Losing Sleep?

By Ian Orti

The lucky ones in life will spend a third of their lives doing it. Sleep is good for us, it accentuates the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. And even when we think of all the things we could accomplish if we could skip our bedtimes, we look forward to drifting off each night, and we are often loathe to wake. But in Canada, almost a quarter of the population over 15 years of age reports suffering from insomnia.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia takes many forms: not being able to fall asleep, waking up too early, waking up not feeling refreshed. Given the dyssomnias and parasomnias and the long list of sleep disorders that fall under each category, including somniphobia (fear of sleep!) it’s a wonder we are able to catch any ZZZs at all.

Sue* finds her insomnia to be “chronically crippling.” She says, “It makes me depressed—I fi nd it hard to live from a place of joy and enthusiasm, haven’t the energy to respond to people as fully as I’d like and am consequently less inclined to seek them out, am scared to commit to engagements for fear of becoming overtired through overexertion.”

Elizabeth* feels much the same way. “The result of a sleepless night,” she says, “is that I lead the next day inside a narrow bandwidth; no tumult, no subtleties. The negative effects have been on everything from self-care to professional efficiency.”

Counting Sheep, And Other Solutions

Last year, Americans spent more than 4.5 billion dollars on sleeping pills, lured by the promise of a full night’s sleep. But a 2007 report in The New York Times revealed that sleeping pills produced an average of only 11.4 minutes of extra sleep compared to patients taking a placebo.

Dr. Henry Olders, an Associate Professor in McGill‘s Faculty of Medicine, puts greater emphasis on lifestyle changes. “Medication is considerably less effective than behavioural changes. These kinds of changes are part of maintaining what is known as good sleep hygiene which may be as easy as slight bedroom modifications.”

You Are Feeling Very, Very Sleepy

“The obvious,” says Dr. Olders, “is providing for a bedroom which is not too hot or too cold, and which is quiet and dark. And take the TV out of the bedroom!

Managing light is also very important: in order to maintain stability in circadian rhythm, the time of onset of bright light in the morning should be at about the same time from one day to the next. The best way to accomplish this is to have natural daylight in your bedroom so that you are exposed to the gradual increase in light provided by dawn.”

With increasing demands on our time and the general buzz of city life, it’s little surprise that a good night’s sleep is becoming an ever more scarce commodity. But a good night’s sleep is vital to our survival. It is when our body reboots and recharges. Its role is critical in times of sickness or injury. Sleep also has a significant impact on our mental health, which means dimming the lights and doing it should be priority one.


* Fictitious names.

Fall 2010, Vol 2 N°4

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