UPMC | University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
EXTRA! - A biweekly newsletter for staff of UPMC
Friday, July 28, 2006
Volume 17, No. 15
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Additional Articles
UPMC among ‘Most Wired’Hospitals

Celebrating our
‘ Best of the Best’

How can you help
in an emergency?

Send them back to school with the right tools

YMCA offers
on-site classes for staff

Walk for the Whisper

Are you ready for Sept. 30?


Getting into the rhythm ... of sleep

  Illustration of sleeping man
How to improve your sleep

Getting high-quality sleep can boost every aspect of your health, including your alertness, mood, memory, and immune system. You can follow these tips to become well-rested and healthy:

  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as listening to soothing music or reading a book, to separate sleep from stressful daytime activities.
  • Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, and cool, with a comfortable bed. Most high-quality mattresses have a life expectancy of nine or 10 years, so replace yours if necessary.
  • Wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends, to strengthen your circadian clock so you can fall asleep easily at night.
  • Exercise regularly to start sleeping more soundly, but finish your workout several hours before bedtime, or the activity will keep you awake.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Also steer clear of excessive alcohol, which is commonly considered a sedative but actually disrupts sleep.
  • Take your sleep seriously. Give it the attention it deserves.

SOURCE: National Sleep Foundation
(for more information, visit www.sleepfoundation.org)



When our morning alarms startle us awake, their shrill tones rattling our nerves and propelling us out of bed, few of us ever stop to think about the complexity of our sleeping and waking cycles — or how far out of sync they often are with our natural rhythms. Timothy Monk, PhD, director of the Human Chronobiology Research Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), makes a living by doing exactly that.

Dr. Monk is one of the world’s leading experts on human circadian rhythms, the cyclical biologic processes that govern our behavior. “Circadian rhythms work,” says Dr. Monk, “to get us ready for sleep at night and wakefulness during the day.”

A special region of the brain referred to as the circadian pacemaker acts as an internal clock to control the rhythms, which range from body temperature and blood pressure to hormone production rates. Dr. Monk particularly is interested in what happens when this internal clock gets disrupted.

A study currently under way at WPIC, funded by the National Institute on Aging, is examining how aging disturbs the circadian clock. As we grow older, our natural rhythms gradually shift out of sync with our sleeping and waking cycles. This is why an elderly person may feel sleepy early in the evening but wide awake at bedtime. Researchers are attempting to enhance the subjects’ sleep quality by making slight alterations in their bedtimes. A similar study is designing ways to improve the sleep of bereaved seniors.

“As a group, older Americans consume huge quantities of sleeping pills,” Dr. Monk says, “and our hope is to improve their sleep using circadian principles so that pills can be avoided.”

Dr. Monk has worked extensively with NASA to study how space travel disrupts circadian rhythm. When astronauts go to space, their sleep schedules get rearranged and shifted out of alignment with their circadian clocks.

In time isolation labs at WPIC, researchers simulate the types of changes in routine that often are seen in space and observe their effects on the sleep quality, mood, and performance level of the subjects. Eventually, this research will help shed light on how our bodies are affected not only by space travel, but also by more common activities such as crossing time zones and working night shifts.


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