Technology & Science

Canadians often tired: poll

Canadians aren't getting enough sleep, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News that suggests a level of sleep deprivation that could lead to side-effects more serious than grouchiness.
Luke Doucet, who has insomnia, and his wife, Melissa McClelland, perform during a Winter Olympics countdown celebration in 2009. Doucet has found he sleeps better since taking up marathon running. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

Canadians aren't getting enough sleep, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News that suggests a level of sleep deprivation that could lead to side-effects more serious than grouchiness.

The exclusive poll conducted for CBC News by Leger Marketing found that six out of 10 Canadians get about one hour less than the six to eight hours of sleep experts say most adults need in order to waken feeling refreshed and to perform optimally through the day.

Nearly 58 per cent of Canadians said they often feel tired — a sign of the country's sleep deficit.

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Hamilton musician Luke Doucet says he has been haunted by sleepless nights, often lying awake in bed for three or four frustrating hours, for the past 25 years.

"It's nice to know that this [insomnia] is not just me, that I'm not crazy," Doucet said of the poll results.

"I can't be as sharp as I want to be or I'm not as kind or as patient as I should be," he added.

Our wired world of BlackBerries and iPads is partly to blame for leaving people so tired, said Dr. Margaret Rajda, a psychiatrist with the Sleep Disorders Clinic at QE2 Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

"I blame it on artificial light which allows us to do a lot of things such as watch television, or play on the computer or even do more work," Rajda said.

Memory, metabolism hit

The price of sleep deprivation can be high since it affects memory and the ability to learn, focus and be alert, said Dr. Rachel Morehouse, medical director of the Atlantic Health Sciences Sleep Centre in Saint John.

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"It can affect things like your metabolism so you don't metabolize food properly," said Morehouse. "It affects things like your immunity so that you don't fight off general infections, colds and viruses and things like that, properly. And we're also getting some data that it sets you up for things like major depressive disorder." 
Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated by continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A machine provides pressurized air to prevent the upper airway from collapsing while you sleep, which reduces episodes of apnea. (iStock)

When sleep problems become chronic, they affect hormones that can trigger obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, increase and levels of leptin, a hormone that makes us feel satiated, go down, said Helen Driver, a professor of medicine and psychology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and president of the Canadian Sleep Society.

Lack of sleep is also linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers, but many doctors don't realize the costs of sleep loss, Morehouse said.

"A lot of the diseases and disorders that they're treating have an important piece that's related to sleep," Morehouse said. "Many doctors don't appreciate how much that's playing into what they're seeing."

'I didn't want to cause an accident'

For some people, like Gerald Wrigley of Halifax, there is a physical cause. Wrigley, 61, has sleep apnea, a disorder that makes his airway close, blocking his breathing and waking him up dozens of times every night.

Wrigley was so tired he hung up his car keys.

"I just didn't feel safe," Wrigley said, who now wears a pressurized air mask that keeps his airway open at night. "I didn't want to cause an accident and hurt somebody else."

But many of the Canadians polled said time and stress hampered their night's rest. Responses included:

  • "I don't have enough time to sleep as much as I'd like": 36 per cent.
  • "I have too many things on my mind, so I can't relax": 27 per cent.
  • "I wake up and I can't get back to sleep": 32 per cent.

For musician Doucet, all of the above were factors that inspired his muse, including this lyric of tossing and turning: "Every time I sleep, I toss and turn. The sun goes down and I'm terrified … You better watch where you put your head. You gotta get it when the getting's right. You gotta get it. You gotta get it."

Doucet has found some ways to cope. He hasn't touched caffeine for 15 years, he wears earplugs, a face mask and noise-cancelling headphones to bed, and lately he's taken up marathon running.

"I noticed improvements in my sleep pattern immediately," Doucet said. "Really significant. You exhaust yourself when you run 50, 60, 70 kilometres a week."

The general population survey was completed online Nov. 10-17 using Leger Marketing's online panel. A sample of 1,514 English-speaking Canadians aged18 or older were surveyed.

The youth survey, of 506 Canadians ages 12 to 17, was completed online Nov. 11-18 using Leger Marketing's online panel.