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Resetting biological clock is a 6-week task

An individual who has trouble sleeping can reset his biological clock. But it takes some persistence — and the first couple of weeks may be downright hard.

"You choose the same wake-up time every day, seven days a week and you can't take naps," Dr. Tom Cloward told a caller to Saturday's Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Health Care Hotline on sleep disorders.

Say your time is 6 a.m.

"At the end of two weeks, the brain is so tired it will say it's time to go to bed at 10 p.m. and you will. It's really hard the first two weeks," he added. "Saturday morning, when you want to sleep in, don't."

It takes about six weeks of that to reset the clock, Cloward said.

Cloward, a sleep specialist, and Dr. Robert Farney, medical director of the LDS Hospital Sleep Disorders Clinic, where both work, took about 80 calls during a busy hotline. All the lines were full and callers sometimes had to wait 20 minutes for their turn.

It was no surprise to the men, because sleep disorders — including insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome — are so common that one-third of American adults complain of sleep problems at some point. And for many, it's a persistent woe.

Most of the callers were insomniacs who wanted to know how to get a good night's sleep. A few were callers who have already been treated with medications but wanted reassurance that it's OK to use them long-term if needed.

The answer, Farney said, is yes, it's OK if you need them. The Food and Drug Administration is now approving sleep aids for long-term use, reversing old thinking that about three weeks was the maximum time a remedy should be taken.

Insomnia is so pervasive and disruptive, Cloward said, that the condition often "rules lives."

In some cases, Farney assured callers that they are probably doing OK. But there were a few the two doctors suggested would benefit from consulting a physician who specializes in sleep disorders.

When someone doesn't get a good night's sleep because of a sleep disorder called restless leg syndrome, one of the first things the experts do is check iron levels and see whether there's a familiar basis for the condition.

Nearly anyone with a sleep disorder can be treated, although it may take several steps to find what works. Someone with sleep apnea likely will be given CPAP — a mask that's worn at night that delivers continuous positive airway pressure, hence the name. It keeps the airway open.

Medications can help insomnia, restless leg syndrome and other sleep disorders.

There are serious consequences to sleep disruption, some of them dire. With insufficient sleep comes attention problems, neurological and behavioral problems, mood swings, deficits in cognitive functioning, and inattentive and even dangerous driving. It contributes to diabetes and weight gain, which bring their own serious health complications.

In fact, Cloward said, studies have shown that people who consistently get fewer than six hours of sleep die at a younger age.

The hotline tackles a different topic the second Saturday of each month. It is not broadcast via radio. All calls are confidential.


E-mail: lois@desnews.com