Sleep Solutions: Helping 'GMA' Correspondents Get Some Rest

Tired "GMA" correspondents tried new products that promise to aid in sleep.

ByMARY PFLUM via via logo
August 18, 2009, 1:01 PM

Aug. 21, 2009— -- Viewers know Bianna Golodryga, John Berman and Andrea Canning as intrepid "Good Morning America" correspondents.

And while this terrific trio can take on breaking news stories of all shapes and sizes, there's one thing they can't seem to conquer: a good night's sleep!

"Four to four-and-a-half hours of sleep is usually what I get," Golodryga said.

Berman said, "I always feel tired when I wake up."

"I can be a walking zombie," Canning concurred.

Our reporters are hardly alone. More than 70 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep-related difficulty.

Experts recommend that people sleep at least seven to nine hours per night, but more than a third of Americans ages 20 to 64 sleep fewer than six hours a night -- a 10 percent increase in the past 20 years.

"GMA" decided to use our crew as a test case for three new forms of technology, aimed at helping people get better, longer, deeper sleep. The correspondents each tested their items for two weeks, in some cases taking the tools with them on assignment or on vacation.

To be clear, this was not conducted as a scientific experiment, but our subjects were serious about searching for new approaches to their ongoing quests for sleep.

Sleep experts emphasize that there is no magic bullet that can be applied to all people when it comes to sleep issues. Each person's situation is unique, and the three products we tested sought to individually address sleep problems and to custom-design a means for each reporter to address his or her own sleep-related issues.

First up was Berman, the father of adorable twin two-year-old boys. His sleep issue? Feeling un-rested when he wakes.

"[My wife and I] wake up when the boys wake up," he said. "You want to sleep more no matter when they get up!"

We gave Berman the Sleeptracker watch to try, a kind of sleep watch.

The average adult experiences four to five sleep cycles during an eight-hour period -- periods of both deep or "REM" sleep and not-so-deep sleep.

The Sleeptracker monitors those cycles and uses an alarm to gently wake the user during an almost-awake period of sleep -- when the wearer is most alert. The intended result is that the Sleep Tracker wearer wakes up refreshed, not groggy.

But during the two weeks in which he wore the watch, it was the twins, not the watch, that woke John up most mornings.

"They invariably wake up before the alarm goes off," he said.

When Berman adjusted the Sleeptracker, expanding what the Sleeptracker designers call the "sleep window," so that the watch's alarm would go off before the twins rose, he found the watch wanted him to wake as early as 4:30 a.m. in order to catch him between deep sleep cycles.

"The Sleeptracker provides helpful data," Berman concluded, "but may not be best suited for parents of 2-year-old twins!"

Sleep Problems: Can a Headband Help?

Bianna Golodryga is often up at 4 a.m., getting ready to report on the latest financial headlines on "GMA." And though she should ideally go to sleep before midnight the night before, she just can't fall asleep.

"I guess I just have a lot on my mind," she said. "Even when I am physically tired, my mind just keeps going."

We armed her with the Zeo, a brand new sleep system that retails for $399. It includes a high-tech headband that tracks sleep patterns, telling Golodryga how long she slept, how deeply she slept and how often she woke.

After just a week of wearing the device, the Zeo gave Golodryga an average ZQ score of 36 -- meaning she was sleeping less than half as well as a woman her age should be sleeping.

That data, combined with sleep diary entries from Golodryga, enabled Zeo to create a customized action plan. It suggested she cut out caffeine after 7 p.m. and instructions to leave her work at work -- meaning no more waiting to finish scripts at home.

Golodryga says she was pleased with the tips -- but did she fall asleep faster? Not really she says, because at times, the headband was a headache.

"It's tight," she said. "It's not very comfortable to sleep with this thing on my forehead!"

Golodryga noted that she has difficulty falling asleep with anything on her head -- even earrings. So perhaps she was not the ideal candidate to try to the Zeo. But did she learn something from the experiment?

"Yes!," she answered.

Among her new resolutions: to finish up all pressing tasks at the office, so that her home remains free of work-related stress.

For Andrea Canning, sleep had never been a problem until six months ago, when she became a mother to little Anna.

"She will wake up in the middle of the night," Canning said. And though the baby falls back to sleep relatively easily, Canning says she's often left to toss and turn, her mind racing with thoughts of work and the baby.

What to do? We teamed her up with a brand new set of computer software called Shut-I (pronounced "shut-eye"), developed by researchers at the University of Virginia. Shut-I is not yet on the market for general consumers.

Sleep Solution: No Naps?

After asking Canning to keep online sleep diaries for 10 days, Shut-I started to make personalized recommendations. Among them: stop reading in bed and get her cat to sleep elsewhere. Canning also learned that she should no longer take naps during the day if she hopes to sleep well at night.

When Canning found herself unable to fall back asleep after getting up to feed her baby, Shut-I suggested she do the unthinkable: actually get out of bed and go for a walk or do something and then get back into bed. Within minutes of taking one midnight stroll, she was asleep.

She said the software was sometimes too time-consuming for a working mom, but noted that she did learn some sleep-saving tips.

For Canning, while she might have to stop reading magazines at night and kick her cat out of bed, there was some consolation.

"So they tell me no more magazine and no more cat in bed -- guess that just leaves my husband!" she joked.

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