The Dangers Of Restless Nights

Tania MacWilliam
Health & Wellness

Oct. 6, 2011

*Link to original article here

If you aren’t getting the recommended eight hours of slumber each night, you are among the millions of Canadians facing sleep deprivation.

An estimated 3.3 million Canadians reported not getting enough shut-eye, with nearly 600,000 averaging less than five hours a night, according to the most recent Canadian community health survey, conducted by Statistics Canada.

“If you don’t get enough sleep, one of the obvious things is unintentionally falling asleep during the day or nodding off or falling asleep while driving,” said Dr. Bob Nosal, Halton Region’s medical officer of health.

With mid-terms less than two weeks away, many college students will be pulling all-nighters and the result could be difficulty concentrating, he said. So cramming before a test may be counterproductive.

If not being well rested has you nodding off in class, you aren’t benefiting from the lecture, he said. This will leave you unprepared for your tests and can be detrimental to your success.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a study in September that associated lack of sleep with increased alcohol and drug use, as well as heightened sexual activity and suicidal thoughts in American teens.

Those concerns don’t stop in adulthood and certainly not at the border. In fact, the Statistics Canada health survey showed similar associations.

“The studies from the CDC and the association of all those different points, they’re interesting,” said Nosal. It doesn’t necessarily mean lack of sleep causes these behaviours, he said.

Effects of sleep loss
There have also been links between lack of sleep and the prevalence of high blood pressure and diabetes, Nosal said in a telephone interview. But he cautions these are just associations, and one does not necessarily cause the other.

Still, insufficient sleep can carry other deadly consequences. Safe driving requires attention to detail, something Nosal says is compromised without adequate nighttime rest.

Missing your ZZZs can put a damper on your education in another way – it can make you sick.

“You’re more susceptible to infections, especially things like viruses and bacteria, flus and colds,” said Tracy O’Donnell, charge nurse at Sheridan’s Davis Campus. “Not only are you too tired to come to school but now you’re too sick to come to school. So you can miss out on a lot of your classes.”

If you’ve passed your test and head out for a celebratory drink, you risk losing sleep another way. Alcohol can interfere with your nighttime siesta.

“You might pass out or go to bed but you’re not actually going into REM sleep, or deep sleep, when you’re under the influence of alcohol or other drugs,” she said. “So you’re not getting a proper rest.”

Most times, the night doesn’t end after last call. Heading out to a late-night munch-fest after the party’s over can hamper your sleep, she said, especially partaking in greasy food, which can give you indigestion.

You wake up the next morning and realize you have a three-hour lecture to sit through. There’s something you should know before you pop the tab on your favourite energy drink. Sensitivity to ingredients like caffeine can keep you up all night.

“A lot of times these days students are trying to take energy boosting drinks so they can function throughout the day and study late into the night,” she said. “It’s just going to mess with their sleep.”

It’s not only the drinks marketed as energy boosters that keep the sandman away.

“Caffeine, just regular caffeine,” she said. “Coke and Pepsi and tea and coffee. Some people if they have a drink of coffee after three o’clock [in the afternoon], it’s going to keep them awake all night.”

What you can do
If getting a good night’s rest has become a concern, it might be wise to seek professional help, said Quynn Morehouse, a counsellor at Sheridan’s Davis Campus.

“Professionals are there to assess and figure out what’s the best way to proceed,” she said. “Depending on the severity and how long it’s been going on, a course of counselling or therapy can be very beneficial.”

There are some simple ways to get to the land of Wynken, Blynken and Nod. For example, create a routine, said O’Donnell. She recommends going to bed at the same time each night, and waking up at the same time each morning.

She also favours progressive relaxation techniques, which can help you relax before bed. Nurses at Sheridan’s health services can help you learn how.

White noise might also help you fall asleep and stay asleep, by drowning out street noise or a snoring bedmate.

If you’ve tried it all and still feel like a zombie, you might need medical intervention, especially if you’re considering trying to self-medicate, suggests O’Donnell.

“We really try to steer them away from self-medicating, even with over-the-counter sleeping pills,” she said. “It’s better to have an actual doctor maybe take a look at you and find out if there’s an underlying reason that you can’t sleep.”

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