The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that sleep or wakefulness disorders affect 50million to 70million adult Americans. Lack of sleep can lead to problems ranging from an inability to complete simple daytime tasks to life-threatening medical issues.
Sleep, both why we need it and how to obtain it, remains a mystery to science but is a huge money-maker for businesses capitalizing on consumers desperate for a good night’s nod.
Sleep is the professional realm of Dr. Kim Mebust, the executive medical director of MultiCare sleep centers. Mebust, 50, the daughter of a nurse, developed an interest in sleep as a medical practice while still a teen in Connecticut and helping her mother on the job.
Mebust, a neurologist, earned her medical degree at the University of Connecticut and performed her residency at Duke University Medical Center. She founded MultiCare’s sleep labs in 1996.
Q: Around the summer solstice, June 21, we only have about eight hours between sunset and sunrise. Add in twilight and we’re talking less than six hours of total darkness. Do you see more sleep patients this time of year?
A: I don’t think so, but there are patients who have a significant problem with light and dark. Those patients tend to want to go to bed much later than everyone else, like 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. The light exposure they get at the end of the day can really shift their body clock and their desire for sleep to much later into the night. Those patients I counsel to wear dark sunglasses and avoid light exposure in the afternoons and make sure they get first light exposure in the morning when they wake up so they can keep their brain on track. It affects many teenagers.
Q: What about in the winter with our short, dark days?
A: There are people who are very sensitive to the darkness as well. They have seasonal affective disorder or they will have sleep inertia where they just can’t seem to get out of bed in the morning. That’s where we employ light box therapy in the morning so they can get that bright light exposure.