Some people view plants as relentless monopolists of the air we breathe in our homes, especially in the bedrooms. They believe it is dangerous to sleep with them because they deprive us of oxygen while we sleep – a belief that is still widespread today.
In reality it is a myth, although with some truth, because it is true that plants, as aerobic organisms, consume oxygen. But enough to suffocate us? Let’s see what science says.
Atmospheric Composition Engineers
Respiration is the process by which plants use oxygen (O₂) and carbohydrates to produce energy. This reaction also produces carbon dioxide (CO₂) and water. The general chemical equation for this process is as follows:
Carbohydrates + 6 O₂ → 6 CO₂ + 6 H₂O + energy
At the same time, plants are also able to produce oxygen through photosynthesis, the reverse chemical process of respiration, the equation of which can be summarized as follows:
6 CO₂ + 6 H₂O + sunlight → carbohydrates + 6 O₂
In this case, the plant uses atmospheric CO₂ and the water it absorbs through its roots to produce its energy source under the influence of sunlight, oxygen and carbohydrates. Therefore, photosynthesis inevitably takes place during the day.
Like us, plants breathe throughout the day, but during sunshine hours respiration is masked by photosynthesis, which is the predominant process.
This means that oxygen production by plants predominates during the day and consumption at night.
So should we worry about plants stealing our oxygen while we sleep?
The answer is a clear no.
Our rooms are not airtight compartments, but rather ventilated rooms in which oxygen is constantly renewed. But even if we slept in completely closed rooms, the plants would not pose a serious threat.
The amount of oxygen consumed by the plants that we usually have in our homes is generally ridiculous, although it depends on several factors such as: B. their size (the larger, the more they consume), their growth rate or the ambient temperature. , among other things. In addition, they produce much more oxygen through photosynthesis than they use at night, so we have a more than sufficient supply of oxygen to last the whole day.
For example, it is estimated that 5 kg of petunias consume 0.01 liters for 8 hours per night. On the other hand, an adult uses about 0.26 L of oxygen per minute, so in 8 hours they have used 124.8 L.
The difference is so huge that there is no plant large enough to fit in our room that can match the amount of oxygen that a human consumes.
Therefore, it would be more reasonable to worry about sleeping with other people or even our pets. But even in these cases there is no reason to worry as our rooms are ventilated and there is enough oxygen for everyone.
The benefits of sleeping with plants
Sleeping with plants is not only safe, but also offers various benefits for our health.
Plants are great air purifiers and help improve air quality. Plants, alone or with the help of bacteria and fungi that grow on their surface, can enzymatically break down a variety of gases and volatile compounds whose accumulation would pose a threat to our health, such as formaldehyde, benzene or nitrogen oxides.
Plants also help regulate relative humidity indoors. One of the products produced by breathing is water, which is released into the atmosphere in the form of vapor. In this way, they can help maintain humidity at optimal levels and prevent eye, respiratory and skin problems.
The fear of sleeping with plants is based on unfounded and unrealistic beliefs. On the contrary: it is worth adding greenery to our rooms to give them a decorative touch and improve air quality. Always in moderation, so that our guests do not become a real threat to our health when we encounter them when we go to the toilet while sleepy at night.
Alberto Romero Blanco, teaching and research staff at the University of Alcalá. Biological invasions and ecotoxicology, University of Alcala