Sleep medicines have been around for decades, but now, there are gadgets, apps and labs that study and diagnose sleeping disorders. And with technology driving increasingly busy lifestyles, the business of sleep is multiplying rapidly.
“When I first started in the field in 1982, we were one of the only sleep laboratories in Canada, right? Now there are hundreds of them,” said Dr. Doug Bradley, Director, Sleep Research Laboratories at Toronto Rehab and Toronto General Hospital.
“The line-up to get into my clinic is over six months. That tells me that we’re still underserviced.”
That has prompted Doug Bradley, the doctor, to become Doug Bradley the businessman. He co-founded a new company that sells an at-home sleep test.
“We felt, well, if you can’t bring Mohamed to the mountain, we’ll bring the mountain to Mohamed, so we developed this device in order to diagnose sleep apnea accurately in the home,” he told 16×9.
And you can hardly blame him.
Sleep is supposed to be free, but the widespread lack of it has big businesses cashing in, and making tens of billions of dollars a year. One study estimates at least 40 per cent of Canadians are now suffering from a sleep disorder. In this country alone, there were more than 20 million sleep aids prescribed last year.
Ninety sleep disorders have now been identified, ranging from the common, like sleep apnea, to the more bizarre.
“We’re now developing sleep disorders we never ever thought of. And they’re sleep texting. The kids are doing this in a partially awake state. They’re texting each other,” Dr Raymond Gottschalk, who runs a sleep lab in Hamilton, Ont., said.
The cost of sleep
Sleep labs offer patients testing during overnight stays at their clinics. They use electrodes placed all over the body to monitor heart rate, body motion, eye movement, breathing and oxygen levels. In the morning patients get results. And often the treatment can include costly devices to improve their breathing. Some provincial health systems cover most of cost of those devices, others don’t.
READ MORE: Five signs that you may have sleep apnea
According to Harvard University, sleep apnea increases the risk of developing hypertension and heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure, stroke and diabetes.
With risks like that, it’s no wonder the business of sleep is exploding, and there seems to be no end in sight to the demand for anything that can help exhausted Canadians get a good night’s rest.
“Eighty percent of the people in Ontario and probably more than that in the rest of Canada will have sleep apnea but have been undiagnosed,” Bradley said. “So that means there is a tremendous potential to expand even further.”
16×9’s “The Cost of Sleep” airs Saturday, Apr. 2, 2016 at 7pm.