Dr. Charles Samuels of The Centre for Sleep & Human Performance talks about why poor sleep patterns are unhealthy and what to do about it

Dr. Charles Samuels is the medical director of The Centre for Sleep & Human Performance, a fully accredited medical sleep lab and testing facility in operation since 2002. He is also certified with the American Board of Sleep Medicine and has a clinical background in family medicine. His associates at the clinic are also family physicians with designations in sleep medicine and international accreditation as sleep specialists. They work together with the clinic’s nurses, respiratory technologists, and naturopaths to assess and diagnose patients and provide them with personalized treatment programs.

Dr. Charles Samuels Sleep Lab
Dr. Charles Samuels

What is the Sleep Lab and what does it do?

Samuels:  The Sleep Lab is a diagnostic facility like a radiology clinic where you would go to have an MRI or a CAT scan. At the Sleep Lab, patients undergo a sleep study that looks at how they sleep, including how their brains sleep, how muscles react during that time, breathing patterns and the quality of sleep. The sleep study is used to diagnose sleep disorders and provides information to help people regain normal, restorative sleep.

Many of our patients are at first concerned they won’t be able to sleep while being monitored in the Sleep Lab. We don’t find that to be the case – they do sleep and the test provides scientific data so we can provide valuable information and work with them for treatment.

Can you give me a sense of the magnitude of the lack of sleep in our society today?

Samuels: In North America, it’s estimated that chronic sleep deprivation is a common and significant health problem, often overlooked or ignored. Lack of sleep has significant physical and mental health consequences such as mood disorders, obesity and risk for cardiovascular disease.

Estimates are 20 to 30 per cent of people lose more than 10 hours of sleep per week. This becomes more difficult to recover from over time as the physical and mental consequences build up.

What are the consequences?

Samuels: The number one immediate symptom of insufficient and inadequate sleep is irritability and excessive sleepiness or daytime fatigue. These symptoms affect a person’s quality of life and their ability to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

The most common concern that adults present with is a lack of patience for family activities or inability to engage in fun activities with the family due to fatigue and irritability; they feel this is due to their sleep issues.

With children, adolescents and young adults, the rise in chronic insomnia is soaring because of the overuse of devices, inactivity and obesity. Shortly after the return to school time is when we see a spike in young patients coming to see us; they experience insomnia due to the stress in high school and post-secondary education.

Along with difficulty managing everyday life, people who don’t get enough sleep are at risk for poor nutrition, weight control issues and obesity.

Why are so many people sleep deprived?

Samuels: In this day and age there are two major causes of sleep debt:

  • exposure to technology and continuous connectedness via the Internet;
  • long commutes to work that intrude on sleep time, forcing workers to get up early and to have much longer work days, limiting time at home to relax.

People don’t make sleep a priority and compromise their sleep to “get more done.” Sleep is as important to health as a healthy diet and physical activity.

People don’t pay attention to their sleep environment, i.e. bedroom. So they may have noise, uncomfortable temperature, dry air or light that disrupts the sleep environment and reduces the amount of sleep and the quality of the sleep.

What simple tips can you give people to help them sleep better?

Samuels: This one is pretty simple. Make sleep a priority and get more sleep. If you have a sleep problem, get help.

  • Turn off technology in the evening and commit to relaxing and winding down before you go to bed.
  • Assess your caffeine intake and reduce it to two cups in the morning if you have sleep problems.
  • Monitor your alcohol intake and be aware that alcohol causes sleep disruption.
  • If you smoke and have sleep problems, limit smoking in the evening. Nicotine is very disruptive to sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, poor quality sleep or you wake up unrested regularly, focus on maintaining a regular sleep routine with a stable bedtime and wakeup time that varies no more than one hour every day.

Anyone can access the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance – with or without a physician’s referral – by downloading the self-referral appointment request form on the clinic’s website: www.centreforsleep.com.

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