The surprising connection between mold and poor sleep
Poor sleep can happen for many reasons. Maybe it’s due to a new supplement, high-stress levels, or not eating or drinking enough throughout the day. When I experienced a week of insomnia, I pinpointed the cause fairly quickly: my air purifier stopped working. Air purifiers can help lighten allergen load, filter harmful chemicals, and remove mold spores from the air. Tune in to hear how fixing my air purifier and ensuring my house had good air quality got me back to sleeping through the night.
In This Episode
Why I couldn’t sleep for a week… 00:46
Air issues can drive symptoms… 05:08
How to evaluate your home air quality… 08:14
Mold doesn’t have to be super scary… 13:02
A stepwise approach to remediation… 16:33
The REME HALO air purifier… 19:05
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Why I couldn’t sleep for a week
Hey everyone. I wanted to share a story that concerns my sleep (and I guess the lack of it for about a week), and what I found to be the underlying cause of that, in case it may help any of you listening. The short, short summary on this is that my air purifier– this is an in-duct purifier known as the REME HALO LED. It’s an LED light powered air purifier. I’ll give some more details in a moment, but this unit stopped working. I have one upstairs, one downstairs. I didn’t know what stopped working, but what I can tell you is about three weeks ago I slept terribly, night after night after night. I’m talking couldn’t fall asleep, couldn’t fall asleep, couldn’t fall asleep, got up, had a snack, did all the stuff I normally do, the song and the rain dance, and just could not fall asleep until I took a Unisom.
Now, once in a while, I’ll find a supplement that causes insomnia. So I go through “okay, is there a new supplement that I am experimenting with driving this?” Nope, or I essentially stopped everything and was still not sleeping well. I was extra diligent about getting sunshine in the morning, not having any caffeine after 12, making sure I ate enough because sometimes not eating enough or not eating enough carbohydrates can cause me to not sleep well. Usually, within two or three nights, I can sort out what’s driving a lack of sleep. This was a full week and so I knew, man, something is out of whack here. What is it? I then went on vacation to California, was in San Diego for a week, and the first night slept totally fine. So this gets me thinking “ah, maybe there’s an environmental issue back in Austin”.
Now, if you remember back, I had said I didn’t do this really robust mold remediation, especially with my downstairs HVAC unit, because in order to do that, they would have had to remove the unit, drain all the freon, replace the plenum (which is the initial duct that the HVAC kind of pushes the air into, and then from that duct it distributes to all the vents, it’s kind of like the aorta of the HVAC). And that would have cost nearly $1000 just for the labor and the freon draining. And the consultant said, “Well, you know, we can spray this with a natural cleaner that will kill most of it, it should do a pretty good job. And then you’ll also have the REME HALO purifying all the air, with this UV light combined with this ionizer that creates hydrogen peroxide ions.” This causes, to my understanding, the particulates to clump together, fall out of the air more quickly, and also be more easily filtered by whatever kind of air filter you have running. So I have an air filter running, but I also have an air purifier. The air purifier is the REME HALO LED, that’s, again, in the duct.
So after one or two nights back in Austin sleeping terribly, I reached out to the consultant and I said, “Hey, can you get someone out here right away?” They wouldn’t be able to come out for two days, so I took an air mattress upstairs. My office is upstairs, and my bedroom is downstairs where I live. So upstairs, I slept okay; even more evidence there was something in the downstairs unit. When the consultant came out, I was thinking one of two things. One, the mold had grown back, they could spray again, wouldn’t be a big deal. Or maybe the purifier had broken. And he said, “Yep, your purifier essentially short circuited, hasn’t been working.” And what do you know? The first night I slept fine, and it’s been three nights since then and I’ve slept fine every night. So I wanted to share this to point out two things.
Air issues can drive symptoms
One, air issues can be a factor in driving symptoms. Obviously for me, one of my main symptoms is insomnia. What’s interesting is that whatever the REME HALO was doing– maybe there was a small amount of mold in the air, maybe it’s dust, maybe it’s other particulates, whatever it is– the REME HALO was doing something that allowed me to sleep. Although while it was broken and I was downstairs, I didn’t have brain fog and didn’t have fatigue. So it was pretty low threshold in terms of whatever was now in the air when the purifier was not working. But what I can tell you is when laying in bed, I felt that my heart rate was going just a little faster than it should. Now I want to be careful because when I say this, I immediately picture the person who is way too zoomed in about their health and I don’t want them to use this information the wrong way.
So know yourself, and if you tend to skew in a bit of a hypochondriac direction, make sure you’re taking steps to check that, because this is very important. Limbic retraining here can be quite helpful. For me, thankfully I don’t skew in that direction, so this is not something that’s part of my healthcare plan, if you will. And it was just an observation. I didn’t get nervous about it, it didn’t freak me out, but I said, “Hmm, this feels similar to when I’ve noticed other low level allergy responses.” I have an allergy to Tempur-Pedic bedding, and there’s been a few times when I’ve been traveling, I’ve stayed in one of these beds and I’m laying there, and it just feels like my heart rate, instead of this sort of boom, boom, boom, it’s kind of just a little bit faster… boom, boom, boom, boom, boom… just enough to where I’m perceiving my heart rate, if that makes sense.
