Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine

Can't Sleep? Here's What’s Keeping Us Awake

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 1 in 3 people aren't getting enough sleep. Wondering why, what you can do that may help and if this could impact your overall health? In our newest episode, listen as Dr. Joel Reiter, head of Hadassah Medical Organization's sleep clinic discusses how sleep, lack of it and its related disorders, especially after COVID-19 may just need to be at the top of your health priorities.


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About this episode

Sleep disorders expert and pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Joel Reiter is the head of Hadassah Medical Organization’s sleep clinic.  After completing his residency in pediatrics at the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical School he completed a pediatric pulmonary fellowship at the Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, FL, followed by a fellowship in sleep medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School Hospitals, in Boston, MA.

Dr. Reiter returned to Israel in 2014 and joined the Hadassah Pediatric Pulmonary unit. In 2016 he established the sleep clinic. He is a Hadassah Hebrew University Medical School lecturer in pediatrics and coordinator for the course on the Respiratory System of the Sick Person. He is also a member of the Israeli Society for Sleep Research scientific committee. Dr. Reiter’s research interests include diagnosis and treatment of asthma, bronchiolitis, cystic fibrosis, primary ciliary dyskinesia and sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

Stress, anxiety, poor diet and even fatigue — all can lead to sleep loss. Combine these factors with the stress of COVID-19 lockdowns, and it's easy to see why the pandemic has left many struggling with depression and isolation which can increase the risk for sleep disorders. Although sleep disorders can be easy to dismiss, sleep impacts our health on every level: mentally, emotionally and physically. That's why we decided to visit with Dr. Joel Reiter, head of the sleep clinic at Hadassah Medical Organization, for this month's podcast.

When we began our chat with Dr. Reiter, he told us he was already on his third cup of espresso. Which is saying something, but as he mentioned "drink your coffee whenever you want to," explaining that each person reacts differently to the effects of caffeine. "But if you're sitting in the sleep clinic because you have trouble falling asleep or your sleep isn't good, then you need to stop drinking it."

Lattes, late sleep times, CBDs and long haulers were just some of the many topics discussed during our conversation with the affable doctor, who has a specialty in pediatric sleep issues. "If you ask a parent whether their kids sleep well or not, they can quickly tell you 'yes' or 'no,'" Dr. Reiter said. "Kids that don't sleep well, have problems with behavior, they become unbearable." Sounds simple, right?

Yet, there are 84 disorders of the biological process called sleep that are classified into six groups, all of which are addressed at the Hadassah sleep clinic. One of the leading disorders we discussed was sleep apnea, which as Dr. Reiter mentioned, can affect children much differently than adults. "Sleep apnea will make you more susceptible to a lot of illnesses and diseases — to stroke, to heart attacks, to irregular heartbeats," Dr. Reiter said. "People that don’t sleep enough gain more weight. And the more you weigh, the less you sleep, and the less you sleep, the more you weigh."

While sleep apnea is a physical ailment that impacts people's sleep patterns, there are also psychological issues which can disrupt one's sleep. Dr. Reiter and his colleagues, for example, have seen an uptick in insomnia cases due to the stress of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. "You take something like insecurity — insecurity about your workplace, about your parents, about your health, and add to that the quarantines, staying home for entire days and nights, not getting out of bed, and you get an increase in sleep problems."

The first line of attack for insomnia is ensuring that you have proper "sleep hygiene" — a catchall term for practices like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and ensuring that the bed is primarily used for sleeping. Dr. Reiter notes that if you find yourself reading for more than 20 minutes in bed instead of sleeping, you should leave your bed and sit somewhere else so you don't associate being awake with your bed. He also suggests that "for people that end up just looking at the clock incessantly, they need to take the clock out of the room."

Asked how the Hadassah sleep clinic stands out, Dr. Reiter is quick with an answer. "We have a lot of academia, a lot of research going on, but still improving the patient is our primary goal." He's proud of his clinic for providing a unique, personal touch to treat patients. After the sleep clinic opened, the waiting time for a patient to be admitted for a sleep study in Jerusalem was cut down significantly. Dr. Reiter adds that he makes a point to meet with every patient even before they undergo a sleep study so he can better understand their needs. "It's building that relationship with the patient that I think is important."

What else you'll hear in this episode:

  • Is it ok to sleep in late on the weekends?
  • Does cognitive behavioral sleep therapy work?
  • Can cannabinoids help you sleep better?

Further learning:

Read a transcript of this episode.

“Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine” is a production of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah enhances the health of people around the world through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine please head over to hadassah.org.

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The show is hosted by Benyamin Cohen and edited by Skyler Inman and the team at the Hadassah offices in both New York and Israel.

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The Branch
This podcast offers a glimpse into the everyday lives of Jews and Arabs in Israel forging meaningful relationships. Presented by Hadassah and hosted by Dina Kraft, "The Branch" shines a light on the stories of people living the example of a shared society. Together. Even though it’s complicated. hadassah.org/thebranch.

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