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Fitness and family health

November 02, 2018

What to do if you’re not getting enough sleep

The end of Daylight Saving Time means an extra hour of shut-eye. But is that enough to make up for lost sleep? And how can you get more sleep?

It’s time to fall back. With Daylight Saving Time (DST) coming to an end on November 4, most Canadians – except in DST-free regions like Saskatchewan – will turn their clocks back an hour. This means that as the days get shorter, we return to Standard Time and get back the hour of sleep we lost in the spring when we turned our clocks forward for DST.

What does that one hour of extra sleep mean for our general health?

“What’s important for people to understand about the time change is that it’s literally one hour and one hour makes no difference to an individual’s health from a population perspective,” says Dr. Charles Samuels, Medical Director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary.

While the hour you get back might help you catch up on your sleep, Samuels finds there’s still a lingering, more prominent issue: Too many Canadians of all ages are falling into a sleep deficit – regularly not getting enough sleep.

Having a sleep deficit isn’t uncommon in our society, as last year’s sleep study from Statistics Canada showed. The report evaluated 10,000 Canadians between the ages of 18 to 79 over a six-year period and found that one in three people aren’t getting enough sleep and more than 50% of women have trouble falling asleep. What’s more, researchers noted that people who had less than seven hours of sleep per night were at a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and depression.

Even though we recognize sleep debt as a serious health concern, the question remains: Why aren’t we getting enough sleep?

Why you’re not getting enough sleep

Samuels claims that, in many cases, poor sleep habits can be traced back to screen addiction. “The bottom line is we don’t put our devices away,” he says. “We’re connected and plugged in right up to bedtime.”  

And it’s not just your device’s blue light that’s keeping you up. “Yes, there’s plenty of research that looks at blue light and its effects on circadian rhythms [our natural wake and sleep cycles],” Samuels says. “But we now have screen blockers on our devices, so we can’t always place all the attention there.”  

Instead, Samuels believes we must also look at our own bedtime behaviour. “Many adults and children stay up at all hours of the night, scrolling, browsing or streaming without noticing how much time has passed,” he says. “The longer they’re on their phones, the less time they have to actually sleep.”

A recent study by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute examined data from 4,500 children across the U.S. and found that only one in 20 kids met the required guidelines for screen time, exercise and sleep. Kids between eight and 11 spent nearly four hours a day looking at a screen. That’s almost double the recommended limit of two hours daily, per the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. The overall conclusion was this: Too little sleep and a surplus of screen time were linked to a drop in cognitive skills like language ability, memory and task completion.

When it comes to taking in excess screen time, adults aren’t so different from kids. Previous studies measuring device usage among adults (ages 18 and up) have also linked longer-than-average screen time with poor sleep quality and decreased sleep efficiency. 

4 tips for better sleep

How can you improve your sleep routine and prioritize sleep time over screen time? Samuels offers these expert tips:

  1. Make time for sleep as you would any other activity. Sleep is just as important to health as nutrition and exercise, says Samuels. So why not put it in your to-do list just as you would a fitness routine or a trip to the grocery store? Set up a regular time to go to bed and stick to it.
  2. Cut back on screen time one hour before bed. Be sure to disconnect from your devices or screens when it’s close to bedtime. This way, you’re less likely to continue a scrolling or streaming session for hours on end. Replace the urge to reach for your phone with more relaxing activities like meditation or taking a bath. If you have kids, set an example for them and make sure they’re not plugged in late at night as well.
  3. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol. A cup of Joe or a glass of red wine might have positive health effects in small doses, but when consumed in larger amounts, they can disrupt your sleep routine. “Limit caffeine to one or two cups of coffee a day in the morning and reduce alcohol consumption at night,” advises Samuels.
  4. Know how much sleep you really need and catch up. To maintain good health, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, which adds up to 50 to 60 hours per week. Children require even more snooze time. The Public Health Agency of Canada encourages kids (ages five to 13) to get nine to 11 hours of sleep and teens (ages 14 to 17) to clock in eight to 10 hours of shut-eye. “If you know that you and your family aren’t getting enough sleep, make time for it and catch up,” says Samuels. The hour you get back after DST ends might even help a little.

What do you do if you can't fall asleep?

What happens if you’re putting in the time and effort but can’t seem to doze off? “If you’re having restless or disruptive sleep, then you may have a sleep disorder,” says Samuels. “In which case, you should see a doctor or a health-care provider for help.”

While there are many types of sleep disorders, Samuels says the most common ones are insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea. “These kind of sleep disturbances can be detrimental to one’s health and require medical attention.”

There are also plenty of resources available. “The Canadian Sleep Society offers a lot of information on sleep physicians, clinics and helpful books and publications for people with insomnia and other sleep disorders,” Samuels adds. 

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