Part 1: 40% of Canadians suffer from sleep disorders, survey says

Didn’t sleep well last night? You’re not alone, and the symptoms could be far more than just feeling tired and grumpy.

A 2011 study from Laval University says 40 per cent of Canadians have some form of sleep disorder.

The most common of the 96 diagnosable sleep disorders is insomnia. It causes people to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, leading them to feel tired all through the day.

But the problems don’t end there, as insomnia can also lead to heart problems.

“That’s one of the risks associated with insomnia, cardiovascular problems,” says Dr. Willy Galarraga, a sleep medicine specialist at KW Sleep Lab.

Another common sleep disorder, restless leg syndrome, causes sudden movements of the arms and legs which can interrupt a person’s sleep.

Also common are narcolepsy, a brain dysfunction that causes people to fall asleep during the day, and sleep apnea, in which a blockage in the airways causes a person to stop breathing while asleep.

Of the 96 sleep disorders, only six involve respiratory disruption. The other 90 are based on factors that have nothing to do with breathing irregularities.

While some sleep irregularities do come from underlying physical issues, mental issues can play a role as well.

Dr. Michelle Drerup is an American sleep medicine specialist. She says mental history plays a key role in determining whether someone might suffer from a sleep disorder.

“Patients who have a tendency to be anxious or are diagnosed with anxiety disorders are much more likely to have sleep disturbances,” she says.

Experts say most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but many adults have trouble achieving that amount.

To help reach the goal, specialists recommend winding down as the night goes on, having a period of “quiet time” before bed without TV, smartphones or other forms of excess stimulation.


Part 2: Experts say sleep disorders should not be self-medicated

Although 40 per cent of Canadians don’t get enough sleep, far fewer ever discuss the issue with their doctor or any other medical professional.

A study from Laval University says only 13 per cent of Canadians with sleep disorders ever bring the issue up to a doctor.

Instead, many attempt to treat the disorder themselves, often using natural products, over-the-counter medication or alcohol.

It’s a risky proposition, says Dr. Raymond Gottschalk, the director of a sleep disorder clinic at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.

Gottschalk says a better idea for patients suffering from sleep disorders is to consult an expert who might be able to suggest underlying causes such as chronic pain, the effects of medication or degenerative diseases.

“Just look at behaviours and patterns of behaviour,” he says.

“Are you going to bed at a suitable time? Is the bed comfortable enough?”

While sleepwalking and sleep talking are common sleep disorders, Nancy Jordan has a more unique condition. She says she often finds herself eating in her sleep.

“I can go through a loaf of bread at night,” she says.

While medical, physical and mental issues can cause sleep disorders, lifestyle also plays a role. Gottschalk says he’s had several clients who had trouble sleeping due to who – or more accurately, what – else was in their bed.

“I’m always astonished at how many people share a bed with a pet,” he says.

“It certainly will result in significant sleep disruption, because the animals move. They get up and walk around.”

Among the most common animals found in beds are dogs and cats, but Gottschalk says he’s treated one person who shared a bed with a pot-bellied pig.

Experts say if consulting a doctor about sleep disorders, a detailed diary of sleep times and problems should be brought to the appointment.


Part 3: Winding down before bed key to getting a good night's sleep


Any number of factors can lead to sleep disorders, but experts say poor bedtime preparation is one of the most common.

Kathy Somers is a kinesiologist at the University of Guelph. She says having a “wind down” period before bed is key to getting a good night’s sleep.

“For half an hour before bed, I would do something to unwind my brain,” she says.

That means no TV, no computers and no smartphones – no distractions to keep the brain’s synapses firing when they should be gearing down for seven to nine hours of sleep.

Caffeine can be a problem too, and not just right before bed. Experts recommend sleepers abstain from coffee and tea for six hours before turning in, and from alcohol for at least three hours.

What you do once you’re in bed also affects your quality of sleep.

“The first thing is to get a comfortable position, so make sure you’ve got a comfortable mattress, that you’re not too hot, that you’re not too cold,” says Somers, who has been teaching sleep techniques for 15 years.

“Then say to yourself ‘It’s so nice to just take a break and to rest.’”

Weight also makes a difference. Recent studies show that as many as two-thirds of people who are overweight are susceptible to sleep apnea, a condition in which a block in the airways causes sufferers to stop breathing while asleep.

“The health care costs of obesity in North America are now consuming up to 10 per cent of the health budget, and it’s going to be getting worse as we get older,” says Dr. Raymond Gottschalk, the director of a sleep disorder clinic at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.

“Addressing that sooner rather than later is probably one of the most important things we need to discuss now.”

Experts say if lack of sleep has reached the point where functioning normally during the day becomes a problem, visiting a doctor is a far better idea than self-medicating.

A 2011 study from Laval University found that 40 per cent of Canadians have some form of sleep disorder.