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BTN Interviews Dr. Daniel Barone. He's all about sleep, glorious sleep...

Bedtime Network's co-founder Lisa Mercurio interviews Dr. Daniel Barone of New York's Weill Cornell Medical College Center for Sleep Medicine.  Just in time for National Sleep Awareness Week, and SpaFinder's Wellness week, this is the first of a three part series that we hope will help you stay healthier from this moment on. Not surprisingly, this gentle sleep MD knows a lot about what goes on with you between the hours of 11 pm and 8 am.  

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I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Daniel Barone in the comfort of his office at the Weill Cornell Medical College Center for Sleep Medicine on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and I do mean comfort!  No stereotypical, scary sleep center image here where one spends the night eerily connected to cold machines viewed by strangers on infrared cameras (not that this place isn’t fully is) but on first blush, none of that stuff is readily viewable. Instead, this facility is like a wonderfully peaceful hotel.   I saw no evidence of scary gadgetry or wiry hookups, no other patients and frankly, I might just as well have been at a discrete European hotel room or spa.

In fact, I can imagine that if word “got out,” this would be just the place to seek some solace. Can’t you just imagine a conversation amongst city friends going something like this:


"Hello, Hazel?  It’s me, Gladys.  Remember the other night when you said you needed some quality R&R?  Well, I have just the thing for you and your occasional sleep problems! There’s no travel involved and you’re on Manhattan’s upper east side.  You will be taken care of by a lovely, young doctor.  He has such a nice bedside manner that you just might find yourself wishing for a bout of insomnia."


Of course, we’re only kidding about the idea of checking one’s self in, but what we did find was that Dr. Daniel Barone possesses a wealth of knowledge about this nation’s sleep crisis.   A very serious doctor, he is truly dedicated to the art and science of sleep and really knows the “ins and outs” of the Land of Nod.   If you happen to need his expertise, you’re in luck.  He’s peaceful and kind and chances are excellent that if you see him for sleep problems, your situation will improve greatly.


Sweet dreams?

You betcha.


LM:  In preparing for this interview with you, I thought it would be great to get a sense or feeling of who exactly Dr. Dan Barone is, so let’s do an interview “warm up,” with words.  For starters, what word comes to mind when you think of the word, “sleep?” As an example, one of the things I think of is “love.”


DB: Oh, interesting.  (laughs)


LM: It might sound strange, but in fact, sleep is a lot like love. First of all, it loves your body.   It nurtures and takes care of your body, but the one thing that most people don’t realize is that like love, you can’t force it.


DB:  To speak to that point, it’s absolutely right!  As human beings, we unfortunately don’t have the ability to say, “time for sleep,” but like love, we can put ourselves in the position that attracts the possibility of sleep:  by that I mean, you have to work at a relationship, and, you have to work at sleep sometimes; at taking sleep seriously.  There are people who naturally have an ability to attract others to them.  And just like them, with sleep, there are some people that have to work at it. There are people that have an ability to attract people to them because of their nature and you also have people that have an ability to sleep anytime, anywhere.  And then, there are people who have to work at it, with insomnia or having a pre-disposition to insomnia.


LM: So if you had to say the one word that comes to mind for you regarding sleep, what would it be?


DB: One word to define sleep?  I would probably have to say “health,” because when you wake up in the morning, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you almost can’t help but feel energized, excited and healthy in general.


LM: Health.  That’s really beautiful.


DB: And then not necessarily how you feel, but long-term consequences of not sleeping can be disastrous.


LM: Is that true for everyone?  Some people insist that they can sleep very little.


DB: There are people who have long sleep time and those that have short sleep time.  I know that sounds like a silly term.  There are people – (the last thing I read about this…) – one in a thousand people need less than four hours of sleep a night. And the converse is also true. There are those that need ten hours of sleep per night. Neither one of these people is more normal than the other, but it’s a question of how much society allows them to sleep.


LM: Do you know how long you need to feel good?  For instance, I know that I can run a marathon on zero sleep.


DB: That’s not recommended!  The average person needs between seven and eight hours.


