Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib of Tatch: “Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable”

One of the easiest things we can do to ensure good sleep is sticking to a sleep schedule. For best results, you should be going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. Unfortunately, this means you shouldn’t sleep in on weekends, but with consistency, you should get enough sleep that you no […]

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One of the easiest things we can do to ensure good sleep is sticking to a sleep schedule. For best results, you should be going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. Unfortunately, this means you shouldn’t sleep in on weekends, but with consistency, you should get enough sleep that you no longer feel the need to sleep in. I personally was horrible at sticking to a sleep schedule during my high school and college years, which always resulted in going to bed at crazy hours and never feeling fully refreshed the next day. Once I learned about the science of sleep, I was a lot stricter with my schedule and I’ve been an excellent sleeper ever since.

Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important and how can we make it a priority?

In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.

As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, sleep specialist at Tatch.

Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheibis an American neuroscientist and sleep specialist with over a decade of experience working in the field of sleep research and sleep medicine. During her research career, Dr. Rohrscheib specialized in how genetics control sleep in the brain and how sleep loss affects health. Chelsie is currently working as the head sleep specialist for Tatch, an at-home sleep analysis company.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?

I’m an American Australian and went to college in Brisbane, Australia, where I studied biomedical science and then completed my Ph.D in molecular neuroscience. I conducted my thesis on how infectious microbes affect the brain, including sleep behavior. Following my studies, I spent several years researching the genetics of sleep and trying to understand how altering specific sleep genes influences mental health. After finishing my research career, I transitioned into a sleep specialist consultancy position where I worked with companies that employed shift workers to reduce fatigue-related accidents. I’m currently working as the head sleep specialist at a new sleep tech company called Tatch, which is an at home sleep test service paired with a virtual consultation.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?

I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of the brain and how the brain controls sleep. I myself have had sleep issues for years and have a sibling with narcolepsy, so it’s been a topic at the forefront of my mind for years. Another aspect that has always intrigued me is that almost all mental health disorders are associated with dysfunctional sleep, and I wanted to understand the connection and find ways to use sleep as part of the therapeutic process. I think it was a natural process for me to go from a pure research background to using what I learned to help people suffering from sleep disorders. It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to improve people’s lives.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I would say it’s my combined experience of deeply understanding the science of sleep along with working with patients in sleep medicine. I have spent as much time consulting with individuals about how to improve their sleep as I have researching sleep in the lab, and this gives me a broad perspective that doctors or scientists alone might not have.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

During my undergrad, I started reading the writings of the late neuroscientist, Oliver Sacks. One of his books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, is a case study examining a patient with visual agnosia, a condition that makes people unable to recognize faces and objects. That book really jumpstarted my interest in the inner workings of the mind. I give partial credit to Oliver Sacks for pushing me towards a career in neuroscience.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I’m a big fan of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. There are several quotes from his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that I have pondered over the years. During my Ph.D., I was working crazy hours, barely making enough money to survive, and extremely stressed to the point of where I considered quitting. I would often think about his book, and in particular, this quote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Learning how to reframe the way I view difficult situations has helped me overcome many obstacles.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?

We require a lot of sleep in our youth but from the late teens on, adults require 7–9 hours of quality sleep per night and this amount doesn’t change as we continue to age. There is a common misconception that seniors require less sleep. This myth likely came about because seniors normally experience a shift in their circadian rhythm (the internal 24-hour clock that regulates when we sleep and when we’re awake), and generally go to bed and wake up much earlier than younger adults. Seniors are also more likely to experience insomnia and disrupted sleep, contributing to the misconception.

Is the amount of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10PM and getting up at 4AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2AM and getting up at 10AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?

Sleep is an extremely dynamic process that accomplishes many different biological functions, such as tissue repair, immune system strengthening, hormone release, and memory consolidation. Extensive scientific studies have shown that adults need a minimum of 7 hours of high-quality sleep to properly accomplish these processes, with some people needing up to 9 hours depending on their genetic makeup. Science has also found that consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep has negative consequences. In several large studies, people who got 6 or less hours of sleep per night had an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, infection, and mental health disorders.

Another aspect of sleep to consider is circadian rhythm. Not only should people be aiming to get enough sleep, but also making sure their circadian rhythm is well-regulated. This means keeping a strict sleep schedule that involves going to bed and waking at the same time daily, even on weekends and holidays.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35-year-old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for 6 months, he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?

When we sleep less than 7 hours per night, we accumulate sleep debt. Like a credit card, sleep debt must eventually be repaid if we want to function normally and remain healthy. Unfortunately, the more debt you accumulate, the more long-term damage you are doing to your brain and body.

Scientists are still divided on whether it is possible to fully repay sleep debt, but you should notice immediate positive benefits from getting sufficient sleep. The first noticeable improvements will primarily be cognitive, including less daytime sleepiness, enhanced mood, and improved learning and memory.

After a several weeks, you can expect to see positive physical changes and better health. Your physical performance and stamina will increase. You should see a drop in your blood pressure and the risk for diseases associated with sleep deprivation will decrease, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, infection, and mental health disorders. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might also find that the pounds come off a little faster. You’ll also have an easier time maintaining your weight loss.

Getting more sleep also has a positive impact on your social health. People who sleep more have better work or education performance and find it easier to maintain relationships.

Many things provide benefits but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?

We should absolutely make sleep a priority because it affects almost every aspect of our lives. I’ve already discussed the effects sleep has on health and wellbeing. Science has also found that people who are consistently sleep deprived have reduced life expectancy and have an increased risk for accidents and injury. So, if you want to maintain a high quality of life and good health, you have to make sleep one of your highest priorities.

