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Americans Losing Sleep: Part Two

Millions of Americans don't get enough sleep, and The Early Show's Jane Clayson is one of them.

In part two of the show's series "The A to ZZZ's of Sleep," Clayson shares her experience at the Columbia-Presbyterian Sleep Disorders Center in New York, where she learned more about her sleep difficulties.

Clayson says she doesn't have enough time to sleep, and is therefore nervous about getting enough sleep, which in turn keeps her awake. At the sleep center, experts monitored her as she slept.

"Hooked up to eighteen different electrodes monitoring my every eye flutter and vital sign, I actually did manage to get to sleep," Clayson says. "Over the next five and a half hours as I tossed and turned and buried myself in pillows, a complex computer polygraph made an intricate record of my sleep patterns.

"You slept five hours and twenty two minutes," sleep specialist Neal Kavey, MD, told Clayson after she awoke. "You're running considerably sleep deprived each night."

The next morning Kavey explained what her sleep patterns had revealed.

"Now the basic sleep physiology here is for the most part normal ... you look like a healthy young woman," he told her.

Which simply means that they didn't see signs of a physical problem like restless leg syndrome or REM behavior disorder syndrome, in which sleepers physically act out their dreams. There were also no signs of snoring, which could mean sleep apnea. Still, Clayson learned, her sleep patterns are far from normal. Kavey told her she only had two dreams, while people with normal sleep patterns have four or five dreams a night.

Kavey compares the rhythm of normal sleep to riding up and down a slowly undulating wave. He used the information from Clayson's sleep pattern as an example. "We start fully awake as characterized by the busy alpha brain waves at the top of the screen," he says. "As breathing and heart rate slow down, muscles relax, and body temperature drops, the decent into sleep begins."

The first stage of sleep is the lightest, followed by the progressively deeper stages two and three. Finally, about ninety minutes in to sleep, people reach stage four, or deep sleep.

Next comes the first period of dream sleep or REM. In a normal period of eight or nine hours of sleep that pattern is repeated four times, with each dream phase lasting longer than the last. Clayson repeated the pattern only twice, and the length of her dreams also indicated a problem.

"The first dream usually of the night, about 90 minutes in, is five, 10, 15, 20 minutes. Your first dream was 44 minutes. That's characteristic of somebody who's running sleep deprived," Kavey says. Clayson asks why.

"You're making up for the dream time that you didn't have on previous nights," he answers.

Dream time, after all, is a crucial part of sleep.

In Clayson's case, part of the reason is that she is stimulating her brain right before bedtime.

"Here you are in the lab doing your homeworkright up until the last minute, so there's no time allowed to unwind," Kavey points out. "People think that's important just psychologically, but neurologically, it's important."

Kavey says people should allow themselves about two hours to wind down.

Even though most people don't have that time, Kavey says that doesn't mean that we don't need it.

Clayson says that her sleep was characterized by a large number of awakenings, like one where she rocketed out of the deepest kind of sleep into a state which is neither awake nor asleep.

"That's the kind of phenomenon … which is characteristic of sleep walking," Kavey says.

But most of Clayson's awakenings, especially as wake-up time approached, were of a much less mysterious type. She was waking up to check the clock.

Kavey devised a treatment plan to cope with Clayson's unusual schedule, but most of his recommendations are good tips for anyone who wants to get a better night's sleep.

Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

  1. GIVE YOURSELF A GOOD WIND DOWN. Take a bath, do a little light reading, divorce yourself from the stresses of the day.

  2. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM A SLEEP SANCTUARY. Create a really appealing environment in which to sleep and don't use the bedroom for anything but sleep--no homework, no TV, no talking on the phone.

  3. AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL. You don't want to have anything with caffeine in it after about noon, and while alcohol may help you fall asleep but its likely to contribute to awakenings.

  4. TRAIN YOUR INTERNAL CLOCK. Try and get into bed and wake up at the same time each night.

  5. TAKE SHORT NAPS IF YOU NEED THEM. People who have trouble sleeping should avoid naps, unless, like me they can't get enough sleep at night. But nothing over 45 minutes.

  6. SET A GOOD ALARM. If it takes 10 alarm clocks and a wake up call to make you feel secure about waking up, get ten alarm clocks and a wake-up call so you can stop waking up and checking the time.

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