Trying to put insomnia problems to rest

Half of Americans report problems sleeping at least once a week. Sleep researchers have found that what experience does not FEEL like sleep.

Millions of Americans doubtless used that extra hour setting our clocks back to get a little extra sleep - an option NOT available to chronic sufferers from insomnia. For them, fiddling around with the clock offers no relief at all. Our Sunday Morning Cover Story is reported now by Susan Spencer of 48 Hours:

Nightfall in Louisville, Kentucky ... weary citizens soon will snuggle up in their nice, warm beds, ready for a restful night's sleep.

Good luck with that!

A new study done by Bert Sperling of ("The Best and Worst Places to Live" fame) names Louisville as the number one city when it comes to sleeplessness.

"People who live here report having an average of nine days monthly without restful sleep," said radio show host Terry Meiners.

It's not a distinction Louisville wants, but it doesn't surprise Meiners: "I drove to work this morning at 5:15 and I saw 30 people out for a run, and a few people sitting on benches. I wasn't intrigued by the people running, but the ones sitting on benches really blew my mind. Why aren't you home in bed?" he laughed. "What, are you waiting for the diner to open? Go back to bed! They'll have pancakes at 7:30."

But WHY is it so hard to sleep here?

Some theories: Louisville has a huge UPS hub, a lot of people work the overnight. THEY'RE obviously not sleeping.

There's a giant construction project blocking a major bridge, forcing commuters to spend hours in traffic - when they should be in bed.

And that's not the only stress: Louisville ranks high in unemployment and divorce.

But then, of course, there are folks like Meiners: "I'm one of those people who does wake up about 3:30 in the morning. I don't know why. But I start tumbling through what I'm going to do the next day."

We've all been there, occasionally. But what if night after night? You put on your jams, get into bed, turn out the lights, but no matter how many sheep you imagine out there, waiting to be counted ... you simply cannot fall sleep.

A Sunday Morning poll found half of all Americans has trouble sleeping at least once a week - and more than a third (33%) more often than that.

"These are people with insomnia, they have the time to sleep but can't sleep - three or more times per week, a month or longer," said psychologist Wendy Troxel of the University of Pittsburgh Sleep and Chronobiology Center. She says 20 to 30 million American adults suffer true insomnia.

"How do they stand it? I mean, there's nothing worse!" said Spencer.

"Yes, we have all experienced this once or twice, or around stressful times," said Troxel. "But when you think about what it's like to experience it nightly over months and months and years and years, it truly is crazy-making."

In one demonstration, doctors at the Center hook people up to monitors and study their brains while they sleep. What they've found is eye-opening:

"If we bring them into the lab, they may say that they didn't sleep at all, but we'll have data to suggest that they DID sleep," said Troxel. "Now this doesn't mean that they're lying, though. It just means that their experience of sleep is part of the problem. Even when we objectively show that they're sleeping, it still doesn't FEEL like sleep."

Troxel's colleague, Dr. Daniel Buysse, says insomniacs' brains are hyper-aroused. So, while the brain of a good sleeper shuts down at night, an insomniac's brain is always ON - no matter what time of day.

"So it could actually be that when people with insomnia report being aware of their environment, being awake all night, they may actually have increased activity in some brain regions despite the electrodes on their head appearing to be asleep," said Buysse.

All that brain activity comes at a price. A recent Harvard study found that insomnia costs the U.S. work force $63.2 billion annually.

"We know that people with insomnia have worse functioning at work," said Buysse. "There have been some studies that show that they have more sick days and have higher health costs. It increases the risk for subsequent conditions like depression, anxiety disorders and even substance use."

It's enough to keep you up at night - and that goes double for women, who are twice as likely as men to have insomnia.