Americans are losing sleep over the wildfires burning up the neighbouring north.
Smoke from wildfires in various provinces has blown across the southern border. Combined with smoke from US wildfires, millions of Americans are now living in unsafe air quality.
According to a new survey from the Sleep Foundation, 58.1% of US adults said smoke during wildfires is costing them about 1.5 hours of shut eye per night. Assuming 2023 is a standard three-month wildfire season, that would total 134.9 hours of sleep this year.
Melissa Milanak, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said stress from wildfire health risks can keep us up, even if we’re not in the fire’s direct path.
“For most people, when they’re thinking about trauma, they think of nightmares and forget that insomnia is such a huge piece [of it],” Milanak told the Sleep Foundation.
“No matter how exhausted you are, your body’s not going to let you rest because it wants to keep you on edge [and to] keep you on alert to be able to protect yourself.”
Adults in the Census region stretching from Oklahoma and Texas to the Atlantic Coast reported losing 1.53 hours of sleep each night when wildfires were at their worst. Another 41.8% of respondents said they had to shut their windows because of fire smoke seeping in.
Canada’s wildfires started unseasonably early this year, with the fires reaching a crisis point in Alberta in early May, just days into the provincial election campaign. Some 72 wildfires were still ongoing as of Thursday, down from over 100 earlier in the year, but fires have now started up in Quebec and New Brunswick.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Canada’s spring fires have covered large chunks of the States in a smoky haze for more than a month as of June.
From January to July 2022, 5.7 million acres of U.S. land burned because of wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service says the typical length of the wildfire season has practically doubled, forcing a shift to the concept of a “fire year.”
The result is that 60.2% of respondents say they’ve smelled wildfire smoke at their home or workplace in the past five years, and 47.8% say they’ve seen it.
Of respondents, 86.2% lived or worked at least 10 miles from the nearest wildfire, with 50.2% being at least 50 miles away.