It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night — The Quest for Sleep
We are a nation of unhealthy sleepers, discovers insomniac Mike Fisher, who checked himself in to a sleep clinic
by Mike Fisher
A blue electronic box dangles from my neck, as if I’ve been tagged in the forest; a wayward, sleepy biped newly outfitted for tracking in the laboratory.
The box sprouts red and yellow and green wires. A black curling thing snakes to the nape of my neck; it prevents the wires from tangling as I lay down. A patchwork of electrodes on my body feeds information to the box and a computer.
I wanted this, desperately.
I’m one of the 2,000-plus patients yearly who seeks hi-tech help at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary. It’s an accredited, state-of-the-art facility that uses cutting-edge technology to help visiting and local patients grab for the Holy Grail — a good night’s sleep.
So how did the Centre for Sleep become a mecca of sorts for the bleary-eyed legion of poor souls like me for whom lying down at night is almost always a Mexican standoff with the unblinking ceiling?
Canadians Yearn for Slumber
In the past 25 years or so, sleep’s become a valuable commodity that’s harder than ever to acquire. The advent of personal computers widened our world, but electronic devices make us available 24/7, always beckoning. Before bedtime, the eerie blue-light glow can affect your body’s natural production of melatonin — and eat into sleep like acid.
There’s also the worldwide rise of corporate culture with deadly punchlines such as, “You can sleep when you’re dead.” And there’s the flood of pharmaceuticals to try and hasten and maintain slumber, with mixed results. We’re washing away restorative nighttime when we should be enjoying recovery, regeneration and rest.
While there are no hard statistics detailing precisely how many Canadian adults struggle to gain sleep, the 2016 Canadian Sleep Review reports sleep times range between five and more than seven hours a night — amounts Canadians wish were longer and of better quality.
The study, funded with support from the Dairy Farmers of Canada, warns that lack of sleep burdens individuals, society (loss of human resources with decreased productivity and increased absenteeism) and relationships.
We’re actually getting about the same amount of sleep as people in recent decades, according to a 2013 Gallup Poll in the United States that considers data back to the early 1900s, but it’s not the good stuff — the necessary, deep slumber that helps us to recover cognitively, neurologically and metabolically.
Switch Off, says UCalgary Researcher
Dr. Charles Samuels, a physician and University of Calgary clinical assistant professor, Cumming School of Medicine and Centre for Sleep Medical Director, is the president-elect of the Canadian Sleep Society.
While he’s helped pro hockey players, police officers and Olympians gain shuteye with research into how sleep works to improve athletic performance, his research also applies to improving sleep for better overall health.
What’s the worst enemy of good sleep?
“Technology,” says Samuels. “It’s constant and it’s unhealthy. Do not look at your phone before you go to bed. Do not model this behaviour for your children. Do not allow video games before bedtime.”
So, while tech can destroy sleep, it can also be used to probe how to improve slumber. Some patients arrive at the Centre for Sleep through a doctor’s referral, while others have submitted a self-referral form on its website.
“If you have non-restorative sleep, can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes or snore, these may be signs of an underlying sleep disorder,” says Amy Bender, a researcher at UCalgary’s faculty of kinesiology and Centre for Sleep & Human Performance. “You’d likely benefit by seeking help from a sleep professional.”
A UCalgary and Centre for Sleep study of the Canadian women’s rowing team prior to the Summer Olympics in Brazil reduced team members’ time spent in front of computer screens that were interrupting their sleep patterns. The payoff was enhanced mood and reduced anxiety, says Bender.
I’m no Olympian, but, after technicians monitored me overnight in a bedroom at the Centre for Sleep with the same attention they’d spend on a pro athlete, I met with one of the sleep specialists.
A detailed report showed I had, “overall moderate sleep-disordered breathing,” preventing me from getting good sleep.
I was given choices, including using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which would keep my airways open and prevent snoring and disruptive awakening during sleep, or a dental device that could help do the same.
In the end, I’m still trying to decide.
I think I’ll ditch my iPhone tonight and sleep on it — or, at least, I’ll try.
Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Routine, routine, routine is the best recipe for healthy slumber. Same bedtime, same wake time, including weekends, reinforces your body’s natural rhythm.
Put your tech toys away at least two hours before bedtime. Set an alarm to do so. The blue light emitted by electronic devices alerts your brain to wake up.
With your electronic devices away, dim the lights before bedtime. Pull the shades to block outside light. For sleeping, an eye mask can help.
Keep your sleep environment like a cave — cool, dark and quiet. A room temperature between 16-19°C helps facilitate sleep. Your body temperature naturally drops as you fall into sleep.
Try to take regular daytime naps. A restorative, daily 20-minute nap works best for adults. Between 1-4 p.m. works best, but even a short power nap can make you more alert and productive. Nap 30 minutes or more and you’re in the deeper stages of sleep, likely to awake groggy.
— Source: Centre for Sleep & Human Performance and The Canadian Sleep Review 2016 (with support from Dairy Farmers of Canada) U