From chronic illness to weight gain, research shows that lack of sleep can cause a host of health problems. Sleep experts share why it's important to get a good night's rest. Plus, tips on how you can sleep better.
It's no secret that a lousy night's sleep makes you feel lousy, too. The latest scientific findings tie disrupted slumber to everything from chronic diseases to obesity and depression. Beyond a doubt, adequate rest is essential for both emotional and physical well-being.
Helen Driver, assistant professor in the department of medicine at Queen's University and a somnologist at Kingston General Hospital's Sleep Disorder Lab, has studied the science of sleep since the late 1980s. "The interest level for the subject has gone way up," she says. "Recently, there has been a collective realization about how tired we feel, and there's a desire to know what can be done about it."
Researchers are working to find out more. In a study published in the journal Sleep, 24 percent of Canadians age 15 and up experienced insomnia (the inability to get to sleep or stay asleep). And, according to Driver, women are more likely to experience insomnia and complain about fatigue because they aren't getting the seven to eight hours they need.
Research shows that, during sleep, your brain is a beehive of activity, helping to produce hormones like melatonin and growth hormone, which play a part in repairing cells, processing new information, reducing inflammation, regulating emotions and building memory. The brain also cleans house regularly, flushing away toxins like excess protein through the glymphatic system—a kind of plumbing for the brain. In fact, in studies with mice, the glymphatic system was 10 times more active during sleep. Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center believe this process may help maintain healthy brain cells, and might even keep Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease at bay.
The health effects of sleep deprivation
A host of health issues can result from inadequate sleep. Feeling stressed out, for example, isn't just a product of an over-loaded schedule or a hectic lifestyle. Among the chronically sleepless, cortisol (the stress hormone) remains at high levels instead of dropping in accordance with the body's circadian rhythm, the natural body clock that controls physiological processes like sleep. The body's resulting inability to regulate cortisol potentially contributes to high blood pressure and can increase the risk of calcification of the coronary arteries.
Elevated cortisol levels in the evening are also linked to the development of insulin resistance, a precursor to obesity and diabetes. In one study, healthy young men who were sleep-deprived for less than a week developed a prediabetic state of impaired glucose tolerance. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that those with sleep apnea also have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, even after taking into account other contributing risk factors like obesity, age and waist circumference.
Shortchanged sleepers may also have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Two key hormones involved in appetite regulation can misbehave on too little sleep—ghrelin, responsible for stimulating appetite, rises, while leptin, which signals satiety, drops. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found this specific hormone cocktail increases salt and fat cravings, and may make individuals more prone to obesity.
Inadequate sleep may also be linked to chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Though the connection between sleep disorders and disease is not entirely understood, a lack of sleep may increase inflammation throughout the body and impair cell repair. For women getting fewer than six hours of sleep nightly, the risk of coronary heart disease rises substantially.
Your monthly flow might not be helping, either. Sixty-seven percent of women say they lose sleep due to their menstrual cycle. Backaches, headaches, breast tenderness and pelvic pain cause discomfort, while fluctuating hormones contribute to sleeplessness. "After the age of 35, our ovaries begin to age, causing lower levels of progesterone," says Dr. Nishi Dhawan of Vancouver's Westcoast Women's Clinic. "As perimenopause approaches, estrogen and progesterone production become more erratic, which may cause anxiety and insomnia." Dr. Bal Bawa, also of the Westcoast Women's Clinic, adds that menopause can be experienced differently. Some women say they've never slept better, but for the majority, the ability to sleep worsens.
Lastly, sleep is important for immune system function. People who don't get enough shut-eye are less able to fight infection.The stats are sobering: Sleeping fewer than five hours increases the risk of death by about 15 percent.
"Adequate sleep is not a luxury," says Driver. "We need to make it a priority. We need to raise kids that have healthy bedtime routines, so they can grow up to be adults who give credence to sleep's crucial role in our health."
How did sleep cycles get so out of whack? Driver points to modern technology as a prime culprit. Prior to having electricity in the home, the body's circadian rhythm dictated sleep patterns. Light was a powerful timekeeper—in the morning, sunlight coaxed people awake and at sundown, it was time to hit the hay. Today, simply by switching on a light at night, our bodies are pressured to stay alert and awake, as opposed to following their natural rhythm.
The prevalence of electronic devices makes the situation even worse. When laptops, tablets and smartphones enter the bedroom, problems arise. "The blue light they emit confuses the body," says Driver. "It's stimulating and disturbing, leading to an ‘on call' type of lighter sleep that is not deep or fully restorative, as seen with moms listening for a baby's cry and doctors poised to answer an emergency call."
