Public Sleep Day 2013

This blog post was written by Pamela Peacock, Curator, and Cynthia Cotton, Curatorial Volunteer.

Introduction:  A blog for Public Sleeping Day

There are a lot of odd and zany ‘holidays’ out there, many of which almost no one has heard of.  When I came across Public Sleeping Day (28 February), I thought that this could occasion a blog post from the Museum – after all, sleep is an important factor that affects our physical and mental health.

Sleep is a vital component in the maintenance of health, yet millions of North Americans do not get enough sleep or suffer from sleep disorders.

Sleepex (early 20th century). Museum of Health Care, #1980.18.318

While we sleep our brain develops new pathways that support learning, our body focuses its energies on growing and healing, and our immune system gains strength to help us fight off illnesses.

Humphrey’s Number 40 Insomnia Pellets (19th century). Museum of Health Care, #1980.18.167

When we don’t get enough sleep, studies show that we have trouble making decisions, solving problems, and controlling our emotions.  Sleep deficiency has also been linked to hypertension, depression and increased risk taking.  Lack of sleep also affects hormone balance, particularly ghrelin and leptin, which control hunger and fullness, and our body’s reaction to insulin – both of which typically lead to weight gain.

There are a number of possible treatments for sleep disorders.  Depending on the particular issues faced, these range from weight loss, to reduced caffeine consumption, to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines, to medications, to behavioural therapy.

If you suffer from poor or disrupted sleep, consult your physician about treatment options that might work for you.

Getting a good night’s sleep

Whether you want more, less, or simply better sleep, somewhere, someone has been researching it! In fact, the “sleep industry” – with books and CDs, sleep programs and medicines, specialized mattresses and breathing machines, and more – is now a multi-billion dollar industry, and growing every year. Sleep is clearly on our minds!

Somlec Electro-Sleep Apparatus (1966-1979). Museum of Health Care, #1997.1.1

Sleep research and therapy is a relatively young field of psychotherapy.  Early work focused on managing the state of hyper-arousal to enable sleep, for example through relaxation techniques or hypnosis.  In the 1970s a new intervention was introduced, the application of stimulus control principles to insomnia.  This approach aimed to disassociate your bed with activities other than sleep or sex, basically limiting the stimuli associated with the space.

One of the most widely discussed ideas about sleep is that of “sleep hygiene.” The term “sleep hygiene” first popped up in 1977, but the idea behind it may date back from before the 1800s. It is the idea that controlling factors surrounding sleep, such as limiting the intake of caffeine, monitoring and controlling the temperature of the bedroom, and following a strict bedtime routine, can contribute to falling and staying asleep.

In the 1980s, sleep restriction was proposed.  This controversial approach limited the amount of time spent in bed to improve sleep efficiency (SE=Total time asleep/Time in Bed).  Initially, the time allowed in bed is limited to the amount of sleep one is actually getting per sleep period.  Gradually the time allowed in bed increases, with the expectation that the body will adapt to sleep during this time.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) refers collectively to a number of cognitive and behavioural treatments, including all of the above mentioned therapies.  CBT-I aims to improve sleep drive and to stabilize the circadian rhythm by dealing with the conditions of arousal prohibiting sleep, uncovering and correcting incorrect ideas about sleep and the habits that are meant to improve sleep but do not, and improving the ability to relax.  It is recognized as a very effective program for dealing with insomnia, but typically requires between four to twelve visits to a clinician, which can be financially prohibitive for many people.

Dr. Judith R. Davidson of Kingston, Ontario, recently published a “step-by-step workbook for reversing insomnia” called Sink Into Sleep (2013). In this work Davidson makes accessible to the general public many of the approaches to dealing with insomnia that clinicians have applied for years.  Instead of immediately changing things around in your bedroom, Davidson recommends you start by monitoring your sleep and keeping track of your habits in a diary format. The goal is to identify patterns (ex. do you have insomnia after eating certain foods or if you exercise after a certain time?) and to analyze them to uncover the triggers for your insomnia or restlessness.  Davidson presents strategies to address these triggers, including setting firm bedtimes and rise-times, and ways to calm racing thoughts.

Whether you suffer from persistent insomnia or the occasional restless night, there are tried and true (and scientifically tested) methods to assist you in getting back into the rhythm of good nights’ sleep.  Don’t doze off in public on Public Sleeping Day because you didn’t catch enough zzzz’s –

Sweet dreams!

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