When we met Amy Sorrentino, Marta Rodriguez Perez and Jerry Wenneman two months ago, they had one thing in common: They were hoping for relief from too-short, interrupted, unrefreshing sleep.
They agreed to participate in a sleep experiment. Each was given a copy of "Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's Four-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Help," and a sleep CD by its author, Michael Breus, Ph.D. They each took an online sleep survey and two of the three -- Sorrentino and Perez -- were able to speak personally with Breus.
Then they were sent off to implement the plan in the book and report back in a month.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, life is what happens when you're making other plans.
The Oct. 12 storm and subsequent blackout disrupted even the best sleeper's routine. Perez, 53, flew to Puerto Rico to help her ailing father. (He's better now and she's back.) Both Wenneman, 52, and Sorrentino, 27, are working more overtime.
But despite the disruption and distractions, all three say they are sleeping somewhat better.
Perez saw the most improvement; in fact, she says her sleep problems are now solved. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being perfect sleep, back in September her sleep quality was a 4, she says. With the implementation of one idea from the book, "the Power-Down Hour," she says, "it's now a nine or a 10, honest to goodness. It was like the magic pill for me."
Sorrentino, who says she also started as a 4 in sleep quality, adds, "I'm sleeping as a 7 or an 8."
And even Wenneman, who could not make e-mail or phone contact with Breus despite several attempts on both sides, reported improvement. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I was about a 3 before I read the book. [Now] I am a 5," he wrote in an email.
For Perez, who is a Buffalo public school librarian and also works part-time in retail, the answer was found on page 183 of the book, where Breus describes the Power-Down Hour. "Set aside an hour before bedtime during which you disengage from anything that is too stimulating," Breus writes, including paying bills, reading anything work-related, or having important conversations with your spouse. In the first half of this Power-Down Hour, he recommends doing mindless chores and preparing the house for night. In the next 15 minutes, he recommends washing and brushing teeth, putting on nightclothes and getting into bed in a room where the lights are dimmed. Then he recommends 15 minutes of relaxation exercises and meditation.
That routine is all Perez needed. "I wasn't allowing myself to come down after a busy day," she says now. She says she enjoys "taking time before bed to decide what to wear the next day, get my clothing ready, possibly prepare my lunch. And it's better all around because I am more prepared the next morning, too."
Sorrentino delved further into the book and found more small techniques that helped her, but she didn't find the immediate improvement that Perez enjoyed.
Breus suggested Sorrentino, who works full-time in social services, start with the seven-day sleep boot camp, which involves setting a bedtime, establishing a bedtime routine and evaluating the daytime habits that can affect sleep, such as eating, drinking and exercising.
Sorrentino says now, "The top three things I learned from the book were things that you kind of already know, but you need somebody to point out to you -- things like eating beforehand or staying up late to watch TV and then expecting yourself to be able to fall asleep."
Sorrentino also liked the Power-Down Hour, she says. She also enjoyed the request to simplify bedroom decor. "I was totally nodding as I was reading along with what he wrote about people keeping their bedrooms neat and clean," she says. "I'm not a slob, but if there's something I'm going to clean, it's going to be the living room or the kitchen. The bedroom is that place that always gets let go."
After reading the book, she says, "I took a lot of stuff out of my room. I put a lamp next to my bed that has a smaller amount of light. I made it a lot more simple and clean."
Sorrentino says she did get bogged down by the many suggestions as the four-week plan unfolds. "There were so many extra things you had to add in that I got overwhelmed," she says. "When he started to talk about different yoga moves or different stretches when you wake up, I didn't have enough time to read about them or practice them."
Despite not being able to adopt all of Breus's tactics, Sorrentino says, "I do feel that I did make pretty significant changes in my own little routine as a result of reading the book." She also says that she now makes sleep more of a priority. "I give sleep more of my energy and my time because I know it's something I need," she says. "Before I was on autopilot, and I was thinking, 'Oh, this will just fix itself,' and for me, it's a realization that it's not going to."
The least improvement was reported by Wenneman, who is locked into a rotating schedule at the factory where he works. His 12-hour work shift changes from nights to days -- and back again -- every three months. Wenneman was reassigned to the night shift on Oct. 16.
"Working nights and sleeping days is more difficult than a normal sleep pattern," Wenneman writes, echoing the same complaints he'd had back in September. "Most people work days and the world is more active during the daylight hours. Hearing things such as kids playing, mowing lawns or garbage pickup affects my sleep."
Wenneman did benefit, he says, from rearranging his bedroom to make it as dark and quiet as possible during the day, and getting some new pillows and blankets.
"Reading before I sleep, along with keeping a worry journal, has been helpful," he writes. Breus suggests the "worry journal" for people whose minds run wild with concerns that keep them from relaxing enough to sleep.
By making a brief note of each nighttime worry on the left side of a page and then its possible solution on the right side, Breus writes, "In the end you will have a page that contains your worries as well as your to-dos [list for the next day]. Then, as you close your journal for the night, you close your worries for the night."
What worked best for Wenneman, he says, was "some light exercise -- nothing too strenuous, but enough to help me relax before I sleep."
For details on Breus's program, visit www.soundsleepsolutions.com.