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Say 'Aaah' | Your Health Online

The Scoop on Sleep Disorders, Research

February 05, 2001|Benedict Carey

Sleepfoundation.org

Background: This is the Internet face of the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to publicizing sleep disorders and supporting sleep research and education. The site provides general consumer information, as well as updates on what the foundation is doing.

What Works: The site's quick explainers of major sleep disorders, and the group's own survey results on sleep habits, make for a clear snapshot of how sleep problems affect public health. In a few minutes, you can learn about insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, their possible causes and many effects--and where to go for help. The site also includes a running tab of sleep news and a list of relevant links.

What Doesn't: Don't expect much help with your own sleep troubles or habits here. The pages read more like a public policy brochure than a self-help resource. Communication is strictly one-way; there are no chat rooms, no place for personal stories from the sleep-deprived and no good way to pose questions to an expert. And the only research the NSF highlights is its own. Investigators are trying all sorts of strategies to solve sleep problems--combining drugs with counseling; testing the effects of exercise and weight loss--but you'd have a hard time learning that on this site.

Talkaboutsleep.com

Background: A pulmonologist named James O'Brien founded this Web site after noticing that sleep problems were causing or complicating symptoms in many of his patients. The site is meant to provide "information, support and resources to sleep disorder patients, their family, friends and health-care professionals"--as well as a marketplace for its partners, which include makers of drugs and accessories to help people better.

What Works: The most useful features--and the most fun--may be the various self-tests contained in the Sleep Disorders Information feature. These include a daytime sleepiness scale and an interactive questionnaire of the kind that researchers and doctors use to tell whether you have a problem and how serious it is. You can take the tests quickly and anonymously. If you do tip the dials and qualify as sleep deprived, it's easy enough to tap over to the basic information section and read a discussion of sleep science. This discussion is more advanced than it seems, running through the four phases of sleep and what happens when they're disrupted. Often, the site explains, mild insomniacs can treat themselves by applying some common sense: no coffee after dinner; no heavy meals; stick to a sleep routine; and so on. Talkboutsleep encourages talk, too, through scheduled chats, a message board and narratives written by patients with serious snooze troubles.

What Doesn't: This is a commercial space, and sometimes it's hard to separate the ads from the straight consumer information. The top feature story in late January, for instance, was a profile of sponsor Orphan Medical, maker of a narcolepsy drug under review by the Food and Drug Administration. The News and Research page lists seven stories on this new drug, compared with only four under the broad category of sleep apnea. The site's coverage of research efforts seems spotty too. The Participate in Research page yields only two projects currently recruiting patients, both at Stanford University. There's a lot more going on, but there's no easy way to learn about it on this Web site.

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