The Science of Sleep With Dr. Anna Persaud

The Science of Sleep With Dr. Anna Persaud

In celebration of World Sleep Day, we sat down with the CEO of This Works to learn more about how to get the most out of your ZZZ’s. 

Happy World Sleep Day, AKA our favorite day to soak up some much-needed rest and relaxation. Whether you're craving a nap, want to hit the snooze button a few extra times, or simply enjoy cozying up in the softest pajamas, today's your day.

To learn more about the science of sleep, we spoke with Dr. Anna Persaud, the CEO of This Works, a clean targeted skincare and sleep product brand. With a PhD in Biochemistry, Dr. Persaud brings unique insight to her brand and sleep solutions. We sat down with her to unpack the science behind her products, and how to get the most out of your ZZZ’s. Hint: cozy PJ’s and pillow spray make a world of difference.

Dr, Anna Persaud, Biochemist and CEO of This Works.

What would you consider one of the biggest misconceptions about or the myth about sleep?

Sleep is essential for all body processes, it's essential for recovery, it's essential for growth, it's essential for mental well-being, we can talk more about that. 

I think one of the myths around sleep is that you can catch up on your sleep anytime, you can go to sleep whenever you want and as long as you sleep a little bit later the next day you're going to be okay. 

And just to debunk that myth, the time you go to sleep at night is so important because actually when you first go to sleep, that's when a lot of the repair processes go on in your body, it's linked to deep sleep and deep sleep happens much more at the beginning of the night.

There's a circadian rhythm that anchors the time that your growth hormone is released and it happens at the same time every day. So, if you move your time of going to bed, you're going to move at the moment that growth hormone is released and that has a big impact on not just children in growth but also you in the room in terms of your muscle recovery, your brain recovery and your ability to learn is also linked to the release of hormones at that time of the night phase, right? With that said, you should try to anchor your sleep, go to sleep at the same time every night.

Another common topic around sleep in recent years is does screen exposure impact sleep patterns? And if so, are there any tips or anything that you want to suggest in terms of mitigating outside of turning screens off?  

Yeah, I think there's a growing awareness that the light emitted from devices is bad because what it does is it prevents the sleep hormone from being released, melatonin. So, if you're staring at a screen before bedtime then you're inhibiting that natural rise in the sleep hormone which helps to put the brain and the body in that state for rest. We should try and be really strict with ourselves, and I encourage everyone to stay off your phone before bed. 

But here's some advice. Try and reduce the other light you have in your environment. You should avoid overhead lights in the evening. Keep your lighting at shoulder height and lower because the receptors in the eyes, if they pick up overhead light, link this to a stick of arousal. Try to use dim lighting, candles, brilliant, red light, even better, to keep your lighting low. 

Super helpful to know about avoiding other types of light. You’re also the CEO of This Works, a brand that is dedicated to developing clean, targeted skincare and wellness solutions that work in harmony with your body clock, 24 hours a day. One of your most popular products are your pillow sprays. Could you walk us through the science behind them?

Our origins are actually in aromatherapy, but my background is in science. So my doctorate was really important because it means that as a brand we're rooted in science, and we use science-based protocols and clinical studies and neuroscience to evaluate our products and create them. 

This neuroscience background has allowed us to look at how different aromas, different smells can impact the brain. What you inhale through your nose goes to your brain very, very quickly, much more quickly than ingesting something, taking a tablet, drinking tea, etc. We use our sense of smell all the time, it gives us guidance, it warns us and we are attracted to our mate through fragrance, we may or may not realize that.

What we've done is evaluate how the aromas that we use or create impact the brain. 

What we wanted to show was that the passageway to sleep, the switching off of some areas and the switching on of others could be induced using aroma. The science is actually nature, but actually knowing how to blend different oils together from different regions with different terpene structures and then putting it at the right concentration is the science behind the product.

That's the science that underpins the efficacy of the product, and as we think about working this together with the pajamas, for instance, there’s this idea of creating a safe space. A place for relaxation, a place for letting your guard down also works with the Deep Sleep fragrance because that journey to good sleep and good wellbeing is something we can build for ourselves in the rituals that we adopt.

So fascinating! On the topic of pajamas, could you share your thoughts on how what you wear to bed impacts your sleep?

Well, your temperature has to drop between one to three degrees for you to be able to fall asleep. So I think this is where the fibers, breathability,and thermoregulating properties come into play, because regardless of where you’re located or what the weather is, your body temperature fluctuates a lot. So wearing pajamas that help regulate your temperature, like Eberjey PJ’s, is important for better sleep.

Totally makes sense. Do you mind elaborating more on how sleep impacts your overall health, especially mental health?

There is a lot of data that says you should be aiming for between seven and a half and eight hours sleep for maximum health. That's just a fact. So, you know, people can operate on less than that. That's fine, but we should try to aim to get to seven and a half hours. And the reason for that is that during the night you've got cycles of sleep that go on for 90 minutes and each cycle is composed of four steps. The first three are commonly called the non-rep: the first stage is dozing, then you've got a kind of intermediary second stage, and the third stage is the deep sleep. You get more deep sleep in the first part of the night, and deep sleep is very much important for, as I said, growth, repair, and learning. 

At the end of the 90 minute cycle, you've got REM sleep, which is rapid eye movement sleep. This is when the brain processes memories, it processes things that you might have learned or want to keep hold of or things that have happened in your day and it also gets rid of the things that we don't need to hold on to. So it's a kind of cleaning time for the brain, it's a really important time and it allows us to process things that have been going on whilst we're asleep.

So what happens is if you don't have enough of that in your night, it impacts the way we process our experiences and our emotions, therefore becoming manageable. We get emotionally dysregulated as a result of having less REM. One of the core pillars of mental health is emotional regulation, despite what's going on around us, and we're more able to regulate our emotions when we're feeling sufficiently rested. So that's the kind of nutshell link between sleep and mental health.

Wow, very interesting. What are your thoughts on mid-day naps? Are they helpful?

Yes, they are. You just need to make sure that you have sufficient sleep pressure towards the end of the day so you don't want to take a nap after four o'clock because it will reduce the sleep pressure you need to build as the day goes on. 

So the optimal nap time for your body's recovery and your management of your emotions in 90 minutes. If you've got 90 minutes for a nap, that's the best time. If you don't, 20 minutes will just revive you. You will have your energy levels boosted. You'll be in better shape.

What you should avoid is 60 because you're halfway through that 90 minute cycle and you will feel worse and groggy. So 20 minutes, perfect. 90 if you can. There's actually lots of data that shows how naps boost performance, both physically and mentally, so I’m a big fan!

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