04/19/2016 09:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In the Sleep Revolution, Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Now that the springtime is here in the Northern Hemisphere, it feels a bit like everyone has came out of their hibernation and started moving at full speed! This past week was a particularly busy one for me and my staff at the Flawless Foundation; while it was a rewarding and productive time with four events on two coasts in four days -- "relaxing" certainly isn't a word I'd use to describe it.

However, when the weekend was done and I fell into my bed for a much needed rest one particular thing came strongly to mind. On April 9, we were one of the sponsors of the 6th Annual Oregon Children's Mental Health Conference, a gathering of leaders in the field of pediatric psychiatry coming together to discuss innovations in research around psychopharmocology. Every one of the presentations was educational and the keynote, Dr. John Walkup of Weill Cornell Medical's contributions to the day were very important. The one that came to mind while I readied myself for bed, though, was Dr. Kyle Johnson of OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital's presentation on the effects and treatment of pediatric sleep disorders.

Dr. Johnson emphasized that, while pharmaceutical interventions can be helpful, many children and adults would benefit greatly from an increased mindfulness of sleep hygiene; many of our habits, even those that occur early in the morning, can contribute greatly to the night's sleep we'll get at the end of the day. For example, nearly 75 percent of teenagers consume at least one caffeinated beverage during the day, and 31 percent consume two or more. Consuming two or more caffeinated beverages is directly implicated in causing those teenagers a later bedtime, an increased sleep onset latency, difficulty staying asleep, and shorter sleep duration. Those teens then demonstrate a greater level of daytime sleepiness that can manifest in falling asleep in class or during homework time, irritability, behavioral issues, and even higher levels of depression!

Furthermore, our devices can directly contribute to poor sleep hygiene too. The phones and e-readers that we keep by our beds and check "one last time" before we go to bed -- or that we get subtly woken up by each time that we receive a late-night message -- cause melatonin suppression as well as a delay in circadian phase. To phrase it another way, the light emitted by the devices themselves trick our bodies into thinking it's not time to sleep, resulting in sleep disturbances and subsequently further daytime sleepiness.


It's incredibly important and timely that sleep hygiene is now part of the mainstream conversations about wellness. Arianna Huffington, recently made waves with her data-heavy and compelling manifesto The Sleep Revolution. In particular, Arianna highlights that the value of sleep is finally manifesting in the corporate realm: "We are now in this amazing transition period," she told NPR, "where more and more companies are beginning to realize that living [sleep-deprived] and working [sleep-deprived] has actually terrible consequences -- not just on the health and productivity of their employees but also on their bottom line."

Even beyond the empirically-proven benefits, sleep has factored strongly in teachings on mindfulness from numerous cultures. Sharon Gannon, one of the founders of New York's celebrated studio Jivamukti Yoga, has a beautiful teaching on the role that sleep can play in waking up to our interconnectedness and contributing to our holistic health.

Dr. Johnson, Arianna Huffington, and Sharon Gannon all make compelling arguments as to the benefits of getting a good night's sleep. All of them came to mind while I laid in my bed, thinking of the caffeine I had earlier in the day and looking at the phone and Kindle on my nightstand.

To paraphrase the famous Gandhi quote, we have to be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want to enable our kids to have the happiest and healthiest lives they can have -- lives in which they are well-rested on all levels, and mindful of their connection to each other and to the world at large -- we have to be the ones that first demonstrate proper sleep hygiene. That night, I took a moment to get out of bed and move my phone into the other room. Then, in the darkness of my bedroom, I tuned in to the rhythm of my breath and cultivated a sense of gratitude for all that I learned at the child mental health conference and through Arianna Huffington and Sharon Gannon's teachings. It can be tiring to do this work, certainly -- but that night, I slept soundly, and that next morning, I woke up happy and refreshed to keep at it for another day.