The Quest for Sleep

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Sleep is the new skinny — with a booming industry to help us get rest 

In recent years Americans have developed expensive obsessions with getting fit and eating better. Now it’s sleep’s turn, and marketers are more than happy to take us along for the ride. Andrew Stelzer looks into how the “sleep-industrial complex” is helping change our views on sleep.

After trauma, one woman finds a path from insomnia back to sleep

One in 10 Americans suffers from chronic insomnia. Among them is Vashti DuBois, who operates the Colored Girls Museum out of her home in Philadelphia. In this first-person profile by Kim Paynter and Liz Tung, DuBois tells the story of her husband’s unexpected death robbing her of sleep, and how it was a long journey back to rest. She was aided by artists whose advice ran the gamut from herbal tea to handles of Jack Daniels.

Sleep habits may have helped humans branch off from other primates 

Humans sleep for a third of our lives, but much about our nocturnal behavior remains a mystery – including its origins. Reporter Max Green takes us to a zoo in Chicago, where we’ll hear about what sets great ape sleep apart from other primates. Then we head back in time two million years to look at some of the reasons biologists think human sleep evolved, and the role it may have played in actually making us human.

Sleep paralysis: a deep-sleep glitch can conjure the boogeyman 

There’s a peculiar kind of nightmarish state  that happens to some people when they start to wake up from REM sleep: They feel a threatening presence in the room, and they feel an intense pressure on their chest. At the same time, their body remains paralyzed from sleep, leaving them powerless to fight against their hallucinations. Neuroscientist Baland Jalal explains this phenomena — called sleep paralysis — and teaches us a little bit about how dreams work along the way. 

A night doc’s search for a good day’s sleep

While Dorian Jacob’s family lives to the beat of our natural circadian rhythms, working and playing during the day and sleeping at night, Dorian struggles to get her rest during the sunniest hours. She’s an overnight doctor in a busy Philadelphia emergency room. Jacobs shares some of the creative ways she manages the flipped schedule with producer Jessica Kourkounis. Then, University of Pennsylvania sleep researcher reveals the difficulties and the dangers behind trying to flip your biological clock. 

A new alternative for sleep-apnea sufferers 

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a sleep apnea treatment that's kind of like a nudge from your partner in the middle of the night. Managing Editor Taunya English reports on an implant that could help sleep-apnea sufferers breathe and rest better. (Original story ran in 2015.) 

A baby who will not. Stop. Crying. 

Music teacher Anne Sailer hoped to calm her newborn son to sleep by singing him lullabies. According to Hillary Frank (host of the popular parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time), Anne’s attempts didn’t go so well. Plus, NYU psychologist Pascal Wallisch tells us we don’t actually know much about baby sleep. He and his team are trying to collect better data with a citizen science project.