Sleep

Sleep is vital for optimal functioning of the body and helps to maintain overall mental health, physical health and wellness. Sleep is regulated by a circadian rhythm which is the body’s internal clock. This clock helps us adapt to the 24 hour cycles of light and darkness and helps us recognize when we are tired and need to rest versus when we need to wake up and be alert.

Why is Sleep Important?

Sleep is an important part of our daily activities. We need good quality sleep to:

  • Restore and rejuvenate our body
  • Grow muscle and repair tissue
  • Improve our memory
  • Improve our learning
  • Make hormones which we need to perform various body functions

There is a general belief that you can catch up on missed sleep. However, it has been shown that not enough sleep on a single night can have immediate effects which makes you more prone to injury. These effects include:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Decreased motor and visual sharpness
  • Longer response times
  • Impaired attention and memory

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How Much Sleep do we Need?

Consistent bedtimes and wake up times are important. For infants, toddlers and preschoolers, the recommended hours include all naps.

Sleep Quality

Quality sleep is different for everyone but you are generally getting some good quality sleep if you are able to:

  • Sleep more while in bed
  • Fall asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Wake up not more than once per night
  • Stay awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep

Sleep quality can also refer to how well rested and rejuvenated you feel after waking from sleep.

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Tips for Sleep

Many factors can impact an individual’s sleep. However, the following general recommendations may be useful in achieving better quality sleep.

  • Have a regular sleep schedule to maintain the natural sleep wake cycle of your body’s internal clock.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine an hour before bedtime to have a good night’s sleep; example, take a warm bath, read a book or listen to soft music.
  • Avoid screens at least one hour before bedtime because the blue light from screens can be seen by the brain as natural light and delay when you fall asleep.
  • Make the bedroom quiet, cozy and comfortable for sleeping.
  • Get natural light first thing in the morning to reset your body’s internal clock and set the tone for the rest of the day.
  • Limit napping during the day, especially if you have trouble falling asleep at night. If you are tired and must nap, do not nap for longer than 20 minutes.
  • Keep an active lifestyle. Create plans for physical activity in your daily routine. The more tired you are at the end of the day, the easier you will fall asleep. Be careful to avoid exercise just before bedtime as this makes it difficult for some people to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime as they are stimulants and can prevent you from falling asleep at night.
  • Keep a Sleep Diary and make a record of your activities during the day to monitor which ones might be helping or disrupting your sleep at night.

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Driving while Drowsy

Motor vehicle collision statistics show that at least one in five collisions on highways and one in four collisions on country roads are often the result of lack of concentration and attention due to driver fatigue.

How does drowsy driving affect you?

  • Driving 18 hours without sleep makes your performance as bad as driving with a blood alcohol level just below the legal limit.
  • Driving 24 hours without sleep is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol level that is considered legally drunk.

Population at Risk of Drowsy Driving

More than half of the drowsy driving collisions involve people who are:

  • 25 years or younger
  • Shift workers
  • Showing symptoms of Sleep Disorders

What are signs to look for with Drowsy driving?

  • Feeling sleepy
  •  Eyes closing or going out of focus
  •  Very heavy eyelids
  •  Slow blinking
  •  Continuous yawning
  •  Head bobbing
  •  Poor attention
  •  Drifting between lanes, off the road or missing signs and turns

What strategies can help prevent drowsy driving?

  • Get a good night’s sleep before a long distance trip
  • Avoid driving while taking certain medications which cause drowsiness as a side effect
  • If you feel sleepy while driving, pull off the side of the road in a safe place and take a nap. A 15 minute nap will recharge you for the rest of the drive
  • A buddy system is a great idea and works well – share the driving with a friend and take turns napping
  • Have a break every two hours, get out of the car and walk around for a few minutes

Note: Do not depend on coffee, playing loud music, chewing gum or opening windows to keep you awake. The best cure for drowsiness while driving is sleep. If the warning signs are there, you should stop driving, pull over in a safe place and take a nap.

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Sleep and Shift Work

We are scheduled by our circadian rhythm to stay awake during the day and to sleep at night. Shift work can affect your sleep. On average, shift workers sleep one hour less than their counterparts who have regular daytime jobs. Over a long period of time, the impact of not getting enough good quality sleep can contribute to the development of chronic health problems.

Tips for Sleep

As a shift worker, you can take steps to improve your sleep

At work:

  • Take a short nap during a work break.
  • Use moderate amounts of caffeine only at the beginning of the shift as doing so later on might prevent you from sleeping when your shift is over.
  • Get some exercise and eat light healthy snacks during your shift. Do this regularly to help you sleep better when you get home.
  • Use bright light at work to increase your alertness during your shift.
  • Schedule days off in between your shifts where possible.

On your way home

  • Reduce drowsy driving by using public transit, cabs or ridesharing services.
  • Avoid bright light. Use dark wrap around glasses to avoid overstimulating your internal clock on your way home. Hats provide some shade from the sun and work too!

At home

  • Prioritize your sleep, try to get some sleep before your shift. Keep chores and errands to a minimum and get as much sleep as possible after your shift.
  • Control your environment, make sure your bedroom is cool and dark for sleeping. Avoid screens in the bedroom. Switch off your devices, use black out curtains, earplugs and white noise machines to create a sleep friendly environment.
  • Bedtime routines should remain the same regardless of what time you go to bed.

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