Monday, July 21, 2008

Do you need medication...or do you need to de-clutter?

We are a sleepless nation. Practically every client I have counseled over the past 6 months has complained of fatigue and some type of disturbed sleep pattern. There is a lot of money, in other words, for whoever can figure out how to put the "zzzzzz's" back into the average American's life.

One group of researchers was hopeful that atomoxetine, (Strattera), a drug approved for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, would do the trick. What the researchers found was that this medication helped to decrease the sleepiness related to poor sleep, but it didn't improve the metabolic parameters associated with sleep disorders.

I think an important take away message here is that, like it or not, we need to sleep, and we suffer without it.

Years ago, I was the nutritionist for Apple Computers at their headquarters in Cupertino, California. Clients used to come in to see me about their weight gain, and invariably they'd tell me about the 128 hour work week they'd just completed, or the 3 hour one way commute to work, or the jaunt to Tokyo then Sydney and back to Cupertino in time to report to the boss on Monday morning. And then they wondered why they felt so horrible, why their concentration wasn't what it used to be, and why they were gaining weight.

You can't just put a bandaid on sleepiness and assume that it makes things better. You get sleepy for a reason. Melatonin levels rise when it's time to do some internal housecleaning. If you've been busy, stressed, thinking, etc., etc., etc, you've been oxidizing brain cells. You need melatonin to clear out the clutter. If you don't give your brain that melatonin one-on-one time...the things the brain can do when it's not cluttered with stress remnants, just can't get done.

Think of how long it takes to get a simple task done when you walk into your office and there are piles of papers everywhere. You have to sort through everything, clean out a work space, think about what you're going to do...and you spend a lot of extra time digging through the piles to find the papers you need to do what you need to do.

Your brain is no different. If you let the hormonal housemaid come in and organize things for you, your hormones function, you can actually be in a good mood, you can finish tasks more quickly, and you can be more creative.

So don't think of being sleepy as something annoying that you need to fix with a "fix"'re not feeling sleepy because you're caffeine deficient or running low on Red Bull. You're sleepy because your brain's trying to tell you to log off of life for a few hours and refresh.

Bart Sangal R, Sangal JM, Thorp K. Atomoxetine improves sleepiness and global severity of illness but not the respiratory disturbance index in mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea with sleepiness. Sleep Med. 2008 Jul;9(5):506-10. Epub 2007 Sep 27.

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