Sleep: essential to health, but is it a priority?

Lisa Fisher, Health Promotion Specialist

Sleep is an important part of our overall health and well-being, yet how many of us can say we get enough hours of quality sleep every night? Maybe you’re too busy, or too distracted, or you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Or maybe you don’t even know how many hours you should be sleeping.

Adults aged 18 to 64 years should sleep seven to nine hours per night. Despite this, only 65 per cent of adults in Canada sleep the recommended amount, with 32 per cent sleeping less and three per cent sleeping more. To make matters a bit more complex, 43 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women report they have difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep sometimes, most of the time, or all of the time. In the Canadian Armed Forces, a 2017 study showed that 41 per cent of participants reported insomnia.

Why should we be worried about our sleep? If you’re not sleeping enough, you are increasing your risk of negative health effects. Insufficient sleep is associated with anxiety and depression, irritability, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, risky behaviours and injuries, weaker immune system, lower quality of life and well-being, engagement in unhealthy behaviours (e.g. inactivity, screen time, alcohol consumption), and increased risk of mortality. Insomnia specifically increases the risk of suicidal ideation.

Stress and sleep also appear to be related. Adults who sleep less than eight hours per night are more likely to report stress-related symptoms, such as feeling irritable, angry or overwhelmed; lacking interest, motivation or energy; losing patience; or skipping exercise. Adults who experience high stress are more likely to say their minds race at night, keeping them from sleep. They are also more likely than low-stress adults to feel the effects of insufficient sleep.

We can improve our sleep quality and increase our overall sleep time. Here are some tips and tricks:

• Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Later bedtimes and wake-up times have been associated with poorer diet, inactivity, obesity, and greater screen time, even when participants sleep for the recommend amount of time.

• Avoid caffeine consumption starting in the late afternoon.

• Make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. It should be dark, quiet, comfortable, cool and without pets.

• Don’t bring your screens into the bedroom. The light from televisions, computers, cell phones or video games decreases sleep quality and suppresses melatonin secretion, delaying sleep onset.

• Exercise regularly during the day.

• Practice a relaxing routine before bedtime that will get your body and mind ready for sleep. This can include having a bath, reading a book, or listening to calming music.

For more information on sleep or overall health and well-being, contact the Health Promotion office at (780) 840-8000 extension 6958.

References

Chaput, JP, Wong, S. L., & Michaud, I. (2017). Duration and quality of sleep among Canadians aged 18 to 79. Health Reports, 28(9), 28-33.
Fonken, L. K., Aubrecht, T. G., Meléndez-Fernández, O. H., Weil, Z. M., & Nleson, R. J. (2014). Dim light at night disrupts molecular circadian rhythms and affects metabolism. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 28(4), 262-271.
National Sleep Foundation. (February 2, 2015). National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times
National Sleep Foundation (n.d.). How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.
Olds, T. S., Maher, C. A., & Matricciani, L. (2011). Sleep duration of bedtime? Exploring the relationship between sleep habits and weight status and activity patterns. Sleep, 34(10), 1299-1307.
Richardson, J. D., Thompson, A., King, L., Corbett, B., Shnaider, P., St. Cyr, K. …Zamorski, M. (2017). Insomnia, psychiatric disorder and suicidal ideation in a national representative sample of active Canadian Forces members. BMC Psychiatry, 17(211). 1-10.