So that was one of the cues. And then of course, because of that, I wasn’t able to sleep.
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How to evaluate your home air quality
So I share this just so if you’re not sure if you have good air quality in your home, I would definitely recommend having an evaluation, but also being careful that you choose your consultant carefully. And I used an IEP (an Indoor Environmental Pollution specialist), someone who came highly recommended. And I pushed back a little bit, if you remember this story from months ago on the podcast, when he wanted to do this excision of a piece of drywall that had mold it. And we’d have to do a negative pressure environment in the entire home, cut out the drywall in this negative pressure environment, and then redo the sheetrocking in the negative pressure environment, and then test to make sure everything was out of the air, and then we can take down the negative pressure environment in addition to the other remediation.
And I just felt like that was overkill, because I wasn’t convinced that that baseboard piece of sheetrock was the reason that there was mold upstairs and downstairs. That baseboard was only downstairs, yet the mold was worse upstairs. There was this parallel issue of the HVAC unit essentially not being well maintained. It cooled too quickly, and it was not very good at dehumidifying at baseline. But when it cooled too quickly, it caused condensation, and it also had less of a chance to dehumidify the air. And just the anatomy of the system, if you will, was not a great setup according to the HVAC consultant. So you’ll have to make some decisions like this if you’re going through some air quality evaluation in your home. And I mention this because the consultants will point to all the mold, and you want to read the demeanor of the consultant.
Some are kind of crusaders against mold. And if you’re consulting with someone like that, I would just find a different consultant. My consultant was not a crusader. He was pretty practical. But he still gave me the kind of Cadillac recommendation, and he didn’t say, “Well here’s option A, here’s option B. Here’s the Cadillac, here’s the Ford, so to speak.” And remember, if you’re not feeling well, it doesn’t mean that you need the Cadillac all the time with every domain of your healthcare. Especially in this case, I didn’t want to dump a whole bunch of money into it, and you may also not want to dump a whole bunch of money into it. And it’s important that we have this conversation because all too often you hear people say, “Oh, remediation’s so expensive”. But it doesn’t have to be. So this is just something to really keep in mind.
I did replace the venting in the upstairs, and this I believe was $700 or $800 total. So the total thing was between $3000-5000. Because there are various appointments and this whole thing occurred over the course of months, so that’s why I have the ballpark. But it could have easily been double that if we had done the negative pressure environment. That in and of itself would’ve been about $5000. So when you add up the REME HALO devices (two, one on the top, one on the bottom floor), the replacing of the vents, the replacing of one plenum (remember, that’s like the aorta, the cleaning, which actually was quite cheap, it was a few hundred bucks, maybe $800 total for just the cleaning)– it totalled up to somewhere between $3000-5000, but it could have been double that.
So again, we had fixed the settings that were likely causing the problem to begin with. I didn’t feel we needed to do this whole cutting out of the drywall, the negative pressure environment, blah, blah, blah. And I figured for the downstairs, where that problem in particular was occurring, we could just clean the unit. Didn’t even replace the plenum, didn’t even replace the aorta, just cleaned it and installed this air purifier. And month over month over month for two to three months had been sleeping just fine. The REME HALO short-circuited, they came out, replaced it, it was under warranty, no big deal. And then my sleep was back to normal, just like that.
Mold doesn’t have to be super scary
So I share this just to impress a few things upon you. Mold does not have to be this super scary issue. I have some serious, serious suspicions that the mold community is (not intentionally) severely disempowering people by the language that they use and by how they’re approaching their care.
Now, I could be wrong, but this is just my hunch and I will be collecting data and building this ledger in my mind of points that support my hypothesis and points that contradict my hypothesis. But unfortunately, the history up until now has been that usually functional medicine is not handling things the right way. And I hate to say this, I don’t mean to sound like a contrarian, but SIBO is a good model for this. Some people will tell a patient when they have SIBO… “Oh man, you’ve got SIBO, it’s going to be a long road”. The worst thing you could tell someone, and also completely not evidence-based. Sure you can cite evidence that “IBS is a relapsing remitting condition”. This is not for people like you who really care about your health, will change their diet, will improve their lifestyle, and will use other supports to heal their system.
All this to say, I have a suspicion that people who have had mold or currently have mold, they’re being done a huge psychological disservice by being told– insert fearful CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome) narrative here. And I think my situation is a good case in point. And also I should point out, I’m not someone who just genetically had awesome health his whole life, and I’m sitting here as this super fit CrossFit triathlete sort of guy who has never felt poorly, and just “what do you mean you don’t feel good?” I’ve had my share of stuff. And as you know, I’ve had a lifelong aversion to certain air conditioning. And like I’ve said on the podcast in the past, it can be a coin toss when I’m traveling, if I will sleep well or if I won’t, and when I have to use the AC.
