After the Webinar: How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene and Reduce Your Fatigue. Q&A with Dr. Lois James

Webinar presenter Dr. Lois Jamees answered a number of your questions after her presentation, How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene and Reduce Your Fatigue. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: How does a correctional officer stabilize their sleep cycle when they’re being ordered to work eight hours of compulsory overtime several times per week? Is there a way of doing that? 

Lois James: This is one of the extreme challenges. And I’ve worked with a lot of COs where they’ve got their eight-hour shift and then they’re mandatory overtime, 2, 3, 4 times a week. So, they’re, you know, working 16 and then how do you possibly fit enough sleep into that, into that time off and I mean, I absolutely empathize, and I agree that there are some situations where you’re literally not going to be able to get enough sleep. And so, the only thing that I can say is really try and prioritize when you have that time off, to catch up. Then to try and implement some of the recommendations made around making the most of the opportunity that you do have to sleep. So, you know, keeping your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and so on and so forth. But I know that there are certain factors that are absolutely outside of your control, but just trying to focus on the things that you can control, can even help them a little bit.


Audience Question: How do you know if you’re reaching deep sleep? Sometimes, I feel that I sleep too deeply, and I don’t even hear the alarm and end up oversleeping, so how do you know if you’re sleeping reaching that deep sleep? 

Lois James: Yeah, well, you’ll certainly know if you, if you don’t hear your alarm, or if your alarm wakes you up, and you’ve got that really kind of groggy sleep inertia, then you for sure know that you’re in deep sleep. Typically, if you’re a kind of a normal healthy sleeper and you’re just going through your sleep cycles, the only one that you’re going to necessarily be aware that you’re in is REM that rapid eye movement. And that’s only if you wake up from it So, we kind of speculate that the only dreams that you remember are the ones that you wake up from. So, people who are like, “I never dream,” that’s inaccurate. Everybody does. That’s oftentimes the only phase that we’re even particularly aware of. The bigger concern is that if you’re not getting sufficient delta or deep sleep, there might be an underlying issue like sleep apnea, so definitely get that checked out if you’re having that long sleep period and still feeling super, super tired after it and/or if you’re told that you snore quite a bit.


Audience Question: So, what if you’re having a hard time trying to catch up and your body automatically wakes up without an alarm, after a certain number of hours of sleep. How can we get caught up in this kind of situation? 

Lois James: Yeah. That’s when that concept of split sleep or napping is really important because for a lot of people, either, you know, either, if you’re trying to sleep at a regular time, whether that’s in the morning or during the day, or if you have time off, for example, and you’re like, yeah, I have an opportunity now to sleep 12 hours. But you still wake up, you know. After not that much. Consider implementing naps as well to just kind of top-up that amount.


Audience Question: For people who wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time getting back to sleep. What is the best thing you recommend for getting back to sleep? 

Lois James: That’s in part going to depend on the severity. If it is full-blown insomnia, the current guidelines, or if you really, if you’re lying awake for hours at night, unable to fall back to sleep. You need to get up, you need to disassociate your bed from that kind of panicky anxious feeling of like “Oh my god, I’ve only got however long before I need to get up.” Because that stress, that worry about not falling asleep will actually be even worse, it is even more of a risk factor. So that book that I mentioned, Say Goodnight to Insomnia, that’ll talk you through it in the sense of where, if you’re at that point or even close to that point, get up, leave your bedroom, don’t expose yourself to a bunch of bright light or anything, but do, whether you read, watch a show, whatever it might be, but just do something else and only go back to your bed when you think you’re sleepy enough to fall asleep.


Audience Question: Do blue-light-blocking glasses help if you’re going to be on your phone right before you sleep? 

Lois James: That’s a great question. There’s been some good research around those. In terms of on your phone, I don’t actually know. Because I don’t know if that research has been done because of the ability with your phone to essentially accomplish that same thing with the night shift mode. Let’s say you bought it, you get a lift home in the morning so you’re not at risk for drowsy driving. Those kind of glasses can be great in terms of blocking out sunlight before you go to bed. But another thing that people often asked me about are things like gravity blankets, like weighted blankets, and, although there hasn’t really been a ton of research around them. My recommendation always is if there’s something that you feel works for you and makes you comfortable, then, by all means, use it.


Audience Question: Well, another member of the audience asked about another tool. Not sure if you’ve heard of it. It’s called mouth taping that when you use porous tape to tape your mouth shut at night, it might help get you to sleep. I’ve never heard of that, have you heard of that? 

Lois James: I have not heard of that, actually. I would definitely, you know, look, and make sure that there’s some research around it before we could just as you don’t want to try something that then actually has a negative effect. But again, you know, I mean, some things will work for people. And by all means.


Audience Question: What impact on sleep practices have we seen with the COVID-19 pandemic? Specifically, what challenges does imposed isolation and remote working what might have on sleep practices? 

Lois James: We’ve seen a variety of different things. I mean, with some workers, obviously, we’ve seen a huge problem because of staffing shortages and people who are either, quitting or retiring or whatever it might be. That then severely impacts those remaining in terms of overtime and longer work hours, which will impact your ability to sleep. But, in terms of the social isolation, and the kind of remote work from home. The social isolation piece, there’s certainly been some stuff that’s come out looking at because depression is really linked to sleep problems. Whether that sleeping too little or sleeping too much. We find that sometimes people with depressive symptoms will feel like they have to sleep just for 12 hours to function. So, yeah, so that certainly plays into it a little bit and working remotely. On the flip side, there have actually been some instances where people are reporting, getting better sleep with that, with remote work and part of that might just be tied to not having to commute, just having a little bit more opportunity.


Audience Question: What is it about that post-shift drive home that makes it so dangerous, and other than more sleep, are there things people can do to somewhat mitigate that danger? 

Lois James: I just finished our nursing study that looked at the impact of cumulative 12 hour day versus night shift and that night shift, post-third cumulative shift is just such greater risk for collision. With our study that we use driving simulators obviously just for safety. But yeah, I think in any shift working profession, it is one of the most dangerous time periods just solely because of the amount of time that you’ve been awake. When we compare sleep restriction to blood alcohol content, for example, we see that if you’ve been awake for 20 hours, you’re basically the equivalent of 0.5. If you’ve been awake for 24 hours a year, the equivalent of 0.1. So, kind of over the legal limit, so it just has a similar kind of effect. So, strategies to help with that, you know, mean where possible just removing that problem entirely either through ride share or public transport. I know, you know, in many cases that’s not going to be feasible or effective. But just make sure really trying to prevent yourself from driving when you’re drowsy, whether that’s a look at the fatigue countermeasure before the drive. Or worst-case scenario if you feel yourself nodding off at the wheel, it doesn’t matter. If you’re five minutes from your house. You need to stop, and you need to just take a couple of minutes with your eyes shut because that can be enough to push you through. Nothing is worth having that collision, which is the one collision where the kid runs across the road. Nothing’s worth that.

Host: Got it. So, fatigue countermeasure for example, if he mentioned working out, getting some exercise to raise your body temperature as is one of those I think you mentioned earlier.

Lois James: Yeah. Yeah. Or caffeine or lights or whatever it might be.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene and Reduce Your Fatigue.  

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