Does Mold Mess With Your Quality of Sleep?

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

In 1994 a British study found the prevalence of sleep problems was almost a third higher among those living in damp houses compared to those living in dry houses.

A separate study published in 2005 found that those living in damp buildings were more likely to suffer from insomnia, even after adjusting for contributing factors such as smoking, respiratory diseases and type of housing.

A more recent study from 2015 published in Environmental Research set out to identify whether exposure to visible mold or dampness in the home was associated with sleep problems in children.

The study involved 1,719 10-year-old children. Mold exposure was based on parents reporting damp spots or visible mold in a child's room or elsewhere in the apartment. Those who reported no damp spots or visible mold formed the control group.

Researchers found that children exposed to visible mold or dampness were more likely to:

  • Have problems falling asleep

  • Have problems sleeping through the night

  • Get less than nine hours of sleep

Children were twice as likely to have problems sleeping through the night when exposed to visible mold and they were four times more likely to have problems sleeping through the night when living in a damp home, compared to children living in a dry home.

Why is damp and mold linked to sleep issues?

The authors of the study pointed to previous research that linked mold and dampness with sleep problems due to:

Glucan exposure

Glucans are a byproduct of mold and can trigger the body's inflammatory response and contribute to respiratory issues.

Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (MVOCs)

These gases are produced by mold and are commonly associated with the musty odor associated with damp and moldy environments. Exposure to MVOCs has been associated with sick building syndrome (SBS) and the symptoms of SBS such as headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation may have a negative impact on sleep.

Damage to building materials

Building materials may release volatile organic compounds when they become damaged by humidity and dampness. For example, the authors of this study pointed to research that found PVC flooring released a gas (2-ethyl-1-hexanol) when it degraded. This gas is an irritant to the body, which could make sleep more difficult.

Allergic reactions

Exposure to visible mold or dampness may lead to a swelling of the nasal airways and has been associated with allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.

Where to look for damp and mold

Check your home for signs of water damage and mold growth. Look for discoloration on walls, ceilings, wood, paper, carpets and other floor coverings.

Mold grows in damp environments and thrives on materials such as:

  • Fiberboard

  • Drywall

  • Gypsum board

  • Paper

  • Dust

  • Lint

Start your search in rooms that are naturally humid, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. Make sure you don't have any leaking pipes or appliances (and don't forget to check the air conditioner).

How to prevent and control mold growth

  • Fix any water leaks as soon as you notice them.

  • Keep gutters clear and in good shape.

  • Keep windows clear of condensation.

  • Clean HVAC ducts and filters on a regular basis.

  • Keep indoor humidity low, ideally between 30 and 50 percent — this is something you may need to pay particular attention to if you use a humidifier in your child's room.

What are the symptoms of mold exposure?

An article in the Early Childhood Education Journal listed the following symptoms as potential signs of mold exposure, particularly if they tend to occur only at certain times of the year or in certain environments:

  • Coughs

  • Sinus infections

  • Aggravation of asthma

  • Nosebleeds

  • Headaches

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Rashes

  • Memory lapses

If you have a mold issue in your home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers plenty of tips and advice. You may also want to get in touch with a mold remediation specialist. Prolonged exposure to mold may end up harming more than just your sleep.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.