Nothing beats a good night’s sleep. This saying has become cliché, but it is true.
The importance of quality sleep is very often overlooked as a public health issue and is given little attention as a contributor to a healthy lifestyle.
Canadians are not getting a good night’s sleep
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada –
- 1 in 2 adults have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep.
- 1 in 5 adults do not find their sleep refreshing.
- 1 in 3 adults have difficulty staying awake during waking hours.
A Statistics Canada Health Report stated that two-thirds of adult Canadians get just about 7 hours sleep and one-third, less than 7 hours.
I was forced to pay attention the day my husband admitted that for the first time in many months, he had a good night’s sleep. That happened when I was out of town on a business trip, and he didn’t have to put up with my loud snoring. For my part, I was struggling to stay awake during meetings after eight hours of sleep the night before in a very comfortable hotel bed.
As soon as I returned home, my family doctor referred me to a Respirologist at a sleep apnea clinic where I underwent some tests. The results were clear. I scored 27 out of 30 on the apnea hypopnea index, meaning that as I slept, I stopped breathing 27 times every hour.
Sleep apnea, one of approximately 80 sleep disorders, happens when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems including hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), heart failure, diabetes, obesity and heart attacks.
As a person living with sleep apnea, I am posting this article to raise awareness of the importance of quality sleep and to encourage readers to get help if they suspect that they have a sleep disorder.
What is good, quality sleep?
Sleep is the restful state of the body and the mind, which is characterised by the lack of consciousness of one’s surroundings. Sleep is essential for the restoration and recovery of vital body and mental functions.
To have a good night’s sleep, it is generally recommended that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours every day, wake up feeling refreshed and stay alert during waking hours.
Why sleep matters
Sleep is necessary for the good health of individuals, for the safety of others and for the economy.
Sleep deprivation leads to overworked neurons and poor synchronization of the body’s organ systems resulting in depleted attention and impaired judgement.
- Lapses in focus impair the brain’s ability to perform tasks such as driving and operating machinery, jeopardizing the safety of sleep-deprived persons and others.
- Fatigue impairs the brain’s ability to interpret events and social interactions, which adversely impact professional and personal relationships.
- To overcome daytime fatigue, individuals eat foods high in sugar, putting them at risk of obesity, heart disease, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
- Recent research established a possible connection between short sleep during mid-life and risks of developing dementia later in life. Compared to those getting 7 hours of sleep, people getting less rest each night were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
- The economy is adversely affected by poor sleep quality. Canada loses around 80,000 working days annually, the equivalent of over two hundred years of lost productivity.
Recognizing sleep disorders
The Cleveland Clinic identifies approximately 80 sleep disorders. The most commonly diagnosed disorders are
- Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep
- Sleep apnea – repeated stoppage of breathing during sleep
- Restless leg syndrome – irresistible urge to move the legs while lying down
- Narcolepsy – excessive daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime
You may have a sleep disorder if you are experiencing the signs and symptoms described above, or tiredness during the day after having slept for at least seven hours the night before, complaints from your partner that you snore excessively and repeated sudden awakening during sleep.
Any medical doctor will refer you to a sleep specialist for testing and diagnosis of a sleep disorder. The benefits of sleep disorder therapies are remarkable.
Treating sleep apnea
After my diagnosis, a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) device was prescribed. I was fitted with a mask which admittedly, took some time to get used to, but works well. The benefits were immediate: a clear, rested mind to start my day; less irritability and overall good mood; greater resilience and endurance throughout the day; and the ability to follow conversations with ease particularly during meetings.
Most CPAPs come with an app that tracks the number of hours sleep, obstructions, and air pressure, which can be viewed in real time by the user and their treating medical professional. Compact, battery-operated CPAPs have been designed for travel and outdoor use. Airlines allow CPAPs onboard in the cabin as an additional carry-on item. The cost of my CPAP was fully reimbursed by my health insurance plan.
Steps to take for a good, quality night’s sleep
Everyone should take steps to get a good, quality night’s sleep, even if they have not been diagnosed with a sleep disorder.
- Avoid artificial stimulants such as caffeine and sugar to keep you alert and awake
- Set realistic timelines for work projects to avoid working routinely overtime
- Establish a set time to go to bed every night
- Do not read, do work or other activities in your bed
- Set boundaries to ensure adequate preparation for bedtime. A few suggestions for a routine to follow so that your brain and body know that you are preparing for sleep:
- Stop exercise and demanding physical activities 60 minutes prior to bedtime
- Pack away gadgets, books, tools, and electronic devices in a space outside of the bedroom
- Shut down electronic devices 30 minutes prior to bedtime
- Dim the lights and ensure comfortable temperature in the bedroom
- Calm your body and mind before falling asleep by taking a warm shower and by thinking with gratitude about 3 good things in your life
Employers should accommodate persons with sleep disorders
Employees with a sleep disorder should be transparent with their employers, so that their needs can be accommodated. The objective of accommodating employee needs should always be to enable optimal performance while protecting the health of the employee and their colleagues.
A few suggestions to help employees avoid becoming fatigued and tired in the workplace –
- Include coverage for sleep disorders in employee health benefits plans
- Agree on flexible work schedules without compromising the number of agreed hours of work – e.g., the opportunity to start the workday early and to leave early
- Extra breaks during the day.
- Natural sunlight or special lighting.
- Revise usage procedures for equipment and machinery operated by employees diagnosed with a sleep disorder.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope that the information and suggestions are helpful so that you may have many healthy all-nighters filled with good, quality sleep and productive days that follow.
About the author
Camille N. Isaacs Morell is a business executive who has a vision of a better world where everyone has the opportunity to be better and do better. Preventive healthcare is a cause she cares about. This is why she serves as a volunteer, board member, mentor, and donor in organizations that support better health, women and girls and marginalized persons.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.