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Dreaming of Better Sleep

A Search for Answers

I went to see William Kohler, M.D., director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, for an overnight observation to figure out why I wasn't sleeping—and what I could do.

Dr. Kohler's take was that I'd developed something called psycho-physiologic insomnia, or "learned insomnia." This can happen after some event or stressor triggers an initial episode of sleeplessness. For many, once they have a few difficult nights, the anxiety that builds up and the habits born of the desperation to fall asleep compound the problem. "Even after the stress gets better, the habits continue," Dr. Kohler explains. In other words, my husband's snoring aside, a big chunk of my problem was that I'd conditioned myself, like one of Pavlov's dogs, to associate going to bed with not sleeping.

Sadly, I'm hardly alone. As the Internet, BlackBerrys, and iPhones have made it possible to be on the job even when we're not in the office, we're all working more and sleeping less. "Partial sleep deprivation sneaks into our lives because we have more to do than hours in the day to do it," explains Craig Keebler, M.D., medical director of Medical Weight Management at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. "Losing a few hours of sleep seems manageable. The problem is, once you've been working late for a couple of nights, it's harder to go to bed at 10 or 11," he says.

Working women may get hit the hardest, regularly pulling a second shift on the home front. Indeed, the National Sleep Foundation reports that 52% of women forfeit sleep when pressed for time. "Children's activities, family responsibilities, having time with your spouse—it all chips away at the time women really need to be sleeping," explains Qanta Ahmed, M.D., associate director of the Sleep Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

That's certainly me to a T. Long after my son and husband have fallen asleep, I'm still plugging away—paying bills, answering e-mails, picking up, trying to get one more thing done.

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