The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles?

Besides sleep disorders, the three things that I see constantly interfering with people’s ability to get quality sleep include:

  1. Trying to juggle too many commitments:

We live in a society that has indoctrinated us to believe that in order to live the best life we should be cramming as much into our day as possible. This means people are working longer hours and taking on too many commitments. When you combine that with our need to maintain relationships and family, it usually results in less time for sleep. Those struggling to get enough sleep should consider rearranging or dropping some of their commitments in order to guarantee they have enough time to rest. Some people find that it helps to plan out a strict schedule for their day or adopt time-saving techniques such as meal prepping.

2. Stress and other health issues:

Stress is by far one of the biggest reasons people don’t get enough quality sleep. Stress not only makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, but it also reduces the brain’s ability to enter the deep, refreshing sleep stage when most of the body’s repair occurs. It’s important that chronically stressed individuals adopt techniques to help relax their mind and body such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and self-care routines. If stress becomes unmanageable, it may be necessary to seek help from a mental health professional.

Besides stress, other health problems such as chronic pain, disease and illness, and mental health disorders can also negatively impact sleep, so it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to address these issues.

3. Sleep procrastination

We are working longer hours than ever before, and this often makes people feel like they don’t have enough time to themselves. In order to claim back free time, they’ll borrow additional hours from their sleep schedule. This is called sleep procrastination and it’s becoming a huge problem in our society. In order to avoid sleep procrastination, try maintaining a strict sleep schedule that involves going to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends and holidays. Take back free time by setting a time limit on your work hours, which may include not checking work emails after a certain period. Schedule more time for yourself on weekends and holidays and adopt a more relaxed attitude about boring activities like running errands and housework.

Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?

It’s absolutely more difficult to get quality sleep today than it was in the past. We’re currently working longer hours and trying to fit as many activities into our lives as possible. With the introduction of technology such as computers, the internet, video games, and TV, we’re also more distracted from sleep. Additionally, both adults and children report higher levels of stress than previous generations, which wreak havoc on our ability to sleep soundly.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. One of the easiest things we can do to ensure good sleep is sticking to a sleep schedule. For best results, you should be going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. Unfortunately, this means you shouldn’t sleep in on weekends, but with consistency, you should get enough sleep that you no longer feel the need to sleep in. I personally was horrible at sticking to a sleep schedule during my high school and college years, which always resulted in going to bed at crazy hours and never feeling fully refreshed the next day. Once I learned about the science of sleep, I was a lot stricter with my schedule and I’ve been an excellent sleeper ever since.
  2. Avoid consuming anything with caffeine at least 6 hours before bed. Once caffeine is in our system, it takes several hours to degrade, meaning even a small cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon can keep you from getting sleep. Most people will automatically reach for the coffee when they’re feeling a mid-afternoon slump, but it’s important to keep in mind that after about 12PM, caffeine becomes more of a hindrance than helpful. Instead, try increasing your heart rate with physical activity or taking a 20-minute power nap.
  3. Turn off your electronic devices 1 hour before bed. This includes cell phones, TVs, laptops, or anything else that emits blue light. When we stare into bright screens, our brain suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin levels must reach a certain threshold in order to feel sleepy. Looking at screens before bed has been associated with insomnia, mid-sleep awakenings, and less time spent in the deepest stages of sleep. Almost everyone I know is guilty of staring at their phones before bed. I recommend replacing your phone with a book or listening to relaxing music.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. This seems so obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t maintain a bedroom that promotes relaxation. For best results, keep your room temperature around 68F-70F. If you cannot eliminate environmental light, try using a sleep mask. Minimize noise pollution by using a white noise machine or ear plugs. Remove anything that causes overstimulation, like clutter or the TV.
  5. If you have been suffering from sleep issues without resolve or are experiencing chronic daytime sleepiness, it’s important that you speak to your doctor about getting evaluated for common sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea, for instance, is extremely common in the United States. Most people aren’t even aware they have the condition so it can take before they seek treatment. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders can take years off your life so it’s imperative to seek professional help as soon as possible.

What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?

If you find yourself waking in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, the best thing you can do is to get out of bed and do a relaxing activity. It sounds counterintuitive to get out of bed, but clinical studies have shown that tossing and turning in bed can raise your anxiety. Getting out of bed and listening to calming music, meditating, or reading a book will help your brain relax and feel tired enough to go back to sleep.

What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?

Naps are an excellent way to recover lost sleep or reenergize you when you’re feeling groggy, but you have to be strategic to ensure it doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep at bedtime. Try limiting yourself to 20–30 minute power naps. This allows your brain enough time to enter stage 1 light sleep, which is refreshing enough to get most people through the rest of their day. If you’re seriously sleep deprived and need to nap longer, set your alarm for 90 minutes. This is the average time it takes for the brain to cycle through stage 1, 2 and 3 Non-REM (NREM) and REM sleep, allowing your brain to wake up at the most optimal point for feeling refreshed and energized.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would honestly love to meet withNeil deGrasse Tyson. When I’m not thinking about neuroscience, I’m usually nerding out on astrophysics. The universe is sort of like the brain — it’s a super complex system that we’ll probably never fully understand, and that excites me! Neil also seems like a super down-to-earth guy who would love to have a conversation about a variety of interesting topics.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out Tatch’s website for links to other media I’ve been involved in, such as articles, podcasts, and videos and the product could be beneficial to you if you’re struggling with your sleep. We’ve gathered over 5,500 users on our waitlist and are really excited to launch later this year.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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