Strange Bedfellows: Unusual Celebrity Sleep Habits

We all know what it’s like to have a hard time sleeping.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, some 70 million people in the United States have a sleep problem. About 40 million adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder; an additional 20 – 30 million have intermittent sleep-related problems.

So would it surprise you that celebrities also suffer from sleep issues?

Probably not, but it may surprise you as to how some of them deal with the problem.

George Clooney

Oscar nominated actor George Clooney freely admits that he has problems with insomnia. He even says that he’s done some of his best screenwriting during a bout of sleeplessness.

Although Clooney claims to be routinely in bed by 10 pm, he has a hard time falling asleep, and he wakes up several times during the night.

George claims that he has to have the TV on in order to fall back asleep.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that the use of communication devices before sleep is “pervasive”:

“Americans report very active technology use in the hour before trying to sleep. Almost everyone surveyed, 95%, uses some type of electronics like a television, computer, video game or cell phone at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.”

Watching television in the hour before bed was most common in baby boomers (67%) and generation X’ers (63%). Dr. Charles Czeisler, at  Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital says this has a disruptive effect on sleep:

Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Tom Cruise

Rumors were swirling that Tom Cruise, 49, and wife Katie Holmes no longer slept in the same bedroom. But the Daily Mail reports that the reason is that the MI3 star is a loud snorer.

Cruise has gone so far as to construct a Snoratorium, “a padded and atmospherically-controlled rooms where [he] can snore away undisturbed.”

A recent visitor to Cruise’s 35 million dollar home described the room as ” … very small, comfortable and dark, maybe a former nursery. Whoever uses the snoring room cannot be heard outside the locked door.”

You may giggle at the thought of Cruise in his “snore bunker” but for millions of Americans, snoring is no laughing matter.

Nearly 90 million American adults snore — 37 million on a regular basis.

And although it may be merely a nuisance to some, for many others it accounts for disruptions their sleep and to their bed-partner’s sleep. This fragmented sleep can lead to poor daytime function with excess fatigue and sleepiness.

Daytime dysfunction and cardiovascular disease are the two most common adverse health effects believed to be casually linked to snoring. About one-half of people who snore loudly have obstructive sleep apnea.

What causes Snoring?

Snoring occurs when something blocks the flow of air through the mouth and nose. As a person falls asleep, the muscles of the roof of the mouth (soft palate and uvula), tongue and throat relax. Sometimes these tissues can relax enough that they vibrate and may partially obstruct the  airway. This vibration is what causes the sound of snoring.

What contributes to snoring?
A variety of factors can lead to snoring, including:

  • Mouth anatomy. Having a low, thick soft palate or enlarged tonsils or tissues in the back of the throat (adenoids) can narrow the airway. Being overweight contributes to narrowing of your airway.
  • Alcohol consumption. Snoring can also be brought on by consuming too much alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol relaxes throat muscles and decreases the natural defenses against airway obstruction.
  • Nasal problems. Chronic nasal congestion or a crooked septum between the two sides of the nose (deviated nasal septum) may be to blame.
  • Sleep apnea. Snoring may also be associated with obstructive sleep apnea. In this serious condition, the throat tissues are so flexible that they block the airway, preventing a person from breathing. Sleep apnea is often characterized by loud snoring followed by periods of silence that can last 10 seconds or more. Eventually, the lack of oxygen causes the sleeper to wake up, forcing their airway open with a loud snort or gasping sound. This pattern may be repeated many times during the night.

To see a video of sleep apnea, click here.


Rapper Eminem frequently travels all over the world, leaving the Grammy-award winner unsure of what time of the day or night it is.

So he requests that any hotel he stays in does two things: 1. Put white noise on the television or room music system and 2. Place aluminum foil around all the window edges to totally blacken out any outside light.

Believe it or not, he’s actually right about this.

White Noise and Sleep

Our sleeping environment is rarely sound  and noise levels as low as 40 decibels or as high as 70 decibels can keep us awake.

White noise is a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. The white noise is easy to get used to and can be quite soothing.

David N. Neubauer, M.D., associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, says  “You don’t need to have a bad sleep problem to benefit from white noise in the background.”

Light and Sleep

What makes you fall asleep is the amount of a hormone, called melatonin, circulating in your body.

During the day, light stimulates a part of the brain which tells the pineal gland to decrease the melatonin level. At night, when it is dark, the level of melatonin increases.  The brighter the light, the larger the decrease; the darker it is, the higher the levels ofmelatonin. By making your days lighter and your nights darker, you can  improve both the quality of your sleep and the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps, the winner of 16 Olympic swimming medals (14 gold and 2 bronze) shows the drive to win even when he’s sleeping.

As part of his training regimen for the upcoming London Olympics, 26 year-old Phelps admitted that he sleeps in a high altitude sleeping chamber which is installed in his bedroom.

As Phelps told the Baltimore Sun:

Once I’m already in my room i still have to open a door to get into my bed. It’s just like a giant box. It’s like the “boy and the bubble”.

The chamber works by creating a low-oxygen environment, as if you were living at a high altitude. The air Phelps sleeps in is the equivalent of 8,500 to 9,000 feet. This forces Phelps’ system to work harder — and essentially train — even when sleeping. And Phelps believes it is helping his performance.

Research has shown that being at a high altitude even for as little as four hours a day, can stimulate a hormone called erythropoietin.  This hormone causes more red blood cells to be produced. The increase in red blood cells allows more oxygen to be carried in the blood and to the muscles, and increases the aerobic ability. A rise the number of red blood cells also increases the blood’s ability to transport waste material, such as lactic acid, away from the muscles.

Jimmy Kimmel

Although you might think he was making a joke when he says it, comedian Jimmy Kimmel really has been diagnosed with narcolepsy!

The Jimmy Kimmel Live! host says he was diagnosed in 2003. In an interview for Esquire, Kimmel described his experience:

I did know that every afternoon between about three and six, I would get very tired for no reason. I would doze off in meetings, watching TV, even driving. You know how when you’re regular tired, your whole body is tired? With narcolepsy, just the inside of your head is tired. It’s like somebody’s gently sitting on your brain. You have almost no focus. All you’re thinking about is not falling asleep.

Kimmel is currently treated with a stimulant medication called Provigil (Generic name: Modafinil)

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness and frequent daytime sleep attacks. It is considered a nervous system disorder. The exact cause is unknown.

In the United States, it affects as many as 250,000 people, although fewer than half are diagnosed. Symptoms usually first occur during ages 15 to 30.

The main characteristic of narcolepsy is excessive and overwhelming daytime sleepiness (even after adequate nighttime sleep). A person with narcolepsy is likely to become drowsy or to fall asleep at inappropriate times and places.

Daytime sleep attacks may occur with or without warning and may be irresistible. Nighttime sleep may also be affected.

Three other classic symptoms, which may not occur in all people with narcolepsy, are cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness often triggered by emotions such as anger, surprise, laughter, and exhilaration), sleep paralysis (temporary inability to talk or move when falling asleep or waking up), and hypnagogic hallucinations (dreamlike experiences that occur while dozing or falling asleep).

People with narcolepsy have difficulty staying awake, and in extreme conditions, narcoleptic episodes can occur during periods of activity. Narcolepsy is not the same as simply becoming tired or dozing in front of the TV after a day’s work.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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