Pret-a-Reporter

Type A to ZZZ: The Agony of Industry Insomnia

Illustration by: Jon Westwood

Ticktock is the sound of a sleep epidemic, where, for every Jeffrey Katzenberg in the office at 5 a.m., there are 1,000 execs and actors who toss and turn all night as new drugs and strategies calm the effects of airplane travel, anxiety and natural aggression: "There is more stress in Hollywood than in New York's finance world."

While most outsiders want to know who's going to bed with whom in Hollywood, those who live here just want to know who's going to bed and staying there. Because as seductive as beautiful people and luxury bedding are, they're not enough to help the town's Type As get their daily ZZZs. "Is it me, or is nobody in this town able to get to sleep these days?" asks Joanne Horowitz, manager to Kevin Spacey and Scott Eastwood. Across all ages, sexes and careers, the people in the so-called dream factory of Hollywood, who need to be asleep by 9 p.m. to make that 5 a.m. gym or makeup call, instead are tossing around bug-eyed, staring at the flat screen or the iPhone.

Angelenos are just one group living this waking nightmare. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 experience a sleep problem almost every night; 42 percent say they rarely get a good night's sleep — which is seven to nine hours for most adults — on weeknights. (Less than 1 percent of the population possess the "short sleeper" gene that only requires five or six hours of sleep or less.) Celebs and industry bigwigs might hide age and weight stats, but they're quite upfront about insomnia. George Clooney told THR that he leaves the TV on at all hours: "I wake up five times a night." Madonna has admitted: "I'm anal retentive, a workaholic. I'm an insomniac. Who could stand me?" Miley Cyrus tweeted about "tak­ing a zanny [Xanax] trying to pass out." Sandra Bullock, Lady Gaga, Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and John Travolta have talked about insomniac tendencies.

Steven Spielberg supposedly wrote Goonies after a nightmare that kept him up most of the night. Producer Joe Roth is said to sleep two hours a night; Scott Rudin, three. Best-known non-sleeper Jeffrey Katzenberg can often be reached at 6 a.m. on Saturday in his office — weekdays at 5.

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Their high-performance, no-idling lifestyle may keep these execs on top, but there's a price to pay. People with sleep disorders have three times the risk of getting a cold, are more forgetful, weepier, clumsier and more likely to have traffic accidents, according to the Stanford University Center for Human Sleep Research. One study claims insomnia costs employers as much as $31 billion a year in workplace errors. That's why Google installed nap pads, as has The Huffington Post.

Troubled sleepers also have diminished sex drives and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. New studies from Penn State University even claim that lack of sleep can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension. "New research says that not getting enough deep sleep increases your risk for Alzheimer's," says Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at UCLA. "When you're asleep, the brain is acting; sleep is anti-inflammatory and restorative. It can clear out some of the abnormal protein in the brain that causes Alzheimer's."

Those who stint on sleep could be said to fit a personality profile, with the main common denominator being stress, from awards-season campaign­ing to box-office scores to the tyranny of ratings. "People who are successful in this town are driven and workaholics," says yoga/meditation teacher Sara Ivanhoe, who specializes in sleep issues and insists: "There is more stress in Hollywood than in New York's finance world." Small agrees: "People in Hollywood have a lot of pressure. A patient said to me, 'Doc, you think you have pressure? Try greenlighting a picture!' "

Jet lag, an unavoidable byproduct of shoots and location scouts, also is a major industry culprit. One female film producer admits, "I have not slept in years. Then oddly, I sleep like a baby on planes. I blame it on jet lag from international travel for work and to see my husband." Depression — from writer's block, director's jail or genetics — also is a factor, as are hor­mones. Perimenopause and menopause mean a drop in estrogen, which can lead to sleep apnea (a breathing disorder that disturbs sleep), night sweats and highly interrupted sleep. Aging ovaries also stop produc­ing progesterone, the sleep-inducing hormone in women, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

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At least some top sleep-skippers are seeing the wisdom in amending their habits. Even Bill Clinton, a former "functioning insomniac," has graduated to four to six hours a night. Producer-writer Gavin Polone, known within the industry for his hard-driving ways, says: "I don't avoid sleep as I used to. I sleep badly, always waking up during the night, but now I try really hard to make up for it by staying in bed longer or going back to bed to make up for it. I do appreciate how much happier I am with more."

Hollywood denizens have their own idiosyncratic solutions. Manager Horowitz turns her thermostat to unconventional room temperatures. "Sleeping in a cold room somehow makes you sleepier," she says. "I put it on 67 or 68 and sleep under thick blankets." Robert Ell, a celebrity booker who has worked for Starz, says, "Don't laugh, but I use comfort movies: Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris — what was going on in their heads was always less than what's going on in mine — and I zone out."

