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Researching the Mysteries of Sleep

July 10th, 2013 | WMFE - Eighty-three percent of Americans report that they don't get a good night's sleep on a consistent basis. And that can create problems with job performance or even affect your health. There's a lot of research on sleep difficulties, but it looks like what's really keeping us up at night are our modern lifestyles.

[Monitoring station at the Florida Hospital Sleep Disorders Clinic]

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Ball players who don’t want to get traded at the end of the season might want to make sleep a priority. A new study from Vanderbilt University notes a predictable decline in strike-zone judgment as the Major League Baseball season progresses. The decline  is thought to be brought on by baseball’s grueling travel schedules and sleep disruptions, problems Baltimore Orioles Pitcher and Orlando resident Tim Bascom knows well.

“There’s really not a whole lot you can do, I take a couple supplements, a couple melatonin, you know, stuff like that to try to get a deep sleep cycle real quick, you know, other than that, maybe a cat nap here and there in the afternoon when I can get one.”

Bascom says  he can’t sleep on the team bus, which usually doesn't get to where it’s going until 3 a.m. Since March, his team has played more than 70 games- which adds up to a lot of missed sleep 

“We really don’t have any off days to catch up on sleep and get back into a normal cycle, so I’d say right about now, June, July is when guys start feeling it a little bit.”

Baseball players aren’t the only ones whose jobs might be interfering with sleep. A study released at  the SLEEP 2013 conference says people with an office window receive 173 percent more white light during the day resulting in 46 more minutes of sleep at night.

There are so many things that can mess with your ability to sleep, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint where the problem lies. 

“We do see a lot of people who just can’t sleep, either can’t initiate sleep or can’t maintain sleep.”

Dr. Robert Thorton is Florida Hospital’s Center for Sleep Disorders Medical Director. A lot of his patients have a medical condition like sleep apnea.  Others just can’t sleep.

“We see a lot of people who have complaints of insomnia, complaints of not being able to sleep, and when they come here they sleep excellent. So they have a misperception of their sleep at home.”

That could be part of the problem. A lot of us find ourselves lying awake at night panicking over the fact that we’re not sleeping. We become more focused on the amount of time we’re awake than asleep.  Add to that constant studies and warnings that Americans don’t get enough sleep and you become convinced you have a sleep problem. University of Pennsylvania sleep researcher Michael Grandner says for a long time sleep was viewed as unimportant. We’re now starting to understand that sleep is critical to metabolic processes.

“We’re learning that that’s important we’re trying to stress this idea that sleep isn’t for the weak, sleep is for everybody.”

This new attitude to sleep is reflected in the policies of internet companies like Google and Zappos which provide nap rooms for their employees.

Grandner says researchers also see strong connections between poor sleep and poor health.

“There are, for example, over five dozen studies linking short sleep duration with obesity and weight gain.”

But what if you’re doing all the things you’re supposed to do and you still can’t sleep? Yes, medication can help, but Dr. Grandner says a better option is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which is essentially teaching people how to put themselves to sleep. There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding sleep- including one of the biggest- how much sleep do we need? Florida Hospital's Dr. Robert Thorton says the answer to that is easy. 

“You’re supposed to sleep as much as it takes to feel good or feel rested.”

Is that six hours or eight hours? You’re the only one who can answer that. 


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