Cross Country Checkup·Ask Me Anything

Pandemic-stressed slumber, shift work and lucid dreams: Sleep questions answered

As part of Cross Country Checkup’s regular Ask Me Anything series, sleep expert Dr. Charles Samuels answered callers’ questions on sleep and insomnia during the pandemic, in addition to more general queries related to slumber.

Sleep expert answered callers' questions on Checkup's Ask Me Anything

While the pandemic has worsened sleep for some, it has improved sleep habits for others, says Dr. Charles Samuels. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock )

If your sleep has been all over the place during the pandemic, Dr. Charles Samuels says you're not alone.

Samuels, who is the medical director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary, says some people's sleep has been improving, while the stress of COVID-19 has caused problems for others.

"Without a one-to-two-hour commute for some individuals ... they're actually doing better. They're getting more sleep and sleeping well, so we can't discount that positive impact," he told Cross Country Checkup host Ian Hanomansing.

"On the other hand, the fact is that those people who went into the pandemic with insomnia, others who might have been predisposed but not really struggling, this has been an extremely stressful time over a long period of time."

He said those people might be experiencing insomnia, worsening mental health, and increased nightmares.

As part of Checkup's regular Ask Me Anything series, Samuels answered callers' questions on sleep and insomnia during the pandemic, in addition to more general queries related to slumber.

Samuels is medical director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary. (Charles Samuels)

Sleep and shift work

James Simpson, calling from Vancouver, asked what he can do to reduce the effects of inconsistent sleep due to shift work on his health.

Samuels says it's an important issue to understand.

"Shift work is difficult on the body because it disrupts the circadian rhythm," explained Samuels, who is the co-chair of a committee looking at the effects of shift work on sleep.

He says those who are struggling should prioritize two things: Protect your sleep and make sure that you get it, and put sleep ahead of everything else — exercise and daily chores, in particular.

"Get your rest and then everything else follows after. That is the general rule of managing sleep as a shift worker," he said.

Samuels says the two biggest disruptors to sleep are not maintaining a regular schedule and using technology. (Maridav/Shutterstock Images)

Lucid dreaming

Calling from Courtenay, B.C., Jared Kotyk asked for tips on how to develop a healthy sleep program as a lucid dreamer.

A person experiencing lucid dreams is aware that they are dreaming. The dreams, Kotyk explained, have benefited him during his "waking life," but they have also affected the quality of his sleep.

"It started off with just being able to float and fly and things, but I still work through nightmares and daily problems that come up ... in my dreams," said Kotyk.

Samuels said that people who experience lucid dreams tend to derive a therapeutic benefit from them. He suggested that improving general sleep health would address any problems related to lucid dreaming.

Not maintaining a routine and using technology are the two biggest disruptors to sleep health, said Samuels.

"Those are the greatest disturbances to sleep in North American society today, other than nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol."

Hear more from Dr. Charles Samuels in Cross Country Checkup's Ask Me Anything on CBC Listen.

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