Sleep disorders can do a lot more than just impact one’s sleep cycle — dive deep into an issue plaguing millions throughout the world.
“Sleep disorders (or sleep-wake disorders) involve problems with the quality, timing, and amount of sleep, which result in daytime distress and impairment in functioning. Sleep-wake disorders often occur along with medical conditions or other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or cognitive disorders.”
American Psychiatric Association
Emma Cooksey went nearly 30 years with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea. Before getting her diagnosis and treatment, her restless sleep left Cooksey waking up in a startling state throughout the night.
Sound the alarm
People commonly mistake sleep disorder symptoms for those associated with a bad night’s sleep and don’t realize that there might be something bigger to them
Listen to Sound the alarm story by clicking on the audio reading below.
Many people wake up feeling exhausted, even after a full eight hours of sleep.
You feel as if you’re walking through fog, and you can’t concentrate on any task presented to you. Your body is drained and you just can’t understand how you’re so tired. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to get over the yawns, or the constant need to stretch your limbs.
According to one survey, 62 per cent of adults around the world say they don’t sleep as well as they’d like. Sleep and sleep hygiene are essential parts of a person’s routine – in fact, they may be one of the most important parts of a healthy life.
Jennifer McCormick, a counselor at Mount Royal University, says many who come to see her complain about a number of issues, with one of the biggest being sleep.
“We talk about hygiene in any regard — mental health also has hygiene and things that we do just to maintain wellness and sleep is one of them,” said McCormick. “It’s impacted by and also impacts our wellness – so if our sleep is thrown off, we’re not going to be well, and if we’re not well our sleep will be thrown off.”
Many of those who suffer from sleep related issues tend to believe it may be a result of a sleeping disorder, which is often not the case. Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director at the Center for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary, says there is a common misconception about sleep deprivation versus sleeping disorders, an important clarification in the treatment of sleep concerns.
“We all have a sleep requirement and it runs between seven to nine hours, so a sleep debt would be anything less than what you require,” said Dr. Samuels. “If you’re only getting five to six a night, you’re accumulating seven to ten hours of sleep debt per week.”
The accumulation of sleep debt often leads to sleep deprivation, which is the result of poor sleep habits, hygiene, and practice.
Dr. Samuels believes around 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians struggle with a 10 hour sleep debt per week, something that is much more difficult to quantify for those with sleeping disorders.
“Sleep disorders are independent of how much sleep you get,” said Dr. Samuels.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, sleep disorders are defined as problems with the quality, timing, and amount of sleep — resulting in cognitive and physical impairments throughout the day. Sleeping disorders are often found alongside other medical conditions or mental health-related struggles, such as anxiety or depression.
The vital difference between sleep deprivation and sleep disorders is an actual diagnosis itself.
Despite this, sleeping disorders are commonly misdiagnosed due to how symptoms present differently in each patient. For example, with sleep apnea, men tend to display more of the classic symptoms such as snoring or trouble breathing, compared to women, who more often present symptoms such as fatigue or insomnia.
Dr. Samuels says that there are an array of issues that come along with the overlap of symptoms between sleeping disorders, sleep deprivation, and mental and physical conditions.
Patients with a sleeping disorder, like Alex Haagaard, have suffered the consequences that come with overlapping symptoms and misdiagnoses.
“I think there’s a lot of overlap that gets overlooked,” said Haagaard, who was pushed to do their own research after three years of misdiagnosed Type 1 narcolepsy.
With the hope for a proper diagnosis, patients suffering from unknown sleeping issues can get a better understanding of their problems by a referral to a sleep clinic. These clinics go beyond diagnosis, as they further provide treatment for a multitude of different conditions.
Amidst the misunderstanding of sleeping disorders, and the lack of information, Dr. Samuels says he often finds that patients need a reset in their routines to get to the root of the problem.
“We’re sort of unwinding the medications and then looking at, OK, what do they really need?” said Dr. Samuels. “Many, many patients are over sedated, especially patients [that have] mental health issues are on numerous sedatives and their complaint is fatigue, so we have to unwind all the medication and look at what we’re doing.”
While the diagnosis of a sleeping disorder is more difficult, as it has to be done through a sleep test, Dr. Samuels and counselors like McCormick also work with their clients to focus on their habits to resolve their basic sleep issues.
“In individual sessions, we talk about sleep all the time, trying to maximize sleep,” said McCormick. “We know that university students most likely are not going to have perfect sleep all the time, it’s more about doing the most we can to maximize our sleep and maybe even getting to know it, getting to really understand what works for sleep, and pay attention to what happens when sleep is even just a little better.”
Better sleep, better life
Seeing as people have a number of different options to better their sleep, both McCormick and Dr. Samuels say it’s important that people take the time to learn about resources and understand what it is doing for their body.
“The potential benefits of even making tiny little changes can support people, instead of feeling like sleep has to feel perfect all the time,” said McCormick. “If we want to be a good friend, a good partner, a student who can do their best, if we want to feel fulfilled, there are lots of different parts of wellness that can create a good foundation for that, and sleep is a part of that.”
We can all struggle with our sleep. Whether you have a sleeping disorder or not, there are things we all could be doing so we’re not just getting a better night’s sleep but a goodnight’s sleep.
Hear from the sleepless
Click and learn more from those living and talking about sleep disorders
“It can feel lonely and scary when you can’t do what everyone else seems able to.”
“I’d been told, ‘You’re not really that sick. You know, there’s nothing really wrong with you. You just need to work out, eat better or whatever.”
“I just would wake up all the time, multiple times, and I would wake up in the morning and feel like I hadn’t really been to bed… I realized that even though I had the opportunity to sleep, I still felt exhausted and sleepy during the day to the point where it didn’t feel normal to me.”
On the topic of why obtaining statistics around sleep disorders and their impact is difficult: ” I think it’s more a case of sleep medicine and science [is] 50 years, behind cardiology. So we have a long way to go to get the data on a population basis.”
“I was in one of the best shapes of my life, but I’m looking in the mirror and I’m seeing this sunken, pale, frail person who can barely move around… It messes with your psychology and it just makes you extremely depressed.”
What our circles have to say
“My day-to-day habit is to fall asleep around 7:00 a.m. and wake up at 3:00 p.m. The alternative is to stare up at the blank wall of my ceiling from midnight to daybreak before my eyes decide they feel heavy. For me, the afternoon is morning, when others are making breakfast, I’ve just finished dinner. This makes every obligation to others a challenge; if I have a date for brunch it is either an all-nighter or very little sleep. However, there is not a more peaceful time than the wee small hours of the morning when the rest of the world is still sleeping.”
“I was diagnosed a few times with positional sleep apnea. I could never get accustomed to an apnea machine so I suffered from [a] lack of good sleep until my dentist made a mouth guard for teeth grinding. She modified the appliance to lessen the apnea. In my particular case it seems to have worked.”
– Chris Mihailiuk (Charlotte’s Step Dad)
“Insomnia kind of sneaks up on me, even though I’ve experienced [it] for decades. The sleep I take for granted gradually becomes elusive and then being unable to sleep takes over my life. It affects my memory, mood, ability to think, and physical energy. Consequently, my relationships are affected.”
-Monica Barnes (Josh’s girlfriends mom)
“I did not realize how debilitating a problem it was and that it was responsible for 10 years of worsening exhaustion. The CPAP machine for sleep apnea miraculously changed my life in 48 hours.”
– Lisa Campfens (Emma’s Mom)
Meet the sleepless authors
When we tell people about REM-edies they always ask ‘Why sleeping disorders?’
As university students, we know a thing or two about sleep or maybe better put about not sleeping. To learn why REM-edies, take a listen to how this project came to be.
Hi, I’m Charlotte! This project has been one of the last steps to completing my undergraduate degree in journalism at Mount Royal University, and has come with the added bonus of working with a great team of journalists. Since I was young I have been driven by curiosity – a Curious George of sorts. My desire to expand my knowledge has been a driving force behind almost everything I do in life and has only been fostered by working in the journalism field. The versatility that journalism offers in terms of furthering my learning of people and the world around me, coupled with its use of storytelling in multimedia forms has given me the opportunity to share and connect with individuals, places, cultures and communities in various facets of life in ways I never knew possible. Pursuing a Master’s in Transnational Governance upon completion of my undergraduate degree has me excited to learn more about out world and see diverse perspectives on the how’s and why’s of life.
My name is Emma Boyne and I am so excited this project is coming to you! My group and I have been in the journalism degree at Mount Royal University for almost four years now, and as you can imagine we all have some restless nights. Because sleep is so important, I am excited to be able to bring this to the table. I have loved writing and creativity since I was young, and so being able to produce a visually stimulating and informative piece has been a dream come true. Going on, I hope to work in the investigative field, or in the arts and entertainment field (two very different ideas). I look forward to further being able to explore people’s stories, dreams, hopes, needs, and ideas, as what makes us all human are the experiences that we share.
Hello, my name is Josh Werle, and I am a sports fanatic and soon-to-be Mount Royal University Journalism and Digital Media graduate. I hope you have found this project both interesting and informative. It was our goal as a group to create something that was unique in scope and design, but also helpful and knowledge-filled for those seeking guidance relating to their sleep. It was a blast getting a chance to interact with so many unique and intelligent individuals for this project, and to learn more about how important sleep can be to your well-being. It has been an absolute pleasure working on this project, especially with such a wonderful team.
I’m Jasmine Krawchuk, a fourth-year journalism student counting down the days until graduation! This exciting project is not only a school endeavor but rather a huge culmination of four students’ skills in the field – the best part being that the website is a timeless resource for everyone facing sleep challenges. I’m so happy to be working on this capstone project, especially as we were given more freedom to explore a refreshing topic beyond the stories we’ve written and published over the course of our degree. While continuing my studies by pursuing a career in law, I’m sure that I will face many more sleepless nights, but at least my mental toolkit will be equipped with the knowledge and tips that we gathered during our research process for this project. And, if you’re someone who struggles with sleep, we are confident that our project will help you, even if it’s just a little bit.
For story resources and additional resources to help in getting a better night’s sleep scan or click the QR code below