Switching Off Bad Sleep Habits

Most mornings, I wake up to a story on NPR, and I absorb snippets of the news while I'm still half-asleep. And every so often, I fall back asleep and the news somehow works its way into a dream.

In fact, the other morning, I dreamt that I met a stranger at a party, who said something very interesting (I can't remember what), and then politely shook my hand and in a deep, clear voice said, "I'm Tom Goldman from NPR."

Welcome to the modern dilemma, which experts have dubbed "junk sleep."

According to an article in the BBC, junk sleep is poor quality sleep that's caused by TVs, computers, radios, iPods, and other electronic gadgets.

They report that the Sleep Council has found that junk sleep is a real problem for teenagers aged 12 to 16, whom often fall asleep with gadgets still going and fail to get their recommended eight hours.

Experts behind the study said that they find the trend "incredibly worrying" and suspect that junk sleep has become a burgeoning epidemic. It's especially problematic for youths—already sleep-deprived—because their brains and bodies are still developing. In addition, there have been a lot of studies that link poor sleep to obesity.

The researchers aren't sure how to tackle the issue, except by urging teens to switch off the electronics. They want teens to realize that a healthy lifestyle includes plenty of high quality sleep. But, they also concede that kids, being kids, aren't likely to heed the advice.

Still, I'm willing to listen. In fact, I wonder if junk sleep is a problem that affects as many adults as teens. I suspect that grown-ups are also pretty familiar with static-filled dreams.

After reading the article, I realized that I've got snooze and sleep buttons on the alarm clock, stereo, and TV in my bedroom.

And a friend recently told me he's more comfortable when he falls asleep with the TV on. I can't figure out if he likes the background chatter from SportsCenter, or if it bores him into a deep slumber.

In any case, I like the term "junk sleep" for gadget interference. And I'm glad that scientists are drawing a connection between "junk sleep" and good mental and physical health.

It's a good reminder that I'd rather skip the junk sleep, if only to keep NPR out of my dreams.

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