How to improve your sleep hygiene
Total darkness in the bedroom is recommended by the experts, as it promotes higher secretions of melatonin—which encourages sleepiness, regulates body temperature and blood pressure, and inhibits cancer cell growth. Conversely, light exposure suppresses melatonin. Several studies have linked light during nighttime hours and shift work with an increased incidence of breast cancer. Turning off electronics an hour before bedtime and keeping devices away from sleep zones go a long way toward encouraging more restorative sleep.
Surprisingly, interrupted sleep can be just as bad as getting no sleep at all. A pilot study from Tel Aviv University concluded that when sleep was disrupted during the night, even when participants slept seven hours, it was equivalent to sleeping half that time—causing the same fatigue, depression and confusion experienced by the severely sleep-deprived. The most crucial time is the deep slumber that occurs during the third stage of the sleep cycle. This is when the body goes into overdrive to produce healing and repairing hormones.
Thankfully, the body is properly equipped to make up for a few nights of poor sleep: "It's intelligent in creating homeostasis—so the body will try to compensate," says Dr. Bawa. But if you're exhausted to the point where energy levels don't bounce back after a couple nights of solid sleep, and normal activities are affected, it's time to see a doctor. "We look at a range of factors, like adrenal gland fatigue, anemia and thyroid hormone disruption, for underlying causes of fatigue," she says.
Getting a good night's sleep is about more than just feeling rested—it's about building a healthy foundation for your future.
|This content is vetted by medical experts
|This story was originally titled "In Your Sleep" in the October 2014 issue.
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Crunchy-Top Blueberry Muffins <br /> Photography by Mark Burstyn Credits: Crunchy-Top Blueberry Muffins <br /> Photography by Mark Burstyn
<p>Image courtesy of Amber Funk</p>
These cute dogs from around the world have found homes in Canada through rescues such as Save Our Scruff. Check out their adorable faces and read what their adopters have to say about their pasts, personalities and adorable quirks.
"From the streets of Cancun Mexico to the Beaches of Toronto—meet Nalha! We fostered this pretty girl and right away she stole our hearts, so we went through with the adoption. In the matter of days she was house trained, plus she sits, lies down, shakes both paws, spins, plays fetch and loves to play with all the other dogs down at the beach. She is the best thing that has ever happened to us." –Megan Evans
Follow Save Our Scruff on Instagram.
"This first year with Frankie has been an amazing, crazy rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve never felt purer love or had more meltdowns. I feel so lucky to have been on the journey with him. His favourite thing is to go on off-leash walks and the second he hits grass or fresh snow he gets crazy zoomies and bounces like a little bunny. It’s adorable." –Lauriana Mandody
"Sofia is chill. She sleeps most of the day and is pretty calm (except for her nightly bout of energy that lasts about 10 minutes before bedtime). She also sleeps in! I can’t imagine my life without Sofia and I guess that’s the bittersweet part about adopting a senior dog. We won’t have as much time with her as we would with a younger pup, and so we cherish every single day.” –Justine Iaboni
Follow at @schnoodlesofia
“A small puppy was recently delivered to my door after a long journey from Texas. Malnourished, weary-eyed and incredibly cautious, the little Belgian Malinois had no idea how lucky she was to be alive. With a reserved yet endearing disposition, her big pointy ears and kangaroo-like bounce, she got a lot of attention. In fact, when I said I was "just fostering" people responded, "You're in trouble.” It was after several of these encounters that I realized my naiveté. In less than one week I had pulled a classic "foster fail" move and signed the adoption papers. Best fail ever.” –Anon.