So there’s stuff here that makes me prone to bias in the direction of chronic inflammation, fear, fear, fear sort of messaging. But thankfully, through my own personal healthcare experience, I’ve learned my way out of this. And through objectively looking at data and also evaluating patients, I’m progressively learning that we end up doing things the wrong way in a lot of realms of functional medicine. And sure, conventional medicine has its problems too, but we’ve really got to start pointing out the errors in the functional and integrative camp because if we don’t, they’re never going to be rectified. So in this case, it was a pretty simple fix in that my air purifier shit the bed, and because of that, I had pretty uncomfortable insomnia for a week.
A stepwise approach to remediation
So if you are suspecting something in your home, find a good consultant, ask questions, ask for a stepwise or hierarchal interventional plan. “Okay, I know you said we’ve got to do these seven steps. Is it possible that three of these seven are the most important? And then maybe we could say another two steps would be, you know B of ABC, and the other two steps could be C? And we could kind of break these down, start with these four, the low hanging fruit, the not terribly expensive. See how I feel, reevaluate. If not, move on to these other two, step B, repeat. And if I’m still not feeling well, move on to these final two. Step C.” And this sort of thinking, you can probably tell, is similar to how we at the clinic think through an individual’s healthcare plan, and it’s for good reason. I could have spent money that I didn’t need to spend because I solved the problem (my sleep got better, brain fog went away) with the initial remediation plan, for a lot less. So wanted to share that for that perspective.
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The REME HALO air purifier
And then also, because of this data point, I am now convinced that the REME HALO is really doing something. On their website, they have a number of independent lab studies, but these are more so just looking at… they put bacteria or viruses into a system, and then they test what happens after they go through the REME HALO purifier, and they’ve documented the ability to kill SARS-CoV-2, bacteria, and other viruses.
So they’ve documented these things mechanistically, but that’s not really an interventional trial. I remember seeing somewhere, a video that found office workers had less influenza in an office building that had this installed. I also poked around a little bit, couldn’t find much in the way of outcome studies– there’s just not much data out there on this device. There was some review of a law enforcement building by the CDC, where people were having health complaints in a building that had one of these units installed. But there was also bat droppings and mold overgrowth. I mean the HVAC unit was in pretty dire shape. So how do we account for that, or how do we judge the efficacy of the REME HALO in relation to that? I’m assuming there’s a threshold where you can’t have a boatload of stuff wrong with and living in your system, and expect the REME HALO to clean all of that up.
But an imperfect system, where maybe you took care of most of the mold but there could be a small amount in there, this might be what the REME HALO can kind of get you over the edge regarding. I’m assuming that’s what’s happening in my unit where the reason why– again, I’m assuming here– but the reason why, when the REME HALO turned off I had insomnia, is because there’s probably still a small amount of mold in the system. Not enough mold to cause active symptoms like brain fog and fatigue, but enough to cause insomnia. So the remediation, let’s say, brought the level of colonization– I’m just going to use arbitrary numbers here, on a 0-100 scale, maybe it brought it from like a 20 down to a 4. And that 4% contamination with mold is not enough to cause any symptoms or any problems other than I can’t sleep– REME HALO takes me down to zero.
Again, I’m just assuming. But to paint the loose analogy– and then to zoom us way out– a few thoughts there on maintaining your air quality through maintaining your HVAC. A tool that can be useful, the REME HALO LED. And then also, if you’re going through (or thinking about going through) remediation, find a good consultant and ask for a tiered action plan so that you don’t do everything all at once. And thankfully, I have now been sleeping well for a few nights, and boy, I am just so appreciative, because things that impact your sleep can really grind you down. And I hope that helps. And remember, if you need help navigating this, this is something that we of course do work with at the clinic. Some of this you just have to do on your own. So I hope this helps you steer forward the aspect of the care that you need to. And then if you need a clinician to step in and help with other items, we at the clinic would be more than happy to. Alright guys, hope that helps. Talk to you next time. Bye.
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➕ Dr. Ruscio’s Notes
Ruling Out (And Discovering) The Cause Of My Insomnia
- Insomnia wasn’t happening due to a supplement, lack of sunlight, or not drinking or eating enough.
- After going on vacation and sleeping elsewhere, it became clear there was something in my house causing me to sleep poorly.
Air Quality: The Hidden Reason Behind Poor Sleep And More
- Air quality (dust, mold, etc) issues can cause:
- Brain fog
- In my case, the air quality issue happened at my home because my air purifier stopped working.
Get Back to Sleeping Better
- Address any environmental factors affecting your sleep.
- Pay attention to if you sleep better when you’re vacationing or traveling elsewhere, as that can be a sign that something is amiss in your home environment.
- Get an evaluation with an experienced environmental testing consultant who offers cost-effective strategies for removing mold and other indoor contaminants.
- Continue to be mindful of your symptoms and the environment around you.