Debunking Sleep Myths with Janet Kennedy, Ph.D.

Debunking Sleep Myths with Janet Kennedy, Ph.D.

It's World Sleep Day, an opportunity to advance sleep health worldwide through education, research, and individual care. To celebrate the day, we sat down with Dr. Janet Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor to debunk several myths about rest. 

How many hours is recommended for a good night’s sleep and how many hours can you get away with without burning yourself out?
Adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. You can figure out your own sleep needs by getting up at the same time every day for about two weeks. You’ll start to feel sleepy around the same time each night and that will indicate how much sleep your body needs.

You can skimp on sleep occasionally, but chronic sleep deprivation can be harmful to your physical and mental health, and it can be dangerous to others if you get behind the wheel. Sleep is a crucial element of a healthy and productive life.

How long before bed should you unplug from electronics? 
I recommend using blue light filters on devices all evening to protect the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Unplug from electronics a minimum of 1 hour before bed, but earlier is better. Our devices keep us plugged into our day—the stress, multitasking, and tasks—even when we’re using them recreationally. The brain needs time to slow down after long and stimulating days.

Pro tip: Don’t check your email right before bed. It will only re-activate your work brain at a time when you need to separate from the day.

Another tip: Put your phone away while watching TV. If you find yourself scrolling during shows, you need to find better shows. Focusing on one thing at a time will help transition to a calmer mind.

Is it bad to sleep with your phone nearby?
YES. Phones activate our daytime brain, triggering our checking impulse. As soon as it’s in our hands, we have the urge to check social media, texts, email, weather and even bank balances. All of that can and should wait until morning. I recommend getting an alarm clock and charging your phone outside the bedroom at night.

Is it normal for sleep patterns to have completely changed due the pandemic?
Sleep patterns have absolutely changed during the pandemic—in both good and bad ways. Many people now have more time to sleep, so the chronic cheating of sleep time may have improved. And working from home has allowed many people to sleep a little later, which is great for night owls.

But the pandemic has also increased stress, anxiety, and depression, which is bad for sleep. And the monotony of life limits our cognitive and physical fatigue—blending days into nights and making it harder to get to sleep.

Is working from my bed negatively affecting my sleep? 
Working from bed is not helping your sleep, and it might be having a negative impact. We need contrast between day and night, so spending all day in or on your bed is accentuating the sameness of our experience. Working from bed also creates a more stressful association to the bed, which is best kept as a safe, comforting place that promotes sleep.

But not everyone has another place to work. If you must work from bed, make the bed in the morning, get dressed, and sit on it (versus in it) to create a distinction between daytime and night.

What can we do to boost our sleep routine?
The key to a great bedtime routine is to make it something you get to do instead of something you have to do. When you go into your bedroom, you are leaving your day behind. And it helps to have a bed and bedding that feel like a treat. I like to keep it simple with a quick beauty routine and wind-down followed by reading fiction in bed. Reading really helps to settle the mind and body because it takes your thoughts away from the lists and stress triggers while your body prepares and pulls you into sleep.  

Janet Kennedy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, a psychotherapy, coaching and consulting practice dedicated to healthy sleep. Dr. Kennedy is the author of The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby (and You). She is currently at work on her podcast, The Sleep Tune-Up.

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