Chasing Sleep: Part One

By: Kari Huston
By: Kari Huston

Tom Mogerman is too busy saving lives, to get the sleep he needs.

“Depending on what fire company you're on, you can get up two, three, four times a night,” Mogerman explains. “If you're on the city ambulance you can be up all night long.”

For nine years Tom's schedule as a South Bend Firefighter and EMT has been changing.

Slowly, without him realizing it, sleep depravation crept up on Tom, changing his work performance, his home life, even his personality.

“There's irritability, concentration problems, and memory problems,” Tom says. “I told my doc and he suggested the Ambien controlled release. With that, instead of getting up four or five times a night, I'm getting up once or twice at home. I can't take it on-duty though.”

Tom is the type of consumer drug companies are aiming these ads for. With hundred- million-dollar campaigns they're convincing tired Americans that they have the right to get a decent night's sleep, and that prescription sleep aids are the safe and simple ways to do it.

“I would love to see the same commercials highlighting the benefits of good sleep habits,” admits Dr. Yatin Patel. Patel is medical director of the Goshen Health Systeml Center for Sleep Studies and he says prescription sleeping pills can be lifesavers, but for a select group of people; those who maintain good sleeping habits and still can't get the rest they need because of challenges like shift changes.

“If your brain needs seven or eight hours of sleep every night and you give your body half an hour less than what it needs, than you are collecting what we call sleep debt,” Patel says. “Unless you pay the sleep debt you will not be alert. You will not maximize your life. You will not be your normal self.”

Dr. Patel's studies have also found that no one pill stands out as working better than any of the others. “Some people may do well on Ambien, others may do well on Lunesta. The key to taking those medications is if you can not commit yourself to the bedroom for seven hours, please do not take them.”

In the news lately erratic behaviors have been attributed to sleep medications, like back in May when U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy crashed his car into a security barricade near the U.S. Capitol. Kennedy says he hallucinated after mixing Ambien with another prescription drug. Some people even claim they became sleep-eaters while taking Ambien. Dr. Patel says while those types of automatic behaviors are possible they are highly uncommon. “The only way you can pay your sleep debt is by sleeping,” Patel advises. “There is no other medication. There is no intervention. There is no magic trick. Sleep!”

Insomnia is a symptom, not a disease. Get to the source of what is causing your sleep problems. Then, like me, you may find that lifestyle changes alone can give you the momentum to catch that sleep you have been chasing.

Coming up at 11PM, Kari Huston undergoes a sleep study.

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