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There comes a point where a good night’s sleep is worth fighting for.

By: Bill Zolis

When you’re happy and healthy, when you feel that you’re able to cope with the stresses and challenges of life, and when things are going well, you tend to sleep like a baby.

Or wait… maybe it’s the other way around.

That may overstate the case a little, but it’s true that how well we sleep is a big part of how well we feel, and how well we feel is a big part of how well we sleep.

A few years ago, when I first wrote about sleep in this blog, I went to some of the leading health-related sites and came up with what I think is the consensus “how-to list” of what to do when you’re having trouble sleeping. (Click here to see that article.)

Very briefly, those points of consensus were as follows:

– Keep a regular sleep schedule, and don’t let a sleepless night or two knock your schedule out of whack.

– Cut out the caffeine, particularly in the evening. 

– Don’t eat a big meal, especially a protein-rich one, late in the day.

– Exercise during the day, and try to get fresh air and exposure to sunlight.

– Avoid a big workout within two or three hours of bedtime.

– Make sure you have a comfortable, cool, dark, quiet place to sleep.

– Try to get into a regular “winding down” routine of relaxing before bedtime – reading, warm bath, and so on.

– If you can’t sleep, don’t just lie there tossing and turning. Get up and do something relaxing, such as reading, until you start to feel drowsy.

– And, finally – or perhaps mainly – don’t let worrying about not sleeping be the thing that keeps you awake. 

Since that blog, and especially in the working-from-home environment, I’ve seen a lot of experts adding advice to turn off your electronic devices before bedtime (and to stop worrying whether or not some other sleepless workaholic has e-mailed you an updated spreadsheet at 11:30 pm).

I know that sleep, and sometimes the lack of it, is a big issue in wellness. A lot of materials on the subject come across my desk all the time. In the last few weeks, I saw a couple of reports that tried to put a dollar-figure on the cost to our economy – one said it was $16 billion, the other $21 billion. I don’t know how much weight we can give to those estimates, but it’s clear that there is a cost, both in financial and human terms.

But it also got me thinking. I realize that there’s more to solving problems of sleeplessness than just ticking off eight or nine items on a how-to list.

Maybe a big part of the process is just getting to the list. Or, to put it another way, maybe we have to adjust our thinking to look at the big picture before we can focus on the details.

1. Recognize that sleep is a key issue that you need to deal with. You may feel – perhaps without thinking it through – that you’re dealing with a certain level of stress, and fatigue, and worry, and uncertainty; and that that’s why you’re not sleeping. If your Plan A was to deal with those things so that you would sleep better, and if it isn’t working for you, it may be time to go to Plan B and look at lack of sleep as the cause rather than the effect.

2. Resolve to do something about it. Say to yourself, “The fact that I’m not sleeping well is either the cause or a big contributing factor in everything else that is standing in the way of my wellness. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m going to take it on, and I’m not going to quit until I succeed.”

3. Understand that there are many factors in play.  A lot of things contribute to healthy sleep, and at least as many can disrupt healthy sleep. Finding the right solutions – the ones that works for you – may not be either quick or easy. This may be a journey.

4. Don’t be afraid to get help. If you’ve been struggling for some time, and the easy stuff isn’t working, it’s time to get the professionals in your corner for some help. Your first stop is a family physician that you can sit down and talk to. But (as I discussed in a blog on how to talk to your doctor a few years back) it’s very important to get right to the point and clearly state what it is you’re looking for: “Doctor, I’m not sleeping well, and I haven’t been sleeping well for a long time, and I need your help to get back to a place where I’m sleeping properly again.”

5. Be prepared to stick with it. It took a long time to get where you are today – not sleeping well most of the time – and it may well take a long time to get back to where you want to be. Don’t sweat it (especially bearing in mind that sweating it, or worrying about it, is part of the problem in the first place).

From what I’ve been reading on the subject, there are a couple of very significant distinctions in sleeplessness (or insomnia, as the medical professionals call it). The first is between short-term and long-term (acute versus chronic). The second is between primary and secondary insomnia. Secondary is defined as having an identifiable cause, such as illness or lifestyle factors, while primary is much harder to pin down. But we’re into medical territory here. My point in bringing it up is to underscore Point Number 4 above – don’t be afraid to get help from a medical professional.

BTW – I ran across a couple of Apps that people are starting to look at to help them get ready for sleep, and I think it’s an intriguing idea. Check out Insight Timer (free) and Calm (paid).

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I recently completed a course on Mental Health First Aid from Mental Health First Aid Canada (MHFA) – a program from the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It’s a topic and a concept we have touched on a few times in past blogs on mental health and workplace wellness. Basically, if a co-worker is injured on the job, we don’t hesitate to step up to give first aid until professional help arrives. We take first aid courses to learn what to do and what not to do. So why shouldn’t the same apply to the mental wellness? This course helps us understand what to do – and what not to do – when we observe a co-worker whom we believe may be in crisis. To learn more and to register for an MHFA course, visit www.mhfa.ca.

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I had the interesting and challenging opportunity to participate as a council member for the 2021 Canadian Leadership Council on Drug Plan Partnerships. It brought together benefits industry stakeholders to examine the evolution of health economics and formulary decision-making in Canadian private drug plans. This was a wide-ranging event that looked at issues of managing value or money, protecting plan sustainability and reducing financial risk. A very interesting and – I think – useful report of the proceedings appeared in Benefits Canada. Click here for a copy.

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I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at bill@penmorebenefits.com.

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