Leading Sleep Educator & Sleep Consultant for Professional Teams & Athletes
Tell us a bit about what you do.
I spent 48 years as a professor, sleep educator and sleep researcher at Cornell University. Now I am CEO of Sleep for Success. We give presentations to educational institutions, to corporations, to medical associations, and one of my favorite things is I work with professional athletic teams. We can improve your athletic skill literally overnight.
When did you become focused on sleep in your career? Why were you so interested in it as a topic?
I've been interested in sleep, sleep research, and sleep education. Forty-five years ago, I was one of the first people to consider something other than just dreaming when we looked at sleep. I'm really focused on sleep and performance. Sleep is energy for the brain, fuel for the brain. It affects every aspect of our life. If you're sleep deprived, it's going to affect your mood, your alertness, your energy, your productivity, your performance in school, on the job, on the athletic field, and it's the best predictor we have of how long you're going to live.
Sleep is energy for the brain, fuel for the brain. It affects every aspect of our life. If you're sleep deprived, it's going to affect your mood, your alertness, your energy, your productivity, your performance in school, on the job, on the athletic field, and it's the best predictor we have of how long you're going to live.
What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?
You need sleep to be wide awake, alert, energetic, and productive all day long. The consequences of sleep deprivation are really serious. You'll be drowsy during the day at inappropriate times, you'll be irritable, anxious, depressed. You can even get suicidal if you don't have enough sleep. It affects your reaction time, your driving skills, whether you're driving a car or a golf ball, and there are serious consequences in terms of cognitive performance.
You have a decreased ability to concentrate, to remember, to acquire new information, to be creative, to think critically. All of this also affects your immune system, which leads to a significant higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, all sorts of things that can make us die early. So although exercise is important, nutrition is important, nothing predicts lifespan as well as the quantity and quality of your sleep.
What are some of the things that you suggest for sleep?
Not only determine and meet your sleep requirement every night, develop a regular sleep-wake bed time. Go to bed, and get up at the same time Monday through Monday, including the weekends. Make sure your bedroom was quiet, dark, and cool. Have the bedroom be a sanctuary, a relaxing atmosphere.
Limit TV, or working on an iPad or a computer. All of these monitors put a lot of blue daylight spectrum light, which retards your ability to go to sleep, because melatonin, which is a brain hormone that puts you to sleep, is inhibited by this exposure to these gadgets. So no electronics in your bedroom within an hour of sleep. If you have a clock on your nightstand with digits, those digits are illuminated so intensely that it can get under your closed eyelids and disrupt your sleep. So throw a towel over the clock, or turn the clock around.
Take a hot bath, easy stretching. If you have a type A personality, have a worry time before you turn off the lights. Write down everything that's on your mind. You can't do anything about it when you're sleeping, so in the morning you can get back to work. Read something non-work related as a bedtime ritual.
Do relaxing therapy. Have imagines of lying on a warm beach, lying out in the fresh air, something that will relax you. Meditate, or practice yoga. That reduces the total amount of sleep time you'll probably need. For senior citizens, maybe light classical music will ease you into sleep. If you toss and turn for more than 10 or 15 minutes, get out of bed, do something relaxation, low light level. Maybe some light housework, you'll be tired sooner than if you had stayed in bed and tossed and turned.
And certainly be very, very wary of prescription sleeping pills. You have to be careful, because sometimes they produce [dependency] and incredible daytime grogginess, a lack of clarity, but there are alternatives.
Can tell us a bit more about prescription sleeping pills?
Many people rely on prescription sleeping drugs to get to sleep. It's almost like a crutch, but the problem is with long-term use, most sleeping pills put you deeply asleep, but then they cause daytime grogginess. We call this daytime sleep inertia. You're foggy, you don't have mental clarity, and they can become addictive, and a lot of times they'll put you into deep sleep and you leave you there. So you don't get the normal rhythm of light sleep to deep sleep, to light sleep to deep sleep, which is very important for your mental awareness, for your learning, your memory, your problem-solving, and your emotionality.