Immediately Improve Your Sleep With These Actionable Steps

Woman sleeping in eye mask

MP recently spoke with Dr. Allison Siebern, Ph.D., CBSM, Head Sleep Science Advisor for Proper, where she has acted in a consulting role to create Proper’s sleep coaching program. Dr. Siebern is currently an Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center and Director of the Sleep Health Integrative Program and Neurophysiology Sleep Health Lab with the VA. She originally became interested in sleep science as an undergraduate studying neuroscience and working in animal research. She became fascinated by the difference in nocturnal and diurnal biological clocks and hasn’t stopped studying sleep science since. Her current research examines the effects of various non-medication treatments for sleep health, such as cognitive-behavioral treatment for insomnia, neurological-focused electro-acupuncture, and biofeedback mechanisms.

MP: What is Proper, and why is it unique?

AS: Proper is a modern sleep wellness company focused on helping people achieve better long-term sleep health. It offers the most personalized and holistic sleep wellness solutions grounded in the latest science, data, and technology.

What makes Proper unique is that it delivers the most complete solution for better sleep – pairing natural and effective Ph.D.-developed sleep formulations with digital access to tools and expert behavioral sleep coaching to help guide you to better sleep.

What is sleep hygiene, and why is it important?

There are factors around sleep that can impact the likelihood that someone can fall asleep or fall back to sleep more easily. Addressing these habits and environmental factors is called sleep hygiene, where there are areas to be aware of and make changes. For example, if someone is watching the clock as they’re waiting to fall asleep different thoughts can run through someone’s mind at that time, such as “oh no, I’m not asleep yet, and if I don’t fall asleep soon, I’ll be a wreck the next day at work.” This thought has now engaged the sympathetic response, which is alerting and will run interference with the sense of sleepiness, which will delay sleep onset. This leads to changing the habit of watching the clock.

What is REM sleep, and why is it important?

During the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, brain waves are active while muscles remain fully relaxed to not act out our dreams (or nightmares). We cycle through the different stages of sleep approximately every 70-90 minutes, and REM comprises 20-25% of our time in sleep. The benefits of REM sleep are memory consolidation, creativity, and learning.

What are the top five lifestyle choices that affect one’s sleep?

1- One of the most significant issues right now is an increased level of stress that people are under during the current pandemic, which creates a high-stress load during the day and not leaving downtime at night before bedtime to help transition to a time of rest and sleep. In addition, it’s hard for the body to go from a state of high physiological arousal and activation to sleep. A wind-down time is needed and this happens in between arousal and sleep. So, people who are on the go up until bedtime and then hop into bed thinking they can simply fall asleep are not ideal scenarios.

2 – Stay hydrated throughout the waking hours – during the sleep process, water loss occurs by evaporation through the skin and respiration (even more for those who are mouth breathers). There is an association between dehydration and decreased sleep at night. During the day, if dehydration occurs, it can lead to feeling fatigued, muscle cramps, and headaches which may interfere with sleep.

3 – Exercise is vital for sleep quality and can be a good stress buffer.

4 – Consuming a large meal or spicy foods within three hours of bedtime can lead to the GI system getting activated and working hard at bedtime. A small or light snack is fine within those three-to-four hours of bedtime.

5 – Watching caffeine intake and being aware of one’s sensitivity to caffeine. As we age, we may become more sensitive to caffeine. In addition, the average half-life is five hours, so if consumed too close to bedtime, it may disrupt sleep onset.

What are the top five misconceptions about sleeping, and what are the truths?

1 – Each person’s biological sleep needs vary. However, the average amount of sleep that adults need is between seven and nine hours, although there are outliers that require less than seven hours and more than nine hours.

2 – The message that sleep cannot be forced is an important one, and I wish more people were aware of this fact. It is a biological process, and it can backfire if someone puts a concentrated effort into sleeping.

3 – There’s an intimate relationship that has not fully been elucidated between mood and sleep. The old way of thinking was if someone had depression, the objective was to focus on treating the depression, and the sleep issue would resolve. With current research, we now know that if someone has depression and insomnia, both should be treated because leaving one untreated puts the person at risk for redeveloping the other issue. This illustrates the bidirectional relationship between sleep and mood.

4 – There’s a myth that napping is bad for sleep, and it should be avoided. Indeed, napping during the daytime can take away from sleep time at night, but some people find an adequately timed brief nap can help them feel refreshed to get through the remainder of their day. When short and not taken close to bedtime, it may have a limited impact on the night of sleep. Everyone’s situation varies, and it is beneficial to explore what works best.

5 – Watching TV before bedtime may not be as bad as one thinks. The content of what one is watching is important, such as a relaxing program versus a sci-fi thriller. This can engage the sympathetic activation system if it is too stimulating, so content is important. However, if the content is soothing and steps are taken to mitigate light exposure, it may not impact sleep onset. The intent of winding down before bedtime is to engage in a relaxing activity.

What are the five most common behaviors that must be changed to maximize one’s time while sleeping?

Five behaviors to be aware of that can impact sleep include:

1 – Not winding down before bedtime.

2 – Engaging in activities in the bed other than sleep and sex that can associate the bed with wakefulness

3 – Watching the clock when not falling asleep.

4 – Anchor wake time for consistency in the sleep routine.

5 – Create a relaxing and comfortable environment for sleep to unfold naturally.

It is essential to recognize that people’s situations vary, and there are no “strict rules” to follow around sleep. Still, areas to be aware of that can have an impact may include the previously stated behaviors.

How can someone develop a sleep routine or plan beneficial to their lifestyle and maximize their time while sleeping?

This is a very personalized approach, as are people’s life circumstances, and there is no one-size-fits-all structured plan. The mistake that can happen is people not paying attention to their circumstances and focusing on what works and doesn’t work for them. This is where sleep coaching can be helpful to elucidate helpful strategies and behavioral changes particular to their circumstances and sleep factors.

How can someone successfully choose the right mattress and pillow combination for their body?

There is not much in the space of sleep science to guide this process. What we recommend is to try out different mattresses to see what the body finds most comfortable.

Continue improving your health with more authoritative articles from our Wellness section.