“We’ve had Abl in our family for 14 years now and he is the sweetest old man. Even though he’s getting up there in years, he still loves to go on long walks on the outskirts of Winnipeg. He’s always had a strong hunting instinct and is very loyal. I love visiting home because I get to see him.” –Andrea Karr
"We went to the shelter to visit with a dog we'd seen online, but were encouraged to look at Reggie, a five-year-old black Lab-border collie mix who'd been with them for more than four months. Having two young kids, we worried and wondered what was wrong with him; why had no one adopted Reggie after so much time? It's a fact that black dogs and cats are often overlooked, and that had been the case with Reggie as well. He is the gentlest soul. We tried everything we could that day to rile him up—covering his eyes, holding his muzzle—and nothing did. In the five years he's been with us, he's been the perfect protector (code for: he barks loudly when people he deems "suspicious" walk by the house, but we don't mind) and our constant companion." –Sandra Martin
"After having such a great time with Reggie, the mature dog we adopted three years before, I started to feel familiar pangs, not unlike the tickle in my insides when I thought I might be having second thoughts about my own personal one-child-only policy. In the end, I had a second baby—and adopted a second dog. Bailey is the most universally beloved pooch I've ever met, absolutely thrilled to meet every dog and human we come within 100 metres of on our twice-daily walks. Bonus: he's brought out Reggie's playful side. Now, just as I couldn't imagine not having two kids, I can't imagine not having two dogs." –Sandra Martin
“Cash and Cannon are two loyal brothers from Alabama that currently live north of Toronto and are learning to track and retrieve ducks. They always have their noses to the ground—I believe that’s the coonhound in them. At only 10 weeks old, they are teaching me more about loving and caring for something than I’ve learned in the last 30 years of my life. Cannon is the perfect sidekick. He’s the fastest puppy I have ever seen. Cash is the definition of dominant and sets the pace so Cannon doesn’t get too carried away.” –Joshua James
“Mu has brought so much joy and love into our home. My daughters are learning about responsibility, patience and, best of all, about giving and receiving unconditional love. Mu's calm and gentle demeanour suits us well and she has settled in easily and gently. She is my first ever dog and I was unprepared for how heartwarming, how joyful and how beautiful this would be. What an incredible surprise and such a wonderful gift to our family.” –Susan Dawson
“Rookie and Rolland are the perfect black-and-tan duo. Rookie has been with me since a young pup and has had many foster dogs come and go over the years, but we all knew Rolland wasn't going anywhere once he came into our home. These two have quickly become the best of friends. They enjoy long walks, stopping to sniff anything and everything. They are super low maintenance, very easygoing and cuddle the perfect amount.” –Allison Wills
“It always brings us such joy to see Riley make small milestones. In this case, walking on metal surfaces like the grate in the photo. It terrified her a few months ago.” –Kate Duncan
"Our first few months with Rowdy were tough. Over the year, we've done obedience classes, socialization and private lessons. With lots of persistence and even more love, he's slowly become more comfortable and confident. We've also learned that Rowdy loves to do tricks. He gets so excited seeing us cheer him on after he’s mastered a new move. Adoption turned out to be a lot more work than we ever expected, but it's also been so much more rewarding and we can't imagine our life without him." –Anon.
“We offered to escort two pups home to Toronto from our honeymoon in Mexico, never expecting anything other than a good deed well done. Then we met Jello at the Cancun airport covered in ticks but so happy and full of nothing but love. She came home stowed safely under the seat in front of us and has been a dream since then. She loves all the littles in our family, is completely head over teakettle for her tennis ball, and is learning to stay home by herself. We love her!” –Courtney Roytberg
“We got Rocky just a few days from NYE as foster parents and knew within that week that he was too special and adopted him right away. He came to us with a ton of awful hot spots, half a chewed-off tail and major anxiety issues. Lots of training, love and attention and Rocky is doing great and is part of the family like he has always been here. He has the most gentle, sweet personality.” –Henna Chaudry
“We welcomed Kona into our family after she was rescued from Northern Quebec. She enjoys playing in the creek, nibbling toys, meeting new friends and going for long walks in the park. She is so smart.” –Brianne Gardner
“From day one, Mouse claimed this chair as her throne!” –Sardé Lynn
“When I get home, Cleo twerks for me. She gets really amped up and does this amazing butt dance. She’d be great in an R. Kelly music video. Honestly, she’s the best decision I’ve ever made. When I get home, we battle each other. How excited would you be knowing that when you get home from work there’s a dog hiding somewhere in your house waiting to battle you?” –Tristan Tarr
"Poncho and Fido are the best because we simply could not imagine life without them. They enrich every aspect of our lives and we are so grateful that they have made themselves a part of the family. They are incredibly quirky and can be challenging at times, as is the case with all relationships, but their unconditional love and funny personalities make them who they are. To us, they are perfect." –Devon Gerby
"Godzilla was our doggie in an instant. She's a snuggly little pooch with a big heart, and a lover of stinky socks. People ask if she's as ferocious as her name suggests. Well, she'd like to think so!" –Emily Milling
"Cairo is the perfect addition to our little family. We started by fostering him as a three-month-old pup when he was rescued off the streets of Egypt after his mom was fed poison. He arrived on December 23 and it was our first time fostering, but after having him for just a few days we knew that he was meant to stay with us. Our other dog, Cole, instantly became his comfort blanket. We have had a bumpy road with Cairo and our work is not yet done, but he has shown us that even the smallest improvement can bring so much joy. He is loving and protective of our family and will do anything for human attention. He has such a quirky personality and constantly makes us laugh." –Kate Rigby
"Silas is awesome because he is the epitome of a loyal companion. He comes to work with me everyday—earning three milk bones a day—and is my constant shadow." –Amber Funk
Lemony Red Pepper and Asparagus Pasta Salad <br> Photography by Joe Kim Credits: Lemony Red Pepper and Asparagus Pasta Salad <br> Photography by Joe Kim
Planning a picnic or family barbecue anytime soon? Give yourself one less thing to worry about and go for one of our easy pasta salad recipes. It's sure to be a hit!
Pasta salads are great to make ahead, and are absolute tops for large groups. They also take the cake for being an extremely versatile dish – with a host of added ingredients, toppings and dressings, simple pasta salads can go from humble side to star entrée in no time.
