Sleep May Help Keep Metabolic Process Young
But sleeping in can be an impossibility for those with jobs, families, and other responsibilities, and thus arose the great American tradition of "catching up" on sleep during the weekend. It can be done without spending all day in bed, Mahowald says.
"You only need to make up one-third of your loss. If you're six hours down for the week, you only need two more hours on the weekend." But the sleep debt payoff only works in one direction, he says. An extra two hours on Sunday isn't "bankable" for the week ahead.
Of course, there is a temporary cure for drowsiness, one that many people see as a vital part of their existence: caffeinated drinks. "For the short haul, caffeine will give you alertness," Mahowald says. The downside is that consuming caffeine late in the day may impair your sleep later that night.
Several drug treatments are available for those who have trouble getting to sleep at night, although none is foolproof. They include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and supplements, such as melatonin.
One researcher thinks there is excessive concern with sleep deprivation in America, and is suspicious about its source. Daniel F. Kripke, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego, calls the idea of a national sleep debt "charming publicity," but he believes it's a myth largely perpetuated by drug companies seeking to sell more hypnotic sedatives, which induce a medium-deep sleep for relatively short periods of time.
These particular drugs are only approved for short-term use, but Kripke says drug companies want insomniacs to keep taking them. "In over 95% of studies of sleeping pill administration, either they make the next days' performance worse or they're of no benefit," he says.
But prescription medications, prescribed in select cases and used for brief periods of time, can be useful.
Julianne Carroll, a 30-year-old Atlanta resident, has had trouble sleeping since her teen-age years, and finally found relief with prescription drugs. She remembers how unsettling a string of several sleepless nights can be. "It was horrible. I was useless. I was emotional. I was walking around waiting for somebody to set me off."
Carroll tried several over-the-counter treatments to help her fall asleep. "But the side effects of these drugs were hard to live with, too. "They would help me sleep, and then I would be hung over in the morning. I walked around in a haze."
Mahowald, too, questions the benefits of these over-the-counter sleep aids, many of which contain antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine or doxylamine. "They make people feel sleepy, but they have never been shown to be truly beneficial in quality and quantity of sleep," he says. They also have some annoying and potentially dangerous side effects, including hangover, drowsiness, dry mouth, and an increase in mucus secretion in the throat.