By Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune reporter
October 31, 2012
The clocks get turned back Sunday and although that extra hour of snoozing is a treat, don't think it can make a dent in the nation's sleep deficit.
Approximately 1 in 3 Americans get by on six hours or less of slumber, says Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center and director of Sleep Disorders Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
In recognition of Central Standard Time, we checked in with the neurologist to try and understand why going to bed loses out to late-night Web-surfing and "M*A*S*H" reruns.
Q: Your name is attached to a lot of groundbreaking research, including the finding that staying up late can make you pile on the pounds. Can you explain how one impacts the other?
A: In a study that came out last year, (those who went to sleep late) consumed 248 more calories a day, twice as much fast food, more full-calorie sodas and half as many fruits and vegetables as those with earlier sleep times.
So, what we think is that there's this mismatch between the body and the environment. The body says "time to sleep" but the environment says "time to stay up," so the body is looking for more energy. It's like our biology has not evolved to our lifestyle.
Q: What can you tell me about night owls? It's hard to understand why people don't do something they generally enjoy, which is sleeping. It's not like getting a colonoscopy. Can you explain?
A: We've had these broad societal changes, including longer work hours and commute times, increased dependence on technology ... and it all has contributed to the growing sleep-deficiency problem. We boast about how little sleep we need — like it's a badge of honor. Sleep is something that is seen as expendable ... which is why the percentage of men and women reporting sleeping less than six hours per night has increased significantly over the last 20 years.
Q: Why is this a problem?
A: Because there are definite health consequences. There's now beautiful data on how sleep deprivation affects learning, memory, executive function. How you're more at risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. It's relevant to every field of medicine.
Q: Is it possible to be an outlier, someone who just doesn't need a lot of shut-eye?
A: Even those people who say they can get by on less than six hours a night, when you measure hormones or glucose and insulin levels, they're not normal. But when they get a little more sleep those metabolic functions improve. The people who say they're doing just fine are probably not doing just fine.
Q: You say that the end of daylight-saving time can disrupt sleep patterns. How can gaining an hour be anything other than a bonus?
A: It's like an hour of jet lag traveling west. So, for a few days, one's internal clock is out of sync with the new time zone. For early-morning types, it may mean waking up earlier than desired, losing an hour of sleep.
Q: How much sleep does a sleep expert get?
A: I try to average seven hours (a night) in the course of a week. Sometimes, it dips down to six, but the next day I know that I shouldn't schedule an early meeting. I do recover on the weekends, but I could do better. Exercise, nutrition and sleep is the pyramid of good health.
Q: What should we do if we want to improve sleep habits?
A: Add a little bit incrementally. Even 15 minutes on each end — or 30 minutes per day — is 150 more minutes per work week.
Q: Did your choice of a research field having anything to do with your name?
A: I married into the name ... so I just got lucky.
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