Resources for Getting Sleep and Dealing with Insomnia

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Difficulty sleeping? Resources on how much sleep you need and how to deal with insomnia.

Episode 3: The Sleepisode – Sleep in the Age of Distraction

Elliot Mendelson: All right. It’s 3:00 am. The alarm woke me up, but I’m moving really slow. My eyes are stuck together. I’m starting to shake out the cobwebs. I’m starting to move a little bit, quicker now.

DR. HALLOWELL: Hello. Welcome to Distraction. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell, your host of the show that explores our very distracted, very busy, connected/disconnected world. We recently went through daylight savings and that made us think that maybe sleep, too much sleep, not enough sleep, would be a good topic for our show.

A few moments ago, you heard the voice of Elliot Mendelson, the Director for Good Morning America and also the Emmy award winning food and lifestyle show, The Chew, struggling with his 3:00 am wake-up time. Who in the world wouldn’t struggle at 3:00 am?

There’s no doubt that one of the leading causes of distraction in today’s world is people not getting enough sleep. This is new because never before have there been the electronic devices right next to our beds that keep us awake. In fact, Apple with its new operating system has readjusted the lighting and the hue to help people fall asleep rather than stay awake. We’ll check with Elliot throughout the show as he walks us through his day.

Lack of sleep can affect you in many ways. Sleep is, indeed, now a medical specialty all of its own. I spoke with Dr. Ed Salerno of The Sleep Disorder Center at Hartford Hospital about why sleep is so critically important to our well-being.

The Consequences of Not Getting Enough Sleep

Lack of Sleep

Dr. Salerno: Sleep is very important. Essentially sleep helps regenerate our bodies and minds. One of the important aspects of sleep, especially deep sleep, is to put our short term memories into long term memory banks. We know from data now that’s come out that if you get less than seven or eight hours of sleep, or even if you get more than eight hours of sleep, there’s a lot of bad things that can happen from a health perspective, heart disease, and cancers, and cardiovascular risk factors.

Sleep is very important. Unfortunately, in this country, we underestimate. We don’t consider how important sleep is because we all run hectic lives and we all have a million things that we’re doing at once. The last thing that is on our radar is to get good sleep.

DR. HALLOWELL: I usually get about six or seven hours of sleep a night. How much sleep should we be getting?

Dr. Salerno: We know from data that everyone needs about seven to eight hours of sleep. Even people who think that they can function on less sleep, they don’t function as well. By what they say and what they feel, everyone needs about seven to eight hours of sleep.

DR. HALLOWELL: I know when I have trouble sleeping. I usually get up and read a magazine for a while and then come back and get into bed. It’s a mistake to lie there staring at the ceiling and a big mistake to start playing with your iPhone. Our efforts to get to sleep actually can have the opposite effect and cause the insomnia.

Dr. Salerno: Sometimes people do things thinking that they’re trying to help themselves get to sleep and it actually makes things worse. For example, lots of patients who have difficulty getting to sleep, they’ll go to bed, they’ll break out the iPad, or whatever device they have. They try to read at night, or work on their phone at night, or work on their computer not realizing that light, which is a huge trigger for the sleep and wake mechanism, is actually causing them to stay awake. Then they may get involved in what they’re doing on their iPad or their device and get their adrenalin rushing and they definitely won’t be able to get to sleep with what they’re trying to do to help them get to sleep.

DR. HALLOWELL: We’ll hear more from Dr. Salerno later in the show with some more tips on how to fall asleep, but now, let’s check back with our friend, Elliot, and see how he’s doing.

What Happens in a Sleep Study

Sleep Study

Elliot: When you wake up and you can’t wait until you can get home and go to bed, it’s not the best feeling. I’m up, ready to jump in the shower. Sundays are still the worst getting up at 1:30 having to go to Good Morning America. It’s only an hour and a half earlier than during the week, but, for some reason, I still have a mental block about that hour and a half. It always seems to be the alarm that I dread the most.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh, boy, it’s so early for Elliot. I bet we can all identify with that feeling. Sometimes doctors recommend what’s called a sleep study to help identify what’s causing a person’s insomnia. A sleep study is, as you might expect, you go into a sleep lab and they put EEG leads on your scalp, and give you a bed, and tell you to fall asleep. They watch you and observe you throughout the night recording your brain waves.