DB: Our sleep requirement goes down as we get older.  A newborn needs about 16 hours whereas a teenager needs about 10.  As you know most teenagers are not getting ten.  As we get older or into the elderly range, the need for sleep stays at 7 to 8 hours, but our ability to stay asleep decreases.


LM:  Wow.  I really understand the image of the granny sleeping in the chair. “Grandma did you ever go to bed last night?”  And her answer: “I’m not sure.”


DB: I don’t know if nature has provided for this, interestingly, but as we get older, our ability to recover after sleep deprivation actually increases!


LM:  Perhaps there’s something to look forward to, maybe?  We can only hope.

Let’s talk about you for a few minutes.  You have a fascinating bio.  It says that you studied neurology as well as sleep medicine, “sleep and the brain co-habiting?”  What actually drew you to become a sleep doctor?


DB:  I’m kind of a brain nerd which is how I fell into neurology.  I think the brain is completely fascinating; so interesting, but still rather unexplored.  For all we do know, we don’t know much.  In fact, I didn’t even know sleep was a field until halfway through my neurology training.  We had a few lectures and I thought, what is this?  Is this really a career someone can do?    In fact, and ironically, I’ve always been interested in sleep because when I was in school and younger, I didn’t get any!


LM: Did you have a relative that inspired you; that didn’t sleep, whom perhaps you wanted to cure or help?


DB: My friends will laugh about this because I was the rule breaker.  I would always pull all-nighters.   I didn’t practice what I preach now.  It was always interesting to me how my body functioned on decreased amounts of sleep.  Then I became interested in realizing it as an actual field of study and what can go wrong.    As a neurologist, a lot of things that we see can actually be related to sleep.  For instance, migraines, memory issues, etc. are all potentially triggered by sleep problems.


LM: Who hasn’t experienced that, “Oh my G-d” feeling of, “I got next to no sleep and now I simply cannot remember,” and the subsequent internal knowledge that it’s a direct result of insufficient sleep.


DB:  They’ve done studies looking at chronically sleep-deprived people, comparing them to controls of people who got 8 hours sleep.  They will find that after 4 to 6 hours a night of sleep, after about 3 or 4 nights, the time it takes and their ability to perform psycho-motor vigilance tasks, gets worse and worse…interestingly, they don’t necessarily feel more sleepy but their cognitive abilities keep getting worse and worse.


LM: Not good to get behind the wheel of a car after consecutive nights of sleep deprivation. 


DB:  No.  Definitely not.


LM:  Speaking about getting behind the wheel of a car, I read a study today about the “caffeine nap.” 


DB: I never heard that term before. 


LM:  The study was from the NCIB – they are prescribing the “caffeine nap” as a kind of power nap. One consumes 80 mgs of caffeine (a shot of espresso, a Red Bull, etc.)  that takes about 30 minutes to hit your system.  Then you follow it with no more than a 20-minute nap.  Supposedly, it’s remarkably refreshing but I don’t know how anyone can actually do this!


DB: I have a problem with it personally because to fall asleep for 20 minutes and tell your body after the cup of coffee that now you have to sleep, seems very counter-intuitive.  Theoretically, I could see it as being helpful, but you have to be really careful with this kind of thing.  I always recommend that patients shouldn’t have any caffeine after 1 pm if they are having any sleep problems at all.  For napping, the rules are somewhat the same.  We recommend that you keep naps to less than 30 minutes because if you get into Delta sleep (or deep sleep, slow wave sleep), you can fall into a state of sleep inertia or state of, “sleep drunkenness,” in your body.  It’s terribly un-refreshing.  It’s possible, and on top of that, your brain might later say at nighttime, “ Wait, I already had my deep sleep tonight,” and then it’s a problem when you try to get to bed later that night.


Stay tuned for part II with Dr. Dan Barone tomorrow.


Dr. Daniel Barone is currently an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College and an Assistant Attending Neurologist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.  He sees patients primarily at the Weill Cornell Medical College Center of Sleep Medicine and specializes in the evaluation and management of patients with all forms of sleep disorders including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and narcolepsy.  He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology as well as the American Academy of Slep Medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.  He was recently honored as a Consumer's Research Council of America's "Top Physician" in Sleep Medicine for 2012.