Recognize and accept the importance of sleep in your life. Make a list of your top 5 priorities in life. If sleep is not on your list, realize that sleep affects everything in your daily life and must be added to your daily priority hierarchy. Once you prioritize sleep, it will be easier to make the the daily behavioral changes and commitment that will lead to healthy sleep.
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. Whitney Roban.
Dr. Whitney Roban is a renowned Family, Educational, and Corporate Sleep Specialist and the founder of Solve Our Sleep. She is an award winning author, sought-after speaker by school districts and corporations around the country, and has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, CNN, The TODAY Show, NBC, Forbes, and Rolling Stone. Her mission is to provide the sleep education and support we need to not only survive, but to thrive.
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?
After I received my Ph.D. in Clinical and School Psychology, I was creating psycho-educational products to be used in the child therapeutic and educational markets. I then worked as an Applied Social Researcher in the youth market, during which time I gave birth to my first child. This child, nor his brother who followed two years later, were innately good sleepers. This significant parenting experience led me onto a new professional journey, as a Sleep Specialist. My unique and invaluable education, training, and experience as a Cognitive Behavioral Clinical and School Psychologist paved the way to my success as a leading expert in family, educational, and corporate sleep.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
I was working for a large non-profit in NYC when I became pregnant with my first child. The news of my pregnancy coincided with one of the worst days in US history, September 11th, 2001. While I was out on maternity leave with the plan to return to the office part-time, the company I worked for reorganized and they told me that I had to return to the office full-time or not return. So, I decided to stay home with my son for a while longer. During that time I sleep trained my son and starting sharing sleep advice at local parenting groups. The head of the 14th Street Y Parenting Center suggested I open a private practice focused on family sleep. This was 18 years ago and sleep consulting was not a common career path. As I ruminated a career change and journey into the field of sleep consulting, I became pregnant with my second child and moved with my family to Los Angeles. Upon completion of sleep training my second son, and the realization that families on both coasts were severely sleep deprived and desperately needed my help, I opened my family sleep consultancy. Six years later, upon my return to the New York area, I expanded my work to include educational sleep in schools, and corporate sleep in the workplace. I currently have a booming private practice working virtually with all age members of a family, providing sleep workshops and sleep curriculum to public and private schools, providing sleep workshops and sleep coaching to employees, and acting as a sleep advisor and resident sleep expert to companies in the health and wellness sector.
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 have worked hard to earn my authority in the sleep and wellness field, entering the field 16 years ago, long before the sleep boom that has occurred in the past 5 years. I have shared my expertise internationally throughout the years with thousands of families, students, teachers, administrators, employees, managers, and top executives. I have been featured in prestigious publications such as The New York Times, CNN, The TODAY Show, NBC, Forbes, and Rolling Stone