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“Sleepless in Vancouver” & “Anxious In Airports”


Dear Hannah, 

The CBC had a report about the new sleep program called “The Cognitive Shuffle.” I presume it is not a new dance step! As a senior man of 72 years old, this interests me since I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I am healthy, have an active and satisfying lifestyle, with no major health problems.  

– Sleepless in Vancouver 

Dear “Sleepless In Vancouver”, 

Welcome to the club! They say that “sleep is the new sex.” According to Forbes magazine, “Sleep is something everyone needs and wants. We have to have it, and we have trouble getting it these days.”  

Sleep deprivation takes both a physical and financial toll. Research shows that lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Not getting enough sleep leads to huge expenditures in annual health-care costs and millions of dollars in lost productivity (Melanie Wells, Forbes Magazine).  

According to Jane Brody (New York Times, Jan. 16, 2017) insomnia is like a thief in the night, robbing millions—especially those older than 60—of much-needed restorative sleep. There are two types of insomnia. One, called primary insomnia, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and a tendency to act out one’s dreams physically. The other, more common type of insomnia, is secondary to an underlying medical or psychiatric problem; the side effects of medications; behavioural factors like ill-timed exposure to caffeine, alcohol or nicotine or daytime naps; or environmental disturbances like jet lag or excessive noise or light—especially the blue light from an electronic device—in the bedroom.  

I suspect that you may be suffering from the second, that is, nonmedical causes of insomnia which are treated by practicing “good sleep hygiene.” Here are some suggestions: 1. Limit naps to less than 30 minutes a day; 2. Avoid stimulants and sedatives; 3. Avoid heavy meals and minimize liquids within two hours of bedtime; 4. Exercise moderately every day; 5. Maximize exposure to bright light during the day and minimize it at night; 6. Create comfortable sleep conditions; and 7. Go to bed only when you feel sleepy.  

NOW, back to your question about “The Cognitive Shuffle.” If all else fails, that is, your physician says there are no physical problems, and you have tried all sorts of ways to induce a good night’s sleep, Canadian cognitive scientist Luc Beaudoin has invented a new cure for insomnia, which he calls the “cognitive shuffle”. Oliver Burkeman (The Guardian, Friday July 15, 2016) explains it as follows.  

Essentially, it’s a method for deliberately scrambling your thoughts, so they make no sense. And since the world these days already doesn’t, what have you got to lose?  The cognitive shuffle involves mentally picturing a random sequence of objects for a few seconds each: a cow; a microphone; a loaf of bread, and so on. It’s important to ensure the sequence if truly meaningless, otherwise you’ll drift back into rumination. One option is Beaudoin’s app, MySleepButton, which speaks the names of items in your ear. Another is simply to pick a work, such as “bedtime”, then picture as many items beginning with “b” as you can, then “e”, then “d”, then…Well,  by then, if my experience is anything to go by, you’ll be asleep. 

This sleep trick of Luc Beaudoin, a B.C. professor, has gotten attention from Oprah, Forbes and the Guardian. I would pull up the articles on the Internet (Google “cognitive shuffle”) and give it a good try. What have you got to lose? Sweet dreams and Good night. 


Dear Hannah,

I am a senior woman who enjoys travelling—I like to visit grandchildren in Montreal and Toronto,  go to California for a month in the winter and once in a while take a cruise. There have been some truly distressing stories on the television lately about people getting bumped off their flights. Do you have any advice on how to avoid or minimize this happening? 

– Anxious in Airports 

Dear “Anxious In Airports”,

Here is my advice on how to avoid getting thrown off an overbooked flight! It almost happened to me. I was on my way to Toronto. I arrived at the airport two hours in advance of my flight. I breezed through airport security and was waiting at the boarding gate. Suddenly, I heard my name being called out. “I’m afraid the flight has been overbooked, we have to bump you.” I got mad fast, I said I had booked this ticket three months in advanced and I played the “age card” (after all, it was an emergency!). Eventually, they said I could continue on the flight AND I had been upgraded to Business Class!  

The most important things you can do in preparation for your flight:  

  1. Book your seat in advance. I did not know about this procedure. You must call/ check-in 24 hours in advance of your flight. Why? Because once you’ve been assigned a seat, the airline cannot take it away. This pre-flight check-in costs you nothing.  
  2. Pay extra to book your seat when you purchase your ticket. This is helpful if you absolutely want to sit in a particular place (far away from the toilet; extra leg room in the bulkhead, on the aisle).  
  3. Just in case of a delayed flight, be prepared to wait. Carry a good book, or a fully-charged smart phone or a laptop computer loaded with an e-book or a movie, get a manicure, get a shoe shine, shop for the grandkids, etc.  
  4. Check out the free app GateGuru for the low-down on restaurants, shops, and amenities in nearly 200 airports worldwide.  
  5. Go for comfort. Want to get maximum leg room? offers seat maps, airport guides and recommendations for different planes. Check the seat-comparison chart to determine seat width for various flights you’re considering (Camilla Cornell, National Post, Oct. 20, 2016). 

Have a good trip.  

Hannah, M.Sc. Counselling