One ICM agent confesses to a secret weapon: hypnotherapist Mary Holmes and her nighttime tapes, which she claims took one listen to have an impact. "From the time I was a baby, my parents could never get me to sleep, and my job didn't help," she says. "Now it takes 15 minutes for me to go to sleep; before it was three hours. I sleep six and a half but feel healthier than I ever have." Why is hypnotherapy so effective? It's designed to make you relax, and sound has a potent effect on the nervous system, says Holmes, adding: "The way you view your own sleep cycle affects how much you sleep. When you're wired up scrutinizing it, you'll never get to sleep. I try to change the belief system, the habits of thinking."

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Holmes' 87-year-old mother, Wanita Holmes, also a hypnotherapist, is putting the finishing touches on a book called Sleep, Sleep, Sleep that will appear on Amazon in a few weeks. "Sleep allows your brain to remove the toxins you acquire during the day. It's a toxic waste system," says Holmes. She also suggests 15 minutes of walking daily, getting a new mattress every seven years, airing pillows outside and no pets or kids in bed: "Reserve your bed for only SAS — sleep and sex. And booze or snooze, make your choice." Shutting off all devices three hours before sleep also is essential. "It's not just the stimuli," explains Mary Holmes. "The LED or blue light coming from phones and computers does not allow the body to create sleep chemicals like melatonin." As a result, orange glasses have become weirdly popular — and cheap all over the Internet — as are apps to cancel out blue light. And warmer bulbs are more sleep-inducing than the long-lasting LED ones.

Yoga and meditation sleep specialist Ivanhoe also helps clients shore up their shut-eye: "Most sleep disor­ders are due to stress or trauma, so yoga is really helpful. I recommend Ujjayi breath, associated with Taoist studies. It shifts the brain waves into a deeper sleep state." There are even simpler tricks, she says: "Lie down on the floor and put your legs up on the wall. Tipping the head back is very restful; it gives some of the benefits of being upside down."

Medications also can help, but the most effective ones — Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax and Klonopin — are highly addictive and have been factors in the deaths, intentional or otherwise, of entertainment lumi­naries from Garland and Marilyn Monroe to Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger. A reported half a million people abuse Ambien and other sedatives, and 100 million sleep prescriptions are filled out in the U.S. yearly. "The problem with this class of drugs is there's potential for abuse, and they're not specific enough," says Andrew Krystal, professor of psychiatry at Duke University and director of its highly regarded sleep research program. "They can impair you when you wake up and can give you memory problems." The latest research also links chronic Ambien users to a 44 percent higher risk of sinusitis, upper respiratory tract infections, herpes and a 35 percent higher risk of developing a new cancer.

Krystal is more excited about a newer class of sleep meds: "The most recent development is Suvorexant, also called Belsomra, and one called Silenor, or Doxepin." Ambien and Lunesta, which are benzodiazepine sleep aids, shut off all the systems that maintain and promote wakefulness — but you need more and more of these over time. "The new [medications] are not benzos," Krystal explains. "They also help you stay asleep, which benzos don't. There are fewer symptoms of impairment during the day. We've also learned that the effectiveness of all the drugs is enhanced by non-medication therapies at the same time."

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Nonmedical therapies are always a popular option in progressive Hollywood, but herbal remedies are hit and miss, and all-natural products like chamomile tea, warm milk and almond butter work on some, but not others. Melatonin's helpful, but, according to Mike Carragher of age-management medical firm The Body Well in West Hollywood, "Most people don't realize they need a very high dose." For pot partakers, "the best solution for insomnia," says Debby Goldsberry of the Oakland, Calif., licensed dispensary Magnolia Wellness, "is eating an indica-based edible, like those made by Day Dreams Chocolates, or using Alta Botanicals Insomnia Relief Tincture, which contains CBN, a rarely used cannabi­noid, combined with a medium dose of THC." A spritz of lavender on the sheets, a bit of aromatherapy, can't hurt.

If all else fails, there are plenty of sleep clinics in Southern California: UCLA and USC have highly regarded ones; in the Bay Area, there's the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences. Ali Ansari of the Beverly Hills Sleep Center explains the process: "Sleep study is an assessment of sleeping patterns and habits. Patients come in late at night, and we hook them up to a high-quality electrocardiogram for a thorough diagnosis of the heart's activity. They sleep there, then sleep specialists diagnose partic­ular disorders and the most beneficial treatment."

Regardless of whether a power player's sleep aid of choice is medical, herbal or behavioral, one quick change to try on is mental: the idea that our ancestors weren't deep snoozers, either. They most likely enjoyed segmented sleep, dozing for four hours, waking up for another one or two, then going back to sleep for four more. "It's a natural biological clock we've learned to ignore," psychologist Gregg Jacobs of the CBT Center for Insomnia at the University of Massachusetts contends: "For most of evolution, we slept a certain way. Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology. The idea that we must sleep a consolidated block could be dam­aging." So, at the very least, rest easy knowing that a hard eight isn't the only answer.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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