To see for ourselves, we went to the Hartford Hospital’s Sleep Center Lab in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where Dr. Salerno and his assistant Jan gave us a firsthand look at how this actually works.

Dr. Salerno: When patients are booked for a study, techs will bring the patients into the room and explain to them exactly what is going to happen. They’ll hook the patients up to the software. Essentially, what that is, they will put an EEG cap on their scalp to measure stages and then they’ll put air flow sensor on their nose, electrodes on their limbs.

Jan: This is a jack box here that’s used. These are all of the EKG, all the different channels, that we use. This gets plugged in. There’s a plug over that sends a signal to the computer so that when we go out there and we do patient calibrations, and then we start ‘lights out’, and then we start the sleep study.

Dr. Salerno: If you have enough sleep apnea throughout the night, we’ll stop the test early, in addition we’ll wake up the patient and we’ll start the treatment part of the night. The second half of the night will be with the CPAP machine that stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure which is one of the treatments for sleep apnea. There’s a mask that goes over your nose and it pushes air into your airway and they’ll be titrating the pressure to a point where their sleep apnea goes away. It will allow patients to not have fragmented sleep.

What’s happening in sleep apnea is their throats close, their brain arouses them from sleep. The patients never stay in good, deep restorative sleep and their sleep is fragmented.

DR. HALLOWELL: Before we go to a break, let’s see how Elliot’s doing now. When we come back, we’ll get into the payoff. How to fall asleep faster?

Elliot: All right. We’re a quarter to 4:00, ten to 4:00. I’m getting my lunch together. All right. I’m not too bad and on my way in, hopefully, a smooth day.

DR. HALLOWELL: Elliot, thanks. In your next life, you’re going to have to get enough sleep.

Dr. Hallowell Recommends Resources for Children with Special Needs

I want to tell you about something that sounds really, really wonderful. It’s called The Coffee Klatch Special Needs Talk Radio Network. It provides excellence in broadcasting for the special needs community. This is a tremendous service for educators, or parents of children with autism, so-called mental illnesses, and learning differences. Some of our most interesting children in the world, but faced with some of the most difficult challenges. This talk radio network will bring, not only information, but comfort and inspiration to parents, educators, and all others who care about this wonderful, wonderful group of children.

Suggestions for Dealing with Insomnia from Our Sleep Expert


Clearly, getting enough sleep is critical to being at your best when you’re awake. If you’re not someone like Elliot, but you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, what can you do to fall back to sleep? Dr. Salerno, our sleep expert, gave us some suggestions.

Elliot: As long as patients know that they have to, number one, go into a room that is dimly lit because if you go into a room with a very bright light, you’re going to, essentially, stimulate your brain to think that it’s daytime and it’s time to get up. The other thing is, some people will do things that will get their adrenaline going. They’ll get very interested in a book or in something that is going to keep them awake which is a no-no. I always tell patients, “Pick some topic that you really hate and buy a book on that.” Sometimes I’ll tell female patients if they’re not mechanically inclined, “Go buy a book on how to rebuild a transmission and read that.”

Something like that, something boring that will not stimulate you so much. Then, when you’re tired, go back to bed. If you’re not asleep in twenty minutes, get up out of bed and do the whole process over again.

DR. HALLOWELL: Dr. Salerno’s suggestions are wonderful. I’ll tell you personally what I do: Get up and go into the bathroom. Read a not very interesting book. Sometimes walk around the house a little bit. I try to avoid going to the refrigerator because that’s a big mistake. Take a walk around the house a little bit and then come back to bed. It’s a matter of getting your mind, your brain chemistry, to a different place. Those are two ways of doing it.

Let me also add, it’s an old wives’ tale, if you have a glass of wine or a shot of some other kind of alcohol, that’ll get you to sleep. It is true that it will help you fall asleep, but you’ll wake up. It creates a poor sleep pattern. You get to sleep, but then a couple hours later, you wake up and you end up having insomnia throughout the night.

