The lack of proper sleep is a common and often overlooked health issue.
It’s Monday morning and you’re already thinking about how far Friday is. Yawns lace your workday, and your eyes are borderline closing as you tread on the verge of a nap during that team meeting. It is at this point that you begin to curse yourself for those “one-more” several TV show episodes you watched last night. “I swear I’ll go to bed early tonight,” you solemnly swear to yourself.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. The lack of proper sleep is a common and often overlooked health issue.
As per the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadians aren’t necessarily getting the best sleep:
• 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
The statistics are concerning, especially as a healthy amount of sleep ranges between seven to nine hours, with five to six hours of REM sleep needed. Short for Rapid Eye Movement, REM sleep is highly important for learning and memory; this is also when you do most of your dreaming. It is of no surprise then that inability to sleep well can have significant short-term and long-term effects.
Moreover, the lack of proper sleep is known to be linked to a variety of mental health symptoms. Depression, anxiety, stress, and the ability to manage stress are all directly correlated to good sleep.
Sleeping issues – be it less sleep, too much seep, or inconsistent sleep – are part of many mental health disorders. At the very least, sleep is essential for proper motor functioning. As such, you’re putting others at risk when you are sleep deprived behind the wheel, or worse, if you operate machineries like cranes for work.
Omar Hussein, MA, RCC from Warmth Wellness Counseling describe the pitfalls that produce a poor sleeping regime, “Being tied to your phone is a big one. Cellphone usage is a growing problem. The biggest one I’ve noticed is people who can’t separate work life from home life. They’re just always expecting the boss to call or send an email. They’ll keep waking up and checking.”
Ironically, it is precisely these habits that can turn into serious sleep disorders, which lead to missed work deadlines. The simple solution and prevention plan consists of crafting and sticking to a schedule. Especially as the pandemic blurs the physical separation of work and personal time, there is a pressing need to know when to leave, stop working, and not touch the phone.
Of course, the business of our lives makes this hard to do. Dr. Judy Zhu, the owner of Turning Point Bodymind Wellness, is a registered doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a registered clinical counsellor. She discusses that people often get a sense of wasting time if they are not constantly doing something. The message to do more and be more is everywhere.
“When you drive a car, you want to step on the gas and drive. But at the same time, if we don’t maintain the coolant and stop to refuel the gas, the gas will run out and the engine will burn out. When people are stuck in a fast gear for a long time, it becomes a habit. They feel that they can handle it until something unexpected happens, like the pandemic or a lost job. Then, people become overwhelmed and sleep problems happen,” says Dr. Zhu. She explains that the mind wants to be busy all the time, jumping between the past and future; we don’t default to staying in the present. This is also why nighttime is when our to-do list comes to mind and overwhelms us.
That said, help is available if conditions such as insomnia develop. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder and those affected find it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or end up waking too early with an inability to fall back asleep. Even when you wake up, you might still feel tired, causing you to become irritable and easily lash out at others. Beyond physical symptoms, you may notice anxiety and an increase in overthinking. While mood and energy levels are impacted, insomnia can interfere with living a happy, fulfilling life. Hussein urges that the warning signs should not be ignored. “Using cognitive behavioural therapy, we talk about what it is that is really bothering you. We come up with a plan of what the client can do and how they can do it.”
Dr. Zhu, on the other hand, uses mindfulness-based therapy and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) for sleep and stress. She emphasizes that trying hard to “fix the problem” of insomnia can itself become a problem. She details an interesting point, “When we can’t sleep, we often feel a sense of urgency to do something. We worry about not being able to sleep and how awful we may feel tomorrow. We do deep breathing, we count, and we constantly check the time; we want ourselves to fall asleep fast. It becomes a struggle. Sleeping is paradoxical in that it is quite the opposite of what we do during the daytime. The harder you try, the tense you get, and the more the relaxation evades you. Sleep is about rest. It is not a task!” From her experience, sleep problems are also related with things that bother your heart. If there are things that bother you during waking hours and you don’t want to deal with, they show up at nighttime.
In fact, Hussein reveals that, in the South Asian demographic, the younger generation is more exposed to mental health and inter-generational trauma. This may relate to aging parents, financial stress, or questioning one’s happiness – the list goes on. Professionals provide a confidential experience and a safe place without any judgement. Places to get started are online resources, phone helplines, or a quick visit to your family doctor for recommendations on a professional.
Just as important as seeking help for sleep-related issues is preventing them from happening in the first place.
Dr. Zhu provides some easy tips for maintaining good sleep hygiene.
• Have a structure and go to bed and wake up at same time every day. Don’t sleep the whole day on weekends and sleep very little during weekdays.
• Give yourself an hour before sleep to wind down. Avoid intense exercise and exposure to bright light from screens. Keep devices like laptops, cell phones, and iPads out of the bedroom.
• Avoid caffeine intake in the afternoon.
• Maintain a cool and quiet atmosphere in the bedroom.
• Manage daytime stresses because it will extend to nighttime. Check in with yourself during working hours and take breaks away from devices and work by doing physical exercises, talking to friends, doing art, etc.
• At bedtime, breathe and enjoy the downtime. Feel your body on the pillow and sheets. Feel your body being supported by the bed. You don’t have to do anything – how wonderful! With these tips in mind, as you comfortably get settled in bed, notice, understand, and appreciate your body’s sleeping rhythm more than you previously may have. Know that help is not far if you’re need of some sleep hacks to improve the quality of your life. With gratitude at the forefront for a body and mind that do so much for our busy-bee selves, it is our responsibility to provide them with a well-deserved good
Images: Headshots are submitted, istockphtoto