By Eleftheria Emfietzi

Sleep is a biological imperative, and a very active process that serves several vital functions. Undisturbed sleep of sufficient length is essential for daytime alertness and performance, quality of life, and health. The epidemiologic evidence that chronically disturbed or curtailed sleep is associated with negative health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure is overwhelming.

There was clear evidence that night flights are bad for people’s health in the Hyena-Study of Dr Lars Jarup and al 2008, from Imperial College of London with nearly 5,000 participants between 45 and 70 years. The study found that noise from night flights causes immediate increases in blood pressure in sleeping people, even if they are not woken up by the noise. It discovered a 14% increase in the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) for each 10 db increase in night-time aircraft noise. Hypertension can lead to heart problems and even early death.

The previous years there were conflicting data about the impact of sleep deprivation on morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease. Scientists found that disturbed sleep from night-time aircraft noise can trigger acute cardiovascular mortality. The association was similar to that previously observed for long-term aircraft noise exposure. (Foundas E., and al 2018, Saucy A., and al 2021)

In addition, they reported that less than six hours of sleep per day increased the risk of obesity, glucose elevation, dyslipidemia, and elevated blood pressure. For these reasons, noise-induced sleep disturbance is considered the most deleterious non-auditory effect of environmental noise exposure (Basner M. and al 2017, Patrick & Harrison 2018).

Aircraft noise is the most detrimental environmental effect of aviation. It can cause community annoyance, disturbances of activities and communication, disrupt sleep, adversely affect academic performance of children, and could increase the risk for cardiovascular disease of people living in the vicinity of airports and can lead to stress reactions characterized by an activation of the sympathetic nervous system and/or increased levels of circulating stress hormones (Münzel T., and al 2016).

Psychophysiological stress reaction to environmental noise is considered as a primary causal link to cardiovascular disease development. Aircraft noise is highly compelling in this consideration as it is perceived as the most annoying and sleep disturbing among all transportation sources. Long-term exposure to nocturnal aircraft noise is associated with sleep disorders and physiological circadian blood pressure profile alterations (Rojek M., and al 2018).

The study of Kröller-Schön S., and al 2018 was the first to demonstrate:

  • increased markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in noise-exposed patients with established coronary artery disease,
  • a significant impact of sleep vs. awake phase aircraft noise exposure on the vasculature,
  • the stimulatory effects of air-craft noise on superoxide production in the brain and
  • the protective effects deletion on aircraft noise-induced vascular dysfunction, cerebral superoxide production and neuro-inflammation.

The presented results may explain, at least in part, why sleep phase rather than awake phase noise leads to cardiovascular diseases and may also provide an explanation why aircraft noise is linked with cognitive impairment including retardations of learning and memory capabilities in children. Thus, preventive measures should be considered to reduce night-time aircraft noise.

Whereas the association between air pollution exposure and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality is widely accepted and is accordingly discussed in the European Guidelines for prevention of cardiovascular and for the diagnosis and management of chronic coronary syndromes, transportation noise is not mentioned in any of the guidelines of the European Society of Cardiology or in the report ‘Health at a Glance Europe 2018’. This is even more concerning since ∼100 million people in the EU were estimated to be exposed to traffic noise levels and ∼70 million people to be exposed in the EU to road traffic noise exceeding the Lden and the Lnight indicator noise threshold of 55 dB(A) and since there is growing body of evidence linking traffic noise to increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality (Piepoli and Al,2016, Münzel et al 2018).

The European Community estimates that the social cost of noise and air pollution is up to €1 trillion every year. The obvious gaps between insufficient noise research, an underestimated noise health impact, and also insufficient legal protection were highlighted by the recent WHO environmental noise guidelines for the European Region, urging for more mechanistic as well as large-scale epidemiological studies on noise–health interactions (Kempen and Al 2018).

Thus, results from epidemiological studies, more recent noise research data, and the new WHO noise guidelines contain a message that is loud and clear. This should be the catalyst for revised policies and actions to ensure that there is an equitable balance between economic benefit from transportation and the adverse side effects of transportation noise for health and well-being. The cost and long-term consequences of inaction will be considerable (Banatvala J and Al, 2019).

For all the above reasons citizens of Europe living under flight paths ask for a night flight ban. We have the right to an eight hour sleep and better health.

E. Emfietzi is Nurse, Msc in Public Health



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