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Ask the Expert: Dr. Rebecca Robbins on Sleep

Meet our new sleep expert, Dr. Rebecca Robbins. She’s a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Medical School and Boston’ Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and co-author of the book Sleep for Success! In short, she has her finger on the pulse of all things snooze-related. We sat down with her to gather her insights about sleep, relaxation and so much more. 


What inspired you to study sleep medicine?


I became amazed by the tremendous power of sleep and its remarkable health benefits. What’s so exciting to me is that it’s free – and it starts tonight!


What is the most crucial message you’d like to share?


Sleep is not a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity and key part of health and wellbeing. If we’re willing to add a bit more to our sleep duration and practise a few strategies, we can receive windfall benefits to our personal and professional lives.


What is the most surprising thing about sleep?


It’s easy to think of sleep as passive – as if our head hits the pillow and we’re out until we wake up – but it’s a very active process and vital to our ability to go about our day and be successful.


Ask the Expert: Dr. Rebecca Robbins on Sleep

What are common factors preventing people from getting a good night’s sleep?


We go about things without a plan. Without a bedtime in mind, we meander around and then suddenly the clock strikes and we have to get up in a few hours for work. Also, about 90% of our surveyed respondents revealed that they use their phone until the moment they go to sleep. This is stressful because you’re often looking at a report from work, an email from a colleague, or at social media.


What role does stress play in sleep deprivation?


Stress is arguably one of the biggest contributing factors. If it goes unaddressed, you see a really unhealthy cyclical process where stress results in insomnia, and insomnia results in a depressed mood and then there’s a downward spiral. The one affects the other. Good sleep allows you to better cope with adverse events during your day and good stress management will help your sleep at night.


Do sleep trackers help?


About one third of the US population track their sleep data. What’s good about this is the fact that monitoring and reflection are really important parts of health behaviour change. Take some of the results with a grain of salt though, as not all of the trackers are clinically validated. Also, sometimes people get so obsessed with getting a perfect score on their trackers that it gives them insomnia!


What is one simple change people can make to prioritise sleep?


An attitude change: it starts with viewing sleep as a critical part of your waking success, health and wellbeing and making time for it. It’s about the small behaviour changes that we can all make. Old-school things like getting off of technology, thinking of loved ones, journaling and meditating; practices left by the wayside in modern society that are so crucial. Balance is important. The Ying and the Yang; the powerful and the quiet. You need the two to be at your best.


What’s your secret for quality sleep?


I’m very committed to my bedtime routine. I turn off my phone, take a warm shower or a bath and take time to put on my night creams. I look at that part of my day as really transitioning into a period of sleep, All day long, it’s all about performance and how much can you do and accomplish. The mindset for rest and relaxing is completely the opposite.