Chris Carruthers, PhD, Sleep expert, interviewed in Calgary Herald on the importance of a good night’s rest
This article originally appeared in the Calgary Herald March 11, 2016. Link to it here. By Peter Glenn
Spring ahead and wake up to better sleep after time change
Spring ahead. It’s all good, right? It is, after all, a sure sign that winter is on its last legs. After setting the clocks forward one hour at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, we get to enjoy extra evening sunlight until Nov. 6.
But that shift to Daylight time can also wreak havoc with our sleep patterns, and a lack of sleep, according to Calgary doctor Chris Carruthers, is one thing we all need to wake up to.
Carruthers spoke to the Herald during Sleep Awareness Week and ahead of the looming time change.
Q: Tell us how you came to focus on sleep.
A: I was one of those crazy busy people who was having so much fun in life that I didn’t make time for sleep. I just didn’t think it was important. I was competing in athletics and enjoying my career as a cardiac exercise physiologist and wellness consultant when, at age 38 in the prime of my life, I became so ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and extreme pain of Fibromyalgia, that I lost seven and a half years of work.
I recovered very slowly when I started to consciously adopt methods to improve my sleep. I learned mediation and relaxation techniques, began to focus on health promotion instead of illness, and taught myself to sleep well.
Now I have returned to excellent health and am using my skills as an educator to help people with cancer and chronic illness better understand and appreciate sleep. Our society needs to value it and prioritize it.
Q: Why is sleep so important?
A: Improving your sleep can make a big difference in your day, and help you thrive and age well. You will notice a better mood and emotional balance. If you are impatient or irritable, you need more sleep.
Sleep is important to maintain a healthy weight. When you are tired, you are less likely to exercise and make smart food choices. Sleep deprivation shifts your brain chemistry so that leptin levels drop and you seem to crave high-fat and high-calorie foods.
Sleep is needed for clear thinking, learning, and memory consolidation. Sleep helps immunity. In one study of 150 people exposed to a cold virus, people who got seven hours of sleep a night or less were almost three times as likely to get sick as the people who got at least eight hours of sleep a night.
And, the National Sleep Foundation says that up to 26 per cent of people say that their sex lives suffer because they’re just too tired. In men, impaired sleep can be associated with lower testosterone levels.
Q: Why don’t we get enough sleep? What about children?
A: Most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep but this is variable, and changes with the life cycle.
Whether you are a night owl or early bird is influenced by genetics, and is very difficult to shift. Our 24/7 society makes it extremely difficult for children, teens, shift workers, transportation and industry workers to get the timing and quality of sleep that they need.
Older people sleep less but this is not normal aging, but is due to pain, illness, medications, and other causes.
Children on average do not get enough sleep, and parents don’t necessarily identify health and behaviour problems in children as sleep-related. Teach your children how to enjoy sleep time, love their bedroom, and be content if they wake up. That gets them back to sleep quickly.
Q: How does changing to Daylight time affect sleep?
A: When we spring forward, there is less light in the morning when you need to wake up, and more light at night when you want to be falling asleep. Your sleep cycle is delicate and is dependent on these circadian light/dark rhythms. It seems like a small thing, but moving your entire day forward by an hour can really throw off all your daily rhythms; exercise, eating, sexual activity, and rest.
For the average person, the night of the time change is confusing and disrupts the typical weekend routine, which is often different and disruptive from the normal weekday routine. Typically he or she will sleep 40 minutes less the night following the springtime change. Then, there is Monday morning to face. The week after the time change brings increased sleep debt, lost productivity, and a rise in traffic accidents. Most people will adjust well by Wednesday, but some sensitive people will be suffering for up to a full week. (See sidebar for tips on dealing with sleep this weekend.)
Q: Tell us about the connection between lack of sleep and chronic illness.
A: Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. This connection is now irrefutable and evidence continues to build that improving sleep will offset the development and progression of chronic illness.
And healthy sleep is vital to mental health. Unfortunately, insomnia is a common result of substance abuse, mood, depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders, and it can contribute to them. Cognitive behavioural therapy specifically designed for insomnia is very helpful for these illnesses.
There is a strong link between sleep apnea high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, heart attack, and vascular disease. When patients with sleep apnea are treated, their blood pressure and risk of heart disease drops significantly. If you snore, have excessive daytime fatigue, or have pauses in breathing and shallow breathing during sleep, please speak to your doctor about it.
Sleep disturbances of shift work increase the rate of many cancers, including breast and prostate, since the body’s internal clock affects so many biological functions. The suppression of melatonin at night (which comes from exposure to bright light) disrupts a wide range of metabolic function.
Q: What can people do to get more sleep?
A: Sleep is a partially learned behaviour. To improve the quality, quantity, or timing of your sleep, simplify the problem and focus on making a change in only one or two areas. There are four fundamentals to think about. You can improve your sleep environment, you can improve your thinking about sleep, you can make some lifestyle changes, and you can learn skills to fall back asleep when you awaken.
A few ideas would be to make sure your bedroom is completely dark, know that it is normal and common to awake during the night, avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the evening, and learn relaxation skills to fall back asleep quickly no matter what awakens you.
Chris Carruthers PhD, is a sleep health educator and professional speaker in Calgary Alberta, who is on a mission to help people value and improve their sleep.
For information and resources, go to www.chriscarruthers.com/swt-resources.
Focus on sleep this week
Here are some tips from Calgary sleep expert Chris Carruthers on how to manage your sleep as we spring ahead into Daylight time on Sunday at 2 a.m.
Prioritize your sleep this week. Make sure you are caught up on any sleep debt and obtain the recommended seven to nine hours.
- Use light and dark to your advantage to re-synchronize your body clock. Head outside early in the morning to expose yourself to bright sunlight. At night, make sure you dim your lights to signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep, and avoid your computer screens.
- Engage in exercise during the day, ideally outdoors in the bright light, instead of a nighttime workout.
- Consider incrementally waking up earlier this week so that you are prepared for the change. Advancing your wake-up time by 10 minutes per day will help to gently advance your sleep-wake cycle. This might be a really great idea for your children if they already struggle to get out of bed for school.
- Prepare for bedtime by ending meals early, darken your surroundings, and wind down with a relaxing bedtime ritual (no electronics!)