We’d love to hear your solutions to the problem of insomnia. What do you do to fall asleep and what do you do when you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t get back to sleep? Please share with us your pointers because there are answers out there that none of us have heard of that actually work. Please call and tell us at 844-55-CONNECT, message us on Facebook or Twitter or email us at [email protected].

Preparing to Go to Bed

DR. HALLOWELL: Let’s go to good old Elliot as he gets ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Elliot: I made sure to turn on my alarms, and my backup alarms, but also turned off the ringer on my phone so that it doesn’t ping with the stray emails that are still coming in. I’ve got an alarm set for 3:00 am, and a secondary alarm set for 3:05, and I’ve got the backup battery powered alarm. It’s a good day.

Talking with Elliot Mendelson

DR. HALLOWELL: All right. That was Elliot who we’ve been hearing throughout the show, but now let’s speak with the man himself. Elliot, thank you for joining us on Distraction.

Elliot: Certainly. My pleasure.

DR. HALLOWELL: We’ve been hearing from you throughout the show. Now we’ll get to speak to you directly. How do you do it? How do you go through that routine every day?

Elliot: You never really get used to it. When you think that you’re pacing yourself and that you can make it that next hour or that you can make it on the next ride home, whatever it is, you’ve got yourself fooled. You never, ever get used to it. You constantly go through life with this … You constantly find yourself apologizing, “I’m sorry. I’m falling asleep,” or that, “I’ve got to go to bed and can’t partake in what everybody else is enjoying.”

DR. HALLOWELL: Every day you get up at 3:00 am. What time do you get to work?

Elliot: When I was doing Good Morning America, I was in the city by 2:30. I hit the ground running by 5:00 am once I’m in our control room. There’s that ripple effect, how it affects you for the rest of the week with the lack of sleep there. You’re just living on coffee and the adrenalin of working on a live broadcast, but that only goes so far.

DR. HALLOWELL: You have a wife. How does she deal with it?

Elliot: She is a saint. She understands. All through the years that my kids were younger.

DR. HALLOWELL: You have children as well? You raised children on this kind of schedule?

Elliot: It worked well when they were younger because when I was just working on the morning television show, I would try and get out by noon each day. We always got together as a group for dinner. The family was always there for dinner. I may be going to bed, but my kids could be tucking me in. They’re doing their homework and Dad’s got to go to bed.

DR. HALLOWELL: I was going to ask you, where did you find the time to do that thing you have to do to start a family?

Elliot: They were both April babies, so it must have been that week or two of vacation.

DR. HALLOWELL: You are an impressive man, Elliot. You’re certainly living a full life. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been tremendous.

Elliot: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it. Take care.

DR. HALLOWELL: Take care.

Thanks so much to Elliot Mendelson. He was a real-good sport to take us into the intimate details of his sleep and wakefulness cycle.

Also, thanks so much to our expert, Dr. Ed Salerno, for his contribution to our show.

Distraction is produced by Collisions, the podcast division of CRN International. Collisions, podcasts for curious people.

Sleep With Me Podcast

I’ll leave you with a little clip from a podcast called Sleep With Me Podcast. Remember how Dr. Salerno suggested reading a book that doesn’t interest you? This podcast is like that. The host describes each episode as a lulling, droning, boring bedtime story to distract your racing mind. We thought that sounded like a perfect way to close out our show today. A warning first, this is meant to put you to sleep. If you’re driving, save this part of the show for when you get home.

EXCERPT FROM SLEEP WITH ME PODCAST: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, set your sleep timers, and load your playlists, and put a few logs on the fire. Whether it’s your mind thinking, or your body, you’ve got some sort of pain or discomfort, or something emotionally you’re going through. I’m going to try to take your attention off of that. I’m going to tell a lulling, soothing tale.

I guess I should set this up, I think it was a couple Sundays, whatever intro where I was talking about getting rid of that TV. I stirred up some trouble, or I stirred up some dust, I guess I said some stuff about the dust mites and, I don’t know if this is the case with everybody…

dmott9 (flickr) – Sleep Study image author

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “The Sleepisode: Sleep in the Age of Distraction.” Distraction is available on iTunes.


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