Can Wildfire Smoke Make You Tired? Yes, Here’s 3 Reasons Why

Wildfire smoke can make you tired in itself. It can also make it hard to get enough sleep and cause stress, which further disrupts sleep and makes you tired.
Published
2023-08-25
15 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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Can Wildfire Smoke Make You Tired?

  • Wildfire smoke can make you tired, make it hard to get enough sleep, and cause stress, which further disrupts sleep and energy levels. 
  • Close your windows, use an air purifier, and limit time outside to reduce how much wildfire smoke you’re exposed to and improve your energy levels. 
  • The RISE app can help you feel less tired by guiding you through sleep hygiene behaviors to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. This is especially important when wildfire smoke is making it harder to sleep.

Wildfires are becoming more and more common. And you don’t need to be in the fire itself to feel the negative effects. 

Even if you’re not coughing and wheezing, wildfire smoke can cause fatigue, disrupt your sleep, and stress you out. All this leaves you feeling drained each day — even if you’re thousands of kilometers away from the wildfire itself. 

Below, we’ve covered how wildfire smoke can make you tired and how you can prevent this tiredness. Plus, we’ve shared how you can use RISE to get more energy, even when you have wildfire fire smoke to contend with.

What Does a Sleep Doctor Say?

We asked Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, how wildfire smoke can impact your energy levels.

“Fatigue is a common symptom of breathing in wildfire smoke, but it can also disrupt your sleep. You might struggle to fall asleep or wake up often throughout the night, leaving you with low energy the next day. To help, invest in an air purifier and focus on your sleep hygiene, so you have the best chance of getting a full night’s sleep.”

Can Wildfire Smoke Make You Tired?

Wildfire smoke can make you tired. Breathing it in can cause fatigue and it can disrupt your sleep, causing tiredness. Even stressing about wildfire smoke can make you tired as stress can keep you up. 

Here’s what we know about wildfire smoke and tiredness. 

Breathing in Wildfire Smoke May Make You Tired 

Wildfire smoke is made up of both smoke and fine particles. The smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and other chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. 

Inhaling this smoke can cause tiredness as it decreases the amount of oxygen available for your body, leading to low energy levels and headaches.  

The small particles (also known as PM 2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less) can get deep into your respiratory system and even into your bloodstream. This can lead to irritation, shortness of breath, worsening asthma, and a decline in cognitive function.

Serious side effects of breathing it in include an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, and lung cancer. 

Beyond serious health risks, these small particles can affect how you feel and perform. A 2022 study found exposure to fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke is associated with reduced attention in adults. It happens fast, too. Attention was impaired within hours or days of smoke exposure. 

How you react to breathing in wildfire smoke will all depend on how much you breathe in, how long you breathe it in for, and whether you’re particularly vulnerable to it. 

Vulnerable groups include young children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with health problems like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease. 

You might also have a higher risk of side effects if you’re currently recovering from COVID.

Wildfire Smoke Can Disrupt Sleep 

Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause fatigue. But that’s not the only symptom. 

When you breathe in wildfire smoke, you might experience: 

  • Chest pain 
  • Coughing 
  • A runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Irritated sinuses 
  • Wheezing  
  • Trouble breathing
  • A scratchy throat 

And all of these symptoms can make it harder to get enough sleep at night. 

If you’ve already got a breathing issue — like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — exposure to wildfire smoke can make it worse. And difficulty breathing or an asthma attack will, of course, impact your sleep. 

You may also change your daily habits when the air outside is hazy, and these changes may further impact your sleep. For example, you might stay inside and skip exercise. But getting out in sunlight and working out are important habits that help you fall and stay asleep at night.

And you don’t need to be in a wildfire for the smoke to disrupt your sleep and make you tired. Smoke can travel thousands of kilometers, meaning you may have symptoms that keep you up even if your area isn’t directly affected.

A 2021 study surveyed those exposed to bushfire smoke in Australia and found half reported disrupted or poor sleep or fatigue as a result of smoke exposure. Younger age groups and women reported more symptoms. (We’ve covered the many causes of female fatigue here.) And participants with health conditions or poorer health, parents, and those directly affected by the fires also reported worse sleep problems. 

Even being exposed once can cause health issues. A 2023 study on rats found a single bout of sleep disruption and smoke inhalation increased heart rate and blood pressure as rats woke up. In humans, this may translate into an increased stroke risk. Many of us experience disturbed sleep anyway, so adding in wildfire smoke exposure can make this an even bigger threat to your health. 

And early life exposure may disrupt your sleep later in life. A 2023 study in monkeys found early-life exposure to wildfire smoke had significantly reduced sleep duration compared to those who weren’t exposed. Cortisol, the hormone your body produces when stressed that also helps to control your sleep-wake cycle, was also disrupted in monkeys exposed to smoke. 

In short, all this sleep loss can lead to sleep debt, which is the amount of sleep you owe your body. The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you’re going to feel. 

RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have. 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can tell how much sleep debt you have.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep debt here. 

We’ve covered more on air quality and sleep here, including how to improve air quality in your bedroom. 

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Wildfire Smoke Can Cause Stress and Anxiety, Which Can Disrupt Sleep 

It’s no surprise that wildfires can cause stress. If you’re in the thick of it, you’ll be panicked about your home, family, and, potentially, your life, and you may have the added stress of having to evacuate.  

All this stress can lead to sleep loss as your body’s in fight-or-flight mode, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. 

A 2023 study looked at wildfire survivors in the US, Canada, and Australia. Almost 50% of them had insomnia symptoms, almost 30% had nightmares, and almost 78% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Wildfire smoke was the biggest culprit. The study concluded, “smoke from wildfire emerged as the most significant trauma-related predictor of insomnia, which, in turn predicted the development of both PTSD and nightmares symptoms.”

The study also states survivors often report: 

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep 
  • Waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep 
  • Nightmares waking them up and stopping them from falling back asleep 

But even if you’re far enough away to not be in immediate danger, reading news about wildfires raging in your state or seeing hazy air is enough to spike your stress levels.

And RISE users say stress and anxiety are their biggest challenges when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.  

The 2021 study on bushfire smoke in Australia found over half of the participants reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. And a 2022 study on people living in Oregon found medium-to-heavy smoke exposure was linked to more uncontrollable worrying and a longer duration of exposure led to increased prevalence of worrying.

More research is needed to discover the true impacts of wildfire smoke on mental health. But we do know that you’ll probably have a harder time drifting off when stressed, which will make you tired the next day.

More Research is Needed 

There’s strong evidence that wildfire smoke can make you tired, both directly and by disrupting your sleep. But more research is needed. 

Many studies look at how smoke can affect your physical health, but there aren't as many studies on how it impacts your sleep. 

There isn’t much research on the long-term effects of wildfire smoke, either. And studying the impacts is tricky right after a wildfire event. 

The studies that have been done already also come with a few problems. They often use surveys and self-reported sleep data, which can be inaccurate, and they may define wildfire smoke in different ways. 

Another problem is that smoke exposure and air pollution are often measured in different ways — sometimes it’s self-reported exposure, sometimes it’s assumed exposure based on proximity to a wildfire, and other times air pollution is measured with an outdoor tracker. All this makes it hard to compare studies on the impacts of wildfires. 

As climate change makes wildfires more common, smoke inhalation will become more of a public health concern. So finding out more about the impacts will become even more important.

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How to Prevent Fatigue From Wildfire Smoke?

You can prevent tiredness caused by wildfire smoke by investing in an air purifier, keeping the windows closed, and limiting outdoor activities. All this should reduce how much wildfire smoke you breathe in, and therefore how much it affects your energy levels.

Here’s what to do: 

  • Check the air quality conditions in your area: You can use airnow.gov for this. The air quality index (AQI) is a measure of air quality. It’s measured on a scale from 0 to 500. The higher the number, the greater the air pollution and the more your energy could be impacted. In general, an AQI of 50 or lower shows good air quality with little or no risk to health. An AQI of 300 or more poses a risk to everyone, not just sensitive groups. You can also check the fire and smoke map for up-to-date smoke levels in your area and when to stay inside.
  • Invest in a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter: An air purifier with a high-quality filtration system can help to remove smoke particles from the air. You may need to change the air filter more regularly when wildfire smoke is affecting your area. 
  • Keep your windows closed: This will reduce how much smoke gets into your home. But there’s a trade-off here. For a good night’s sleep, you want to aim for a bedroom temperature of 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If closing the windows makes your bedroom too warm, look for other ways to keep cool, like using a fan or air conditioner. If your air conditioning unit has a fresh air intake, close the intake damper when outdoor air quality is poor.
  • Limit outdoor activities: Pay attention to advice from local authorities. When there's poor air quality, you may be advised to spend less time outdoors, especially if you’re more sensitive to wildfire smoke. Even if you’re allowed outside, consider keeping it short and avoiding outdoor exercise if smoke is messing with your sleep. Intense physical activity can make you inhale more pollution. When outside, consider wearing a mask — N95 masks work best.
  • Improve your indoor air quality: Avoid smoking, burning candles or incense, vacuuming (unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter), and spraying aerosols. 

When the outdoor air quality improves, open your windows to increase ventilation and air out your home. Once the air clears up, your fatigue should also clear up in a few days. Speak to your healthcare provider if symptoms don’t clear up and seek medical care if they get serious.

Values of Index Levels of Concern Description of Air Quality
0 to 50 Good Air quality is satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
51 to 100 Moderate Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
51 to 100 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
151 to 200 Unhealthy Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
201 to 300 Very Unhealthy Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.
301 and higher Hazardous Health warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.

How to Get More Energy When Exposed to Wildfire Smoke?

You can’t always avoid wildfire smoke and the tiredness and sleep disruption it causes. To get more energy when exposed to wildfire smoke, focus on winding down before bed to keep stress low, getting morning sunlight, improving your sleep hygiene, and catching up on lost sleep when you can. 

There may be some trade-offs you need to weigh up, like skipping morning walks when skies are smokey. Consider what impacts your sleep and energy the most.

Here’s how to make that happen: 

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine: Stress about wildfires can keep you up, even if the smoke itself isn’t disrupting your sleep. To help, spend the hour or so before bed doing a relaxing routine. Try reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga. We’ve covered breathing exercises to do before bed here, which can reduce stress and help you drift off. You may need more time than usual to unwind when skies are hazier. 
  • Use a light therapy lamp in the mornings: Morning sunlight can reset your circadian rhythm (your body clock), which helps you feel sleepy at bedtime. We usually recommend getting out for a walk first thing. But if smoky skies are keeping you inside, you can use a 10,000 lux light therapy lamp instead. Spend 30 minutes in front of a lamp each morning and place it about 16 to 24 inches away from you. 
  • Improve your sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene is the name for the daily behaviors you can do to fall and stay asleep more easily. They’re important at any time, but especially when wildfire smoke is causing sleep loss. You’ve already got smoke to contend with, so you don’t want something you can control (like too much caffeine) further disrupting your sleep. RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day to make these habits easy to stick to.  
  • Keep your sleep debt low: If you’re struggling to stay asleep at night, try taking an afternoon nap to catch up on shut-eye. And once your air quality improves, focus on catching up on lost sleep to get your energy back. 
RISE app screenshot reminding you of your sleep hygiene habits
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits daily.

Expert tip: Keep your sleep debt low at all times. You never know when wildfire smoke is going to affect your area and do a number on your energy levels. Plus, sleep deprivation can make you more vulnerable to the health impacts of smoke inhalation. 

Current technology can only predict wildfires about a day out, though, meaning smoke can hit suddenly. Having low sleep debt when it happens will help you better manage any sleep loss and health risks that come your way. 

We all need a different amount of sleep per night to feel alert each day. RISE works out how much sleep you need (known as your sleep need) based on your phone use behavior and sleep science algorithms. 

Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found sleep needs ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. The median was eight hours, but 48% of users need eight hours or more sleep a night. 

Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found sleep needs ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. The median was eight hours, but 48% of users need eight hours or more sleep a night.
The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Get More Energy During Wildfire Season 

Breathing in wildfire smoke can make you feel tired, but it can also disrupt your sleep and cause stress, causing even more tiredness. To boost your energy levels, invest in an air filter, close the windows, and limit your time outside when smoke levels are high. 

Improving your sleep hygiene and paying back sleep debt can help to boost your energy levels long term. 

To nail your sleep hygiene, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ habits each day. The app can also work out how much sleep you need and how much sleep debt you have. 

You don’t have to live with low energy — 80% of RISE users feel more energy within five days. 

Summary FAQs

Can wildfire smoke make you tired?

Yes, wildfire smoke can make you tired. Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause fatigue. Plus, it can make it harder to get enough sleep and cause stress, which further disrupts sleep and leads to tiredness.

Can wildfire smoke cause headaches?

Yes, wildfire smoke can cause headaches. Breathing in both the smoke and fine particles found in wildfire smoke has been shown to cause headaches. Wildfire smoke can also cause sleep deprivation and stress, which can cause headaches.

How does wildfire smoke affect your body?

Wildfire smoke can cause tiredness, chest pain, coughing, wheezing, headaches, a runny nose, trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, and reduced attention. In the long term, wildfire smoke can have serious health effects, including an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, and lung cancer.

Why is wildfire smoke worse at night?

Wildfire smoke can be worse at night as the air is cooler. Cool air sinks to the ground, bringing smoke with it. Cool air also moves less, and with less wind, wildfire smoke isn’t as dispersed.

How to sleep with wildfire smoke?

Sleep with wildfire smoke by closing your windows, using an air purifier, and staying cool with a fan or air conditioning. Make sure you’re taking time to unwind before bed, so stress doesn’t keep you up, and doing sleep-promoting behaviors during the day, like getting morning sunlight. It may be better to get morning sunlight through a window or from a light therapy lamp, rather than from going outside, when wildfire smoke is affecting your area.

How do you feel better from wildfire smoke?

Feel better from wildfire smoke by reducing your exposure to it. When wildfire smoke is affecting your area, limit how much you go outside (especially to exercise), close your windows, use an air purifier, consider wearing a N95 mask, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. If wildfire smoke is causing sleep loss, try catching up on sleep with naps.

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