We live in world that has an uneasy relationship with sleep –
We recognize its importance, yet easily fail to establish habits that would improve the quality of our sleep. This is a thoroughly modern problem as attitudes about sleep have radically shifted over time. Getting enough sleep is a constant conversation around the water cooler.
Be it as a consequence of our hectic over-committed schedules, where we allow work and other responsibilities to encroach on our downtime; our addition to our screens; or simply because we suffer from insomnia, we are a society where sleep deprivation is such a common problem that it is presumed to be a universal affliction.
There are signs that this problem is coming to a head, and big names are starting to take notice: Ariana Huffington is urging us to take back control of our lives through a renewed relationship with sleep; David Rose at M.I.T.’s Media Lab is researching an ‘ideal sleep environment’; and LinkedIn’s Sleep Ambassador, Nancy H. Rothstein, hosts ‘Sleep Fairs’ where she teaches about the impact of sleep, and sleep hygiene and techniques.
Our History with Sleep
For centuries our sleep routines were determined by the normal diurnal cycles of day and night. We rose with the sun and slept when it was dark. The advent of modern technology upended this and sleep came to be seen as the enemy of productivity.
Leading the charge on this issue was Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb and a strong proponent of sleep deprivation. Sleep for Edison was nothing more than “a waste of time” and a “heritage from our cave days” that limited human achievement.
This notion that sleep was unproductive and without value became deeply embedded in our culture with successful individuals promoting a cult of over-extended wakefulness. Being able to function at peak capacity with little to no sleep became a badge of honour synonymous with self-discipline and professional achievement. Sleep was for the weak.
Why Do We Need Sleep? How much is enough sleep?
- Not enough sleep weakens the immune system. People who sleep 7 hours or less are three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who sleep 8 hours or more.
2. Regular, restful, and plentiful sleep is essential for developing novel solutions to complex problems. Getting a good night’s sleep not only helps you look at problems with a fresh mind, but also helps your brain connect the dots, revealing patterns and strategies for future problems.
Sleep is especially important for people with chronic pain. A good night’s rest will help with mood, function, and ability to cope with pain. Over half a million Canadians suffer from fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by diffuse pain, fatigue and poor sleep or insomnia. People with fibromyalgia describe waking up already feeling exhausted with no energy to face the day. Chronic insomnia worsens their pain and impairs their ability to think, the well-described “fibro fog”. Standard treatments including good sleep hygiene or pills are often not effective in treating insomnia in these patients.
Medical cannabis may provide the solution for patients struggling with this condition. Fibromyalgia patients who use cannabis report not just an improvement in their sleep but also their pain and their overall quality of life. Science supports this patient experience with The National Institute of Science recently reporting that cannabis products are an effective treatment for poor sleep in individuals with fibromyalgia and chronic pain.