Here is the full podcast recording:
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Why is sleep so important?
When we sleep, our brain is as active as it is during the day, only it’s performing different functions, and the biggest one is consolidating memories and learnings from the day. The brain is really laying down new pathways while we sleep.
Another reason sleep is so important is for management of chronic illness. Certainly the risk of chronic illness increases when you’re not sleeping well or you have sleep deprivation over a long term. So it’s directly related to cardiovascular health, the health of the arteries and the veins and heart contraction. Diabetes is affected by poor sleep, as are metabolic syndrome, stroke risk, and cancer risk. It’s really interesting to look at cancer risk related to sleep deprivation and especially shift work.
Immune health is another whole area of interest. I like to tell the story of the clinical studies with rats. If they’re sleep deprived for over three weeks, they’ll die. They can have lots of water and lots of food, but if you keep them awake—nope, that’s not going to work.
Weight management is another issue that’s important. When we’re not sleeping well, we have a disruption in two proteins that manage our urge to eat, our feelings of satiety and fullness and our feelings of hunger. So they get disrupted, they’re called leptin and ghrelin and typically, it’s really difficult to lose weight if you’re not sleeping well. It really is so interlaced and so interconnected.
We’ve seen sleep deprivation studies that show that people’s reaction time, their psychomotor skills, their judgment, their assessment skills and their critical thinking skills are all affected in a negative way. It’s actually pretty obvious in the workplace.
I understand you spoke with a police department about sleep issues. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how productivity, creativity and reaction time are connected with police work?
Yeah, absolutely. When you think of these men and women, they’re driving vehicles, which are very powerful; they’re carrying guns, which you need serious decision-making skills to operate. They need to be really alert; they need to assess what’s happening around them left, right and center. If they’re in an incident it’s really critical.
It’s really interesting how companies support their staff to do well. One group uses a shift management system so the men and women can bid on certain shifts and they receive an alert if the shift would compromise their health or safety in any way.
The police department has special wellness funding that’s designed to cover C-PAP (or continuous positive airway pressure) machines to treat sleep apnea. They’re assessed for sleep problems. There are physicians on site as well, and fitness training, and nap rooms where they can take an extra hour to sleep if they’re tired. They’ve thought of everything. This is such an important issue for public safety.
We know what the costs are, in terms of losses in productivity. So it’s important to provide sleep support programs, sleep education programs, coverage for dental appliances, along with special opportunities to rest or feel better. This is saving companies money. The data is really clear. It’s indisputable.
What advice do you have for companies whose business models require 24/7 production? I know in the mining industry, and in the police force, and in a lot of other industries, the work needs to go on 24 hours a day. What advice do you have for those companies?
Well, the good thing to know is that there are some fabulous models available and some amazing companies that I know that you’re connected with who are doing some really thoughtful work around this. The biggest thing is the cultural acceptance of sleep as a health issue. Sleep is a pillar of health aligned with physical activity and healthy eating. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be addressed. People need to support each other in good sleep habits and not reward each other for poor sleep habits.
A manager, for example, shouldn’t be impressed with an employee responding to an email at three in the morning. This is not something that should be an expectation and not something seen as wow, that’s a dedicated employee. It should be seen as wow, this employee needs some support to not work during nighttime hours.
So it really starts with the culture and education and leadership?
Dr. Chris Carruthers has helped thousands of people with heart disease, cancer, depression, and chronic pain improve their sleep through her popular Sleep Well Tonight program. Her clients include educational institutions, healthcare organizations, companies and police departments. She has a BSc in Kinesiology, a MSc in Coaching and Exercise Physiology, and a PhD in Integrative Healthcare and Energy Medicine. Based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Chris offers health consulting to clients all over the world through her website, ChrisCarruthers.com.