White Coat, Black Art

Can't sleep? Neither can this doctor. Here's what he did.

A staggering 40 percent of Canadians have sleep problems such as insomnia. Dr Brian Goldman is one of them. His search for relief has been no less frustrating than that of most Canadians.

Can't sleep

6 years ago
Duration 0:57
About one in every seven Canadians has problems going to sleep or staying asleep. CBC's Dr. Brian Goldman is one of them.

A recent survey found that 40 per cent of Canadians have symptoms of insomnia or a sleep disorder. 

I'm one of them.

Growing up, I would be up much of the night worrying about class assignments, exams and friends.

By the time I went to medical school, all that sleep deprivation made it easier to fall asleep. Unfortunately I couldn't stay asleep. Ironically, what often kept me awake was the anxiety of knowing the links between chronic insomnia and high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, stroke and dementia. 

The interesting thing is that sleeping pills can amplify these negative health effects.

"There have been two huge studies in the United States involving a million people," says Dr. David Bradley. a respirologist at University Health Network and an expert on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  As many as four in 10 Canadians has or is at risk of having OSA.

Bradley says the study found that "the ones at greatest risk are the ones who complained of insomnia and less than five hours sleep (per night), who also take sleeping pills. In fact, the sleeping pills seem to be a bigger risk than the insomnia itself."

I don't have OSA, but have had insomnia for much of my life.  Though I've gone through periods of relatively undisturbed sleep, recently, something changed. I would wake up in the middle of the night and hear a strange noise in my house - a low-frequency buzz. I couldn't get back to sleep.

I called in acoustic engineers Tony Gambino and Nicholas Sylvestre-Williams to help solve the mystery.

Like astute physicians, they took a thorough history of my noise complaint, and checked all possible sources.

"Noise is very interesting, the way it travels," says Sylvestre-Williams. "A lot of people think it needs to be close, but we've been on projects where there's been a pump in a whole other building and it's travelling through the water pipes and it affects somebody in another building. That's not uncommon."

Unfortunately, the engineers didn't find the source of my late-night noise. In fact, they said my house was really quiet. Maybe too quiet.  And that gave me an idea. I got a white-noise machine. So far, it's drowning out the mysterious noise, and I'm sleeping better than I have in months.

Dr. Doug Bradley is part of the team that is developing a device called BresoDx that enables people to get tested for obstructive sleep apnea in their own homes.

Now let us know your personal nighttime challenges with sleep. What kept you awake? What did you do about your insomnia? Did it work?


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