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April 23, 2008
Marriage + kids + money = kiss your sleep goodbye
If you're looking for a good night's sleep, don't work long hours at a
high-pressure job. Or commute. Or get married and have kids. Too late? You
can take some comfort in the fact that many Canadians are in the same sleepy
boat, according to a Statistics Canada report released yesterday.
Findings from the government's 2005 general social survey of 19,500
Canadians aged 15 or over - in which respondents kept a diary of activities
over a single day - reveal a time-stressed population willing to dip into
sleep banks to make room for work and family life.
"People play with their sleep to make it work for their schedule," says
study author and senior Statistics Canada analyst Matt Hurst.
It also appears that men get less shut-eye than women, an average of eight
hours and seven minutes compared with eight hours and 18 minutes. Women,
however, report having a harder time getting to sleep and staying asleep.
On the work front, both the number of hours you work and your salary are
linked to less sleep. People who worked for more than nine hours slept 26
fewer minutes than those who worked seven to nine hours. Workers who earned
more than $60,000 a year slept 14 fewer minutes than those making between
$20,000 and $40,000.
Getting to that job can also be a sleep saboteur, as people with commutes
that lasted an hour or more slept about 22 minutes less than those with a
commute of less than 30 minutes.
The study shows Canadians aren't taking their sleep seriously, says Julie
Carrier, a psychology professor at Université de Montréal and researcher at
the Sacré-Coeur Hospital sleep lab.
Sleep is lagging other health issues in the public mind, especially for
high-earners who are quitting smoking, eating healthier and exercising, Dr.
Highlighting this paradox is the fact that women who reported exercising on
the day of the survey actually dipped into their sleep bank to do it, taking
out 19 minutes.
"Sleep is something that people unfortunately don't believe is important -
it's optional," she says. "In a society focused on productivity it's seen as
something that is unproductive, which is a very wrong way of seeing things."
In addition to avoiding the effects of sleepiness, sleep is increasingly
associated with cardiovascular and immunological health. "The more we study
sleep, the more we realize it's important for almost all physiological and
psychological functions. It's really not productive to cut your sleep."
Thanks to the ubiquity of caffeine and the role of the stress hormone
cortisol in increasing alertness, many of those people will not describe
themselves as sleepy, she says.
While pinpointing the perfect night's sleep is a matter of continuing
research, most experts suggest few people need less than seven hours a
night, Dr. Carrier says.
That becomes a challenge once a person has kids, according to the survey.
Married and common law couples reported sleeping 24 minutes less than their
single counterparts. Respondents with children had even less sleep: People
with two kids slept, on average, 25 fewer minutes a night than those with no
children. But there's some consolation for women: Having kids appears to
close the gender sleep gap, with mothers and fathers reporting roughly the
same amount of sleep.
Why women may need more sleep and experience poor sleep is another area of
research. Dr. Carrier says many sleep study protocols used to exclude women
because pregnancy and menstrual cycles were confounding factors.
By the numbers
Average number of minutes we sleep in on the weekend.
Number of minutes fewer that men sleep than women on weeknights.
The difference between men and women on the weekend.
Average workday waking time (a.m.).
Average Saturday waking time (a.m.).
Average Sunday waking time (a.m.).
From Who Gets Any Sleep These Days? Sleep Patterns of Canadians, by