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Sleep Wise: Q&A with Author Daniel Blum

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Sleep coach Dr. Blum discusses our modern world, over-active minds, and the benefits of sleep.


Dr. Daniel Jin Blum always thought he was a good sleeper. He has slept through terrific storms, his own snoring, even a bear rummaging outside his family's tent. But when attending Stanford University's School of Sleep Medicine mini-course, he discovered that he wasn't a good sleeper at all.


“For my entire life, I had been told by family, friends, and media that snoring was a sign of normal deep sleep, not chronic sleep deprivation," he writes in his upcoming book, Sleep Wise: How to Feel Better, Work Smarter and Build Resilience (Random House, 2016)“As I continued to learn that difficulties with memory, feeling overwhelmingly sleepy during the day, and falling asleep during meetings or classes were also signs of sleep disorders, the gears in my head began to click. Maybe my partner and I both had serious sleep disorders."


Blum is a licensed clinical psychologist who works as a sleep coach at the University of California, Berkeley and a behavioral sleep medicine fellow at Stanford. He focuses on improving sleep health through cognitive behavioral and mindfulness-based techniques.


Here Blum discusses what the modern world is doing to our slumber, the benefits of sleep and how to stop an overactive mind.


Question: Are we getting less sleep than ever? Why?

Answer: In the U.S. we are getting 6 hours — below the average of what's needed at 7 to 8 hours. It's technology, being connected around the clock. It's our obsession with productivity. The ability to fly across time zones can contribute to that as well. Poor diet, nutrition and lack of exercise lead people to be more overweight and that can lead to snoring and sleep problems.

Q: You write that getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night can double the risk of having a stroke or heart attack, and when that becomes 5 hours or less, the risk of a 
fatal heart attack is 45 percent greater compared to adults who sleep at least 7 hours. What are the other health benefits to having a healthy sleep practice?

A: I think among all the basic needs—food, water, shelter, diet, exercise—sleep often gets overlooked. Sleep has benefits for your immune function, your cardiovascular systems, your appetite, your weight, your brain—memory, concentration and mood—your emotional well-being and your relationships.

It allows everything in our body to function optimally. If you don't get sleep you die pretty quickly.


Q: You say that six to eight hour-long sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi)—“a detailed exploration of the physical, mental and environmental factors related to your sleep"—will solve most sleep issues.

A: I recommend CBTi as a first-line of treatment for insomnia. It's a great protocol, focusing on behavior, sleep scheduling, stimulus control and sleep restriction and I also combine that with balancing your nutrition and health practices and mindfulness.


Q: How important is our sleep environment?

A: You should have a cool, dark and quiet room, and a comfortable bed—that stuff is important. Sleep hygiene can maintain good sleep but it's not enough to prevent bad sleep. If you have more difficulty, you have to incorporate some of those other [CBTi] strategies.


Q: What should you do if you wake up and can't fall back asleep? Stay in bed and ruminate or get up and do something productive?

A: If you do find yourself doing ruminating, set aside 10 to 15 minutes every day at the same time and write down all the things that you have to do, and write one thing you can do for each one of those items. That will compartmentalize them from nighttime to daytime.

If you haven't fallen asleep for 20 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing. Once you feel sleepy again, go back to bed. This de-conditions you—when you're in bed and awake your body is programmed to be awake in bed. If you get up and go out it extinguishes that response. It also builds a little sleep pressure on you.


Q: Napping: Pro or Con?

A: Napping can be good for you if it's short—20 minutes but no longer than 30 minutes, at least 10 hours before you want to go to bed.


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