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[News] Body clock may be key to the sleep you dream about
Body clock may be key to the sleep you dream about
Your body's clock may be key to the sleep you dream about

By Diane Cowen

It's 1 a.m., your eyes are wide open, and the clock is ticking. Soon its alarm will tell you it's time to get up. But you can't get to sleep, can't stay asleep.

You're exhausted, living on caffeine and are convinced that a good night's sleep is all that's standing between you and a better life, good health or job promotion.

Somehow, though, restorative sleep eludes you. If you think you're alone, then you really are too drowsy to notice what's happening around you. By all accounts, 65 percent of Americans will have trouble falling asleep tonight, says James B. Maas, the best-selling author of the newly released "Sleep to Win!: Secrets to Unlocking Your Athletic Excellence in Every Sport" and "Sleep for Success! Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired to Ask" (co-written in 2011 with Rebecca S. Robbins).

Maas, who coined the term "power nap," was in Houston recently to speak to a Dress for Success breakfast fundraiser. To the 300 or so women who'd lost just a little bit more sleep to support the charity at an early-morning event, he talked about the importance of a good night's sleep.

Q: You were a psychology professor at Cornell for 48 years. What inspired you to make sleep research your life's work?

A: At Thanksgiving in 1969, I asked Dr. William Dement, the grandfather of modern sleep research at Stanford, if I could come to his lab to capture footage of him monitoring a dream. I needed film footage about what goes on during this mysterious third of our life.

At that time, I was trained as an industrial and consumer psychologist. Watching this student go to sleep and nothing happening for 90 minutes, and then all of a sudden the electrodes going nuts … I was so captivated and fascinated by the concept of the mysteries of the night that I said, "I'm going to do this for the rest of my life."

I got in on the ground floor of sleep science. I've spent every moment of my waking and sleeping life since Thanksgiving night 1969 thinking about sleep.

Q: You have a long list of advice for reclaiming rest - from the right pillow to medical tests. Where should an exhausted person begin?

A: Start with a quiet, cold bedroom, a good pillow and mattress. Get exercise during the day, no caffeine after 2 p.m. and no alcohol within three hours of bedtime.

Q: At what point should a person seek professional help?

A: Anyone who goes three weeks struggling with adequate sleep. I'm not talking about people who ignore sleep … if you're trying to get good sleep but can't, then it's time to go to an accredited sleep disorder center.

Q: You talk about people who are sleep deprived to the point of being medically ill or even a danger to themselves and others. For people who have adopted "sleepy" or "exhausted" as their new normal, how can anyone get them to see that they need help?

A: Seventy-two percent of the American population is moderately sleep deprived. Sometimes it takes a car accident, low job performance or falling asleep at the wrong time. Kids might not be able to wake up. Spouses complain that you snore too loudly. There can be a variety of things that trigger this. Most people know they are not fully alert all day long and that they lack energy.

Q: It seems like sleep deprivation is getting a lot of attention lately for its connection to overweight/obesity as well as a host of other health problems. If the connection has been there all along, as you well know, why is it getting attention now?

A: Simply through publicity. I've spent a good part of my life talking about it. Dr. Oz called me last week. I've been on "Today" and "Regis" and "Oprah" - she showed the program five or six times, and she had 40 million people watching her show. I do radio interviews once a week. When I talk to a group, like I did in Houston, invariably people go home and say to their spouse, "I heard this guy and did you know that. …"

Q: You use people like Olympic gold medal skater Sarah Hughes and Orlando Magic Jameer Nelson in your sleep-performance connection. Do those client examples surprise your readers?

A: I was an athlete in college … I played soccer, squash and tennis. I started to slow down as I got older, so I turned to golf. I love sports, and I really admire people who are successful athletes. The ones I've worked with are people we idolize but who have sleep problems. Usually, my favorite case is the last person I've treated. I am just thrilled with this little girl Amber who is on her school cross-country team and just broke her fifth school record last week. I'm sure she's an Olympic-quality athlete, and she will be another Sarah Hughes.

Q: What's new in treatment for sleep problems?

A: For sleep apnea, the old treatment is still good. CPAP masks are getting smaller and easier to tolerate. We also know, for example, that playing the didgeridoo, (an ancient wind instrument,) strengthens the flap that causes apnea. Some people learn the didgeridoo because they don't like the mask.

The biggest misuse is sleeping pills, which we now know can be quite dangerous. Using cognitive behavioral therapy rules and strategies is much more effective. Every day we're discovering new and better treatments, like educating people to turn off electronics in the last hour before sleep.

Q: You taught Psych 101 for more than 40 years, and you often had classes of 2,000 students. Did any of them ever fall asleep in class?

A: Yes. As stimulating as I am … a lot of our athletes were practicing at 6 to 6:30 in the morning and doing two-a-days. I'd put the lacrosse team in the front row to make sure they attended class. Before I even opened my mouth, eight or nine of them would be asleep at a 10 a.m. lecture. We educated the coaches to call off those early practices. I was fairly lucky that I was talking about things that could really apply to their lives.

Q: What is your bedtime ritual, and how much sleep do you get?

A: I try to get eight hours of sleep, and I keep track with either a Zeo machine or UP bracelet, (sleep-tracking devices). I absolutely go to bed at the same time, 11 p.m. I read nonwork-related material, and the lights go off at midnight. If I've done everything right during the day, I sleep solidly. I'm going to be 75 this summer, but I still get the same amount of sleep I got at 40 or 45.

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The above post may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material available is intended to advance the understanding of Sleep Apnea treatment and to advance the educational level of Sleep Apnea patients with regard to their health. Sometimes included is the full text of articles and documents rather than a simple link because outside links frequently "go bad" or change over time. This constitutes a "fair use" of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this post is distributed without fee or payment of any kind for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this post for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
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