Get Fresh Air for Better Sleep

You know that feeling when you step outside and feel the crisp, clean air on your skin? That’s what sleep is supposed to be like. But sometimes a night of tossing and turning can still leave you feeling tired in the morning–a lack of fresh air may be one culprit for why.

Fresh air is important for your health and well-being. It helps you sleep better, reduces anxiety, and eases depression. The “why does fresh air make you sleepy” is a question about why fresh air makes us feel sleepy.

Boy sleeping peacefully at night on his bed.

Do you like to sleep outside? ‘Yes,’ will be the most common response. Almost everyone has had the sensation of sleeping in a confined room and waking up with a sense of suffocation or a dull headache. In the sleeping chamber, an open window seems to be nearly a must. –From the 1913 issue of Suburban Life Magazine

When Kate was younger and visited her grandparents, her grandma insisted on having her bedroom door open while she slept. She’d also turn on the fan and, if the weather permitted, open the windows fully. Nana said that sleeping in a stuffy, stagnant environment was unhealthy and that keeping ventilation was essential for optimum health.

This viewpoint — particularly the belief in the health benefits of inhaling fresh air while sleeping — was widespread in previous generations, dating back more than a century. If you didn’t have access to a screened-in sleeping porch, it was suggested that you sleep with the windows open in your bedroom open.  

In the days before air conditioning, creating this type of circulation was obviously necessary in the summer, but even in the cold of winter, people frequently left their windows open (albeit not as wide) despite the fact that it raised heating bills. According to a poll conducted by the United States Labor Department’s Children’s Bureau in 1923, 46 percent of children slept with their windows open just in the summer, 52 percent slept with their windows open all year, and only 2% slept with their windows closed in all seasons. In the winter, you just donned thicker covers and wore warmer pajamas to bed.

Sleeping with the windows open was customary since it was supposed to increase sleep quality, strengthen the lungs, sharpen the intellect, and keep disease at bay. The following excerpt from a 1916 health notice captures the dominant viewpoint:

Tuberculosis was unknown until we had dwellings. Colds, pneumonia, grippe [influenza], and bronchitis were not often seen. Tuberculosis has become a true disease among us, as we have become a race of shut-ins and married house-creatures, fearful of and unaccustomed to fresh air. Pneumonia is the second leading cause of mortality, while grippe and colds strike every winter, causing our death rate to skyrocket. Houses, on the other hand, are not necessarily awful. It’s because of how we abuse them. When we overcrowd them or neglect to let out the foul, used-up air as well as allow in the sunlight and fresh air, it was better for our health if we lived outside. 

Many ailments, notably disorders of the nose, throat, and lungs, have long been recognized to be cured by open air sleeping, and it is now proven to be even more useful as a preventative of these conditions.

Those who have experienced the advantages of outdoor sleeping and have liked it because they were prepared for it will never be content to sleep in stale, stuffy air again. They immediately see the impact it makes in their emotional and physical state. Apart from its significance in treating and preventing respiratory ailments, fresh air is one of the most effective antidotes for mental drowsiness, physical discomfort, and overall inefficiency. Everyone should check their sleeping accommodations for fresh air, and if they aren’t receiving their fair share, they should make other arrangements.


While not all old-fashioned health treatments have maintained the test of time, current research has at least partially supported the belief that sleeping with your windows open is beneficial to both your body and mind.

To begin with, leaving your bedroom windows open may help to enhance the quality of the air within. While we often identify pollution with the environment outside our homes, VOCs – emissions from your furniture, carpet, cooktop, cleaning products, air fresheners, and other sources — have been related to allergies, asthma, migraines, nausea, and throat and nose irritation.

Carbon dioxide build-up may also wreak havoc on indoor air quality. When you breathe, your lungs take in oxygen and exhale CO2, and if you’re in a closed-in area for a long time, the concentration of the latter will rise.

According to several studies, high levels of CO2 and VOCs — such as those seen in a packed workplace meeting room or classroom – impair productivity, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities. On the other hand, research have found that boosting school ventilation improves test results and decreases absenteeism.

Of course, this study had persons who were awake and who spent time in a room with numerous other people. However, it’s not unreasonable to believe that two persons sleeping in a tiny, confined room for eight hours at a time would suffer from the same loss in air quality and have a comparable impact on cerebral activity.

Second, although the health alert above may exaggerate the benefit of sleeping with open windows on reducing illness, there is solid research that shows that increasing room ventilation reduces disease transmission via the air. Coughing, breathing, and sneezing may leave viral particles hanging in the air for hours, and increasing airflow dilutes the concentration of pathogen-laden “droplet nuclei.”

This study isn’t limited to sleeping settings, and it’s also a good idea to have your windows open throughout the day. However, it may be especially beneficial if you’re resting still in one location for long periods of time, inhaling the same air.

While these studies are intriguing, they do not establish that sleeping with your windows open would improve or maintain your health. However, the main motivation for adopting the practice isn’t scientific, but rather personal.

Anecdotally, I’ve found that sleeping with the windows open at night allows me to sleep more deeply and restfully, and I wake up feeling more refreshed and in a better mood. Is it because of the steady flow of oxygen? Is it the calming symphony of night sounds? Is it only that the benefits of fresh air are intangible? It perplexes me, but it seems to work.

Try it out for yourself. Nana would be pleased.

Listen to our podcast for tips on how to obtain a better night’s sleep: 




The “why does being outside make you tired” is a question that has many answers, but the most common answer is that fresh air makes it easier for your body to relax and sleep better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does fresh air help sleep?

A: Yes, research shows that staying in a room with fresh air for 10-20 minutes before going to bed can help you sleep better. There are also other ways to prepare for sleep such as eating healthy foods and watching calming videos before bedtime.

Can lack of fresh air cause insomnia?

A: Its not entirely clear. Some people do experience insomnia if they are kept in a stale environment for too long, but experts agree that the real cause is likely just stress and psychological factors.

Why does fresh air make me so sleepy?

A: Fresh air is a stimulant, and it can cause you to feel sleepy.

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