Tips to get a better night's sleep

February 28, 2012 8:25:53 PM PST
We are a sleep deprived country.

More than 100 million Americans have some kind of sleep problem, from restless nights, to a major disorder.

That means one in three of us walk around tired or worse.

"I carry a weapon, I'm driving a cruiser, sometimes at high rates of speed, and I have to tell you at times I haven't slept in two days," said Sgt. John Keeley, Haverstraw Police Department.

John Keeley is a sergeant with the Haverstraw Police Department.

He, like so many others in the tri-state, works shifts for a living.

After years of not sleeping well it was affecting every aspect of his life.

Friends tried to help by giving him tips.

"Drink a little red wine. Some guys in the locker room said to take some Benadryl or Nyquil," Keeley said.

But none of that helped.

Finally, he was at a breaking point.

So, he found sleep specialist Dr. Maha Ahmad.

She diagnosed him with shift worker sleep disorder.

He was one of millions diagnosed in the United States.

"Hospital workers, doctors, nurses, Transit Authority, train drivers, truck drivers, pilots," Dr. Ahmad said.

Not to mention reporters.

For 17 years, the reporter on this story, Phil Lipof, has worked mornings, nights, and split shifts.

It's pretty common in the news business.

He just thought he didn't sleep well until recently he realized it was more than that and he needed help.

He too was up for days at a time.

So, Lipof found Dr. Ahmad just like Sgt. Keeley.

They had the same problem.

No circadian rhythm, or body clock, because they worked odd hours, many of them overnight.

Their treatment was similar too.

"For shift workers it's important to keep the same bed time and rise time seven days a week," Dr. Ahmad said.

For Lipof, that meant keeping a sleep log; waking up at 3:15 every morning even on his days off.

Keeley's up time was 7 a.m. even if he worked until midnight.

From there, Dr. Ahmad suggested other behavioral strategies:
- The bedroom needs to be pitch black
- No watching TV in bed
- No reading in bed
- TV screens and computer monitors need to be dimmed
Wear dark sunglasses during the day if it's close to bedtime

"It's never going to be perfect," Keeley said.

After three months of treatment, Lipof was sleeping much better and Keeley is too, but it's a long process.

Dr. Ahmad says that if you are a shift worker not sleeping well, there is hope.

"Yes, they have the ability to sleep reasonably well. It's just the external circumstances creating the sleep disorder," Dr. Ahmad said.

The first step is understanding the problem.

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