Toronto

Portrait of a sleepy city: The numbers behind Toronto's sleep problems

The latest studies both in Ontario and across Canada suggest many people aren't getting enough sleep. Nationwide, insomnia levels are surging.

Insomnia levels across Canada rose by 42% from 2007 to 2015

The latest studies both in Ontario and across Canada suggest many people aren't getting enough sleep. That can have harmful effects on their health, experts say. (Shutterstock/OKcamera)

There are too many summer nights that Ryan Power wakes up in a blind rage.

He lives in a condo building at Jarvis and Adelaide — and for the last several years, he's been forced to endure a late-night serenade of revving car and motorcycle engines.

"The section of Richmond Street heading east of Jarvis seems like a raceway for people who have loud cars," he told CBC Toronto.

"It's the number one reason I'm woken up from my sleep at night."

Courtney Dionne lives not far away at Brant Street and Adelaide Street West, and she's regularly jolted from her bed for similar reasons.

"All we're hearing all night is loud Lamborghinis, Audis, just racing," she said. That's on top of blaring horns stemming from ride hailing services and food couriers blocking nearby streets.

"So it's just constant honking," she said. "I'm exhausted. I'm miserable most mornings."

These two are hardly alone. The latest studies both in Ontario and across Canada suggest many people aren't getting enough sleep. Nationwide, insomnia levels are surging.

"A lot of people struggle with sleep disorders — some of which are not diagnosed properly," said Dr. Reut Gruber, media and advocacy officer with the Canadian Sleep Society. That can have serious effects on a person's mental state and long-term health.

"There is a real connection between sleep, mood and mental health," she said.

Reports of insomnia surge

According to the latest study from Health Canada, there was a 42 per cent increase in Canadians aged 18 or older who reported nighttime insomnia symptoms from 2007 to 2015, rising to 23.8 per cent from 16.8 per cent.

That number might be even higher in Ontario.  About a third of respondents who have participated in the ongoing Ontario Sleep Study being conducted by Sunnybrook Research Institute reported having difficulty getting to sleep more than a couple of times a week.

According to an ongoing study from Sunnybrook Research Institute, almost 70 per cent of respondents reported feeling sleepy more than a couple of times a week. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Almost 70 per cent of that study's 3,200 respondents also reported feeling sleepy more than a couple of times a week — something Sunnybrook neurologist and University of Toronto associate professor Dr. Andrew Lim calls "a surprising number.

"It's a number that suggests maybe people's sleep isn't as good as they would like," he told CBC News.

Lim is quick to caution that those figures are preliminary, and representative only of volunteers who responded to ads about the study. But the responses still paint an intriguing picture of the province's sleep issues.

"What's interesting is we actually didn't find a huge difference between the GTA and non-GTA in this group," he said.

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Across the province, people reported getting just under seven hours of sleep a night on average. But about a fifth of people reported getting less than six hours of sleep, and six per cent reported getting less than five hours of sleep a night.

About 30 to 40 per cent of respondents across the province were also found to have some form of sleep apnea — a dangerous disorder in which a person's breathing stops and starts during sleep.

"That's a surprisingly high number," Lim said.

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Noise complaints rise in 2019                                                         

Power says it should be obvious to anyone buying or renting in an urban centre like downtown Toronto that they will have to deal with some unwanted noise, and that could end up affecting their sleep.

"When you purchase or rent property downtown, you need to understand that it's a huge, dense city," he said. But, he added, he still feels Toronto has an excessive noise problem.

According to the city, there were 20,254 noise complaints in Toronto from January to September of last year, compared to 19,914 in 2018.

Courtney Dionne lives near Toronto's entertainment district. She says the sheer volume of noise around her condo can sometimes be frustrating. (Submitted by Courtney Dionne)

Mayor John Tory and Toronto police announced a crackdown on excessive vehicle noise last July — but by September, the downtown blitz aimed at muffling the worst offenders resulted in only 95 tickets, and almost all for speeding.

The city says there were also 241 complaints made about excessive light last year, up from 159 in 2018.

Gruber told CBC News that managing noise and light levels are "essential" both for city-dwellers and people in rural areas alike to ensure a decent night's sleep.

Sleep deficiencies, she said, will have a pretty immediate effect on memory and cognitive capacity. But a lack of sleep can also lead to obesity and issues with cardiovascular health, she said.

"There are consequences that we might not be able to be fully aware of in the moment, but it will accumulate, and it will certainly take a toll."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Amanda Grant

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