicine, nasal sprays, and of course – mold removal.

Additional resources

  1. Mold and Dampness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mold/dampness_facts.htm Accessed April 18, 2019.
  2. Shiue, I. Indoor mildew odour in old housing was associated with adult allergic symptoms, asthma, chronic bronchitis, vision, sleep and self-rated health: USA NHANES, 2005–2006. Environ Sci Pollut Res. http://www.knowthecause.com/downloads/Shiue2015MoldOdorSleepComplaints.pdf Accessed April 18, 2019.
  3. Janson C, Norback D, et al. Insomnia is more common among subjects living in damp buildings. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. https://oem.bmj.com/content/62/2/113 Accessed April 18, 2019.
  4. Tiesler C, Thiering E, et al. Exposure to visible mould or dampness at home and sleep problems in children: Results from the LISAplus study. Environmental Research. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935114004605 Accessed April 18, 2019.
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