We asked Test Kitchen food specialist Amanda Barnier to share some top tips for preparing pasta salads, and why they're a crowd favourite. Here's what she had to share:
Pasta salads: the perfect make-ahead dish
"Pasta salads can easily be prepped in advance and can feed a crowd with little effort," Amanda says. "It can be made in advance and cooled immediately after cooking."
One important tip to remember, she adds, is to "add dressing the day it's being served, because it will quickly absorb the dressing."
Pasta salad favourites
"I like using cheese filled tortellini for a hearty salad. Soba and rice noodles are great with Asian dressings, whole grain and coloured pastas," Amanda says.
How to store pasta salads
"Keep salads well wrapped and refrigerated," she says. "Salad has the same storage life as its ingredients. Seafood is best eaten within 2 days, and chicken (within) 2 to 3 days. If traveling, be sure to store pasta salads in coolers packed with lots of ice."
"Proteins should not be within 4 C and 60 C for longer than a four hour period," she adds.
The long and short of it: best pasta shapes
"Short shapes are best with vinaigrettes and creamy dressings, and chunky ingredients such as chopped vegetables and beans," Amanda says.
"Long pasta shapes are better used with thinly sliced vegetables, proteins, herbs, spices and vinaigrettes."
Tips for making pasta salad
"If making a pasta salad in advance, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain well," she advises. "Add dressing just prior to serving. Pasta quickly absorbs liquids; if the dressing is added too soon, the pasta will absorb it."
So whether you prefer chunky pasta salads with a cool, creamy dressing perfect for summer picnics, or entrée-worthy pasta salads with long rice noodles and a tangy vinaigrette, you're sure to find a new favourite with from our collection.
Easy pasta salad recipes:
Lemony Red Pepper and Asparagus Pasta Salad
A bright vinaigrette makes this pasta salad the ultimate dish to serve at any summer party.
Photography by Joe Kim
Mediterranean Orzo Salad
This salad highlights many fresh flavours of the Mediterranean and is at its best when made with good-quality olive oil.
Photography by Jeff Coulson
The Best Macaroni Salad
This is a great keeper salad and perfect for a picnic or BBQ. Just make sure you pack it with plenty of ice packs to keep it nice and cold, both during transportation and at the table.
Photography by Annabelle Waugh
Chicken, Broccoli and Bocconcini Pasta Salad
Make this pasta salad for the whole family—the kids will love the mild dressing and round bocconcini cheese, while the adults will appreciate it as a light alternative to a sandwich.
Photography by Jeff Coulson
More great pasta salad recipes:
Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
This salad is simple to assemble for a quick family meal.
Warm Spinach and Ham Pasta Salad
Dressed with Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar, this penne pasta salad is a winner topped with goat cheese and cherry tomatoes.
Winter Vegetable Pasta Salad
Cook everything together in one pot for this easy warm salad.
Pea, Pepper and Pasta Salad
This make-ahead salad is perfect for toting to a potluck barbecue or picnic. Toss the salad with the dressing right before serving so the peas stay bright green.
Summer Pasta Salad
Serve this light summery salad with crispy, homemade Parmesan Breadsticks.
Mediterranean Fusilli Salad
Fresh basil, hearty beans, piquant sun-dried tomatoes and al dente pasta make the perfect summer salad.
Warm Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
The dressing lends a taste of summer any time of year. The red peppers provide vitamins A and C and potassium. Quick and easy to make, this salad is perfect to take to a last-minute potluck or picnic.
Grilled Sausage, Pepper and Bocconcini Pasta Salad
This delicious pasta salad is made with tasty Italian sausage and lots of colourful peppers.
Bow-Tie Pasta Salad
This easy, colourful salad has the sunny fresh tastes of Greece.
Tuna Pasta Salad
Using tuna packed in both oil and broth means you'll need less oil in the dressing.
Salmon Pasta Salad
Start with melon wedges to whet your appetite for this quick and light dinner.
Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad
Grilled market-fresh veggies meet marinated olives and artichokes in this healthy dish made with whole wheat rotini. So chock full with taste and texture, carnivores won't complain about this vegetarian dish.
Party Parmesan Pasta Salad
Try this hearty salad studded with salami, olives, tiny tomatoes, roasted pepper and fresh basil.
Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad
This easy tasty pasta salad is loaded with calcium. Omit the banana peppers if your child is not a fan of hot food.
Deli Pasta Salad
Add 1-1/4 cups (300 mL) extra pasta to the pot at dinner the night before to have enough for this lunchtime salad the next day.
Sirloin Steak with Green Bean Pasta Salad
Sirloin steaks paired with green beans and tomatoes make this salad a hearty entrée.
Looking for more great recipes? Try our best potato salad recipes.