What a Neuropsychologist Wants You to Know About Sleep
Sleep is the new darling of the tech world. At a time when Silicon Valley seeks to disrupt every field imaginable, it's not surprising that sleep tech is proliferating at such a rapid rate. But can wearables and trackers really help us achieve a better night's sleep? And more important, in a world filled with so many stimulants and stressors, how can we ever hope to get enough quality rest?
With those questions in mind, we turned for answers to clinical neuropsychologist Amy Serin, PhD, and entrepreneur Vicki Mayo. Founders of The TouchPoint Solution, Serin and Mayo have produced a suite of devices that, they claim, can help reduce stress, insomnia, and other barriers to restorative sleep. In the course of research and development for Touchpoints, they learned a few things about why so many of us aren't sleeping well, and what we can do about it.
Hardly anyone's getting enough sleep
Serin says that what surprised her most when she started to research sleep health is the sheer extent of the problem. The CDC released a study in 2014 that showed that one in three adults in the United States don't get enough sleep. “I learned how terrible our sleep habits are as a nation," Serin says. “The inflammation, cognitive decline and other problems that occur after just one night of poor sleep are worse than you might think." She points to further data from the American Sleep Association showing that more than 50 million Americans have a sleep disorder.
We treat sleep as a luxury
Sleep has always been essential, but it seems to be getting harder and harder to get enough rest. Serin places the blame squarely on “mental overactivity and stress," as well as modern-day factors that exacerbate these problems: artificial light, bright screens, constant distractions, poor sleeping environments and a lack of exercise. In addition, Serin points to our “lack of priority about healthy sleep" as a society. In other words, it's not just technology, but also our dismissive attitudes toward sleep that are harmful. We seem to think that adequate sleep is a luxury rather than a necessity.
Technology hurts, but it can also help
Serin and Mayo founded The TouchPoint Solution when they realized that a common form of treatment for PTSD could have wider applications. Together they developed TouchPoints, a pair of bracelets whose “haptic microvibrations," according to Serin, “can reduce 70% of stress in 30 seconds, allowing people to ease into sleep faster." Serin says TouchPoints work by disrupting the body's “fight-or-flight" response, restoring a more natural state of calm. “Because sleep is dependent on nervous system regulation, reducing stress and restoring someone to a state of calm can promote sleep onset, and can help someone go back to sleep if they wake up prematurely during the night."
Simple changes of habit go a long way
Although TouchPoints devices offer a technological solution, Mayo and Serin have several sleep tips of their own that anyone can follow. Mayo's two favorite pieces of advice? First, take a bath: “There's something very soothing about soaking. I am a huge fan of bath salts." Second, invest in some cozy pajamas: “Making sure you are comfortable when you get in bed can go a long way to going to sleep quicker."
Serin offers the following suggestions:
- Keep bedtime around the same time each night, with a goal of 7-9 hours of sleep before the alarm goes off.
- Don't snooze the alarm in the morning. Set one alarm, and get up when it goes off.
- Create a dark, comfortable, temperature-controlled environment for sleep.
- Don't drink alcohol to try to get a better night's sleep.
- Avoid TV or news that raises stress levels before sleep.
Sleep needs to be a societal priority
Mayo says the biggest challenge the company has faced has been a lack of education: “Like stress, people think that not sleeping well is something you just have to accept and live with." Although broader societal attitudes to sleep are improving ever so slightly, we still have a long way to go. “We must educate people about how sleep works and dispel myths about sleep," Mayo says. “From there we can provide solutions based on science."
Their ultimate goal, says Serin, is “to help people understand the importance of sleep and to create healthy sleep habits that allow them to live their best lives." Part of the larger task of changing people's attitudes is getting them to see the immense benefits of better sleep for all other aspects of life. “With all the noise about what people should be doing to improve their lives," she says, “they need to prioritize sleep because they'll get a better effect on health, well-being, productivity, and mood."