Humans aren’t like a bear who simply sleeps through the darkest hours of winter. But chronic lack of sleep can make us as irritable as one.
Statistics Canada says about 3.3 million Canadians over age 15 have some sort of sleep disorder that is affecting our physical or mental health.
Stress can ruin sleep. And when our sleep is poor we feel more stress.
Manitoba’s Farm and Rural Support Services staff routinely hear about that vicious cycle from callers who report farming is a high-stress business that keeps the mind racing into the night after a long workday that entails irregular hours. Off-farm jobs only contribute to the problem.
Lack of sleep can be contributing to those angry, irritable feelings, or that sense of being unable to concentrate, says Janet Smith, manager of Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services (FRSS).
“Farmers are really shift workers,” she said. “Their sleep patterns are constantly disrupted.”
Smith said callers describe problems falling or staying asleep.
“They’ll say they have a hard time shutting their minds down,” she said. “And when they’re tossing and turning at night and waking up, it makes it difficult for the couple to get a good night’s sleep. It impacts them both.”
Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are other frequently described disorders.
Sleepless in Manitoba
A series of workshops planned for later this month is geared specifically to the needs of farmers and other types of shift workers.
The FRSS is bringing in internationally renowned sleep expert Dr. Carlyle Smith, based at Trent University in Peterborough to talk about sleep and how to get more of it.
Smith grew up near Oak Lake, which gives him a keen sense of what rural Manitobans face.
“He’s super knowledgeable and very down to earth,” she said, adding that he’ll not only talk about sleep and sleep disorders, but speak from a personal understanding of farm life, offering practical suggestions for improving sleep in the midst of its erratic pace. He’ll also talk about practical ways to improve sleep, including how to “gear down” at day’s end.
We know in our weary bones that restful, restorative sleep is key to good mental and physical health. But studies also show sleep deprivation negatively affects decision-making and memory, slows down reaction times and decreases ability to concentrate.
We owe it to ourselves to get better sleep because we spend a lot of time doing it.
“We spend more time sleeping than any other single activity,” says Dr. Smith, adding that poor sleep results not only in decreased mental and physical health but a shorter lifespan and a lower quality of life.
“We should be spending a lot more time finding out how to sleep well and how to remedy poor sleep,” he said.
And while some think taking a sleeping pill is that remedy, he stresses otherwise.
“Sleeping pills are a temporary form of relief, not a cure,” he said. “Over the long haul they may even make insomnia worse.”
Better health for farmers results in improved productivity, points out farm stress expert Gerry Friesen, who will co-facilitate the workshops. If you can’t sleep you can’t concentrate, and if you can’t concentrate, work demands can become overwhelming, he said.
Plus, you’re at a higher risk of having an accident. And that’s not merely a coffee shop story from someone who fell asleep at the wheel, woke up in a ditch and lived to tell about it.
U.S. studies analyzing the occurrence of injury among machinery operators working excessive hours, show sleep deprivation increases risk of an injury anywhere from two- to twentyfold.
Farmers evidently know they’re not getting enough shut-eye. Workshops hosted by the Saskatoon Farm Stress Line have been packed, said Smith, and that’s what’s prompted them to bring the workshops here.
“There is so much interest and so much need to have this issue addressed,” she said.
Saskatoon is home base for the Agricultural Health and Safety Network (AHSN) which in 2010 released the documentary DVD — “Sleepless in Saskatchewan” — with sleep experts and Saskatchewan farm families talking about how lack of quality sleep affects their health and safety. They also talk about how tough it is to get sleep when farm work demands are high.
Geared to farmers, these workshops aim to address that very specific need.
Others who’ll benefit would be those doing any other kind of shift work, such as health-care professionals, or anyone who is impacted by sleep issues.
“We’ve had many spouses sign up together, because sleep affects the whole family,” adds Janet Smith.
Dubbed Sleepless in Manitoba — Making Sleep Work for You, two Brandon workshops will be held on January 14, 7 to 9 p.m. (MAFRI GO office 1129 Queens Ave.) and at Ag Days on January 15, 1 to 2 p.m. The Brandon workshops are free of charge.
Full-day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) workshops will also be held in Dauphin on January 16, Neepawa January 17, Beausejour January 18, and Morden January 19. Price for the full-day workshops is $20 which includes lunch.
For more information or to register call the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services at 204-571-4183 (toll free 1-866-367-3276) or visit www.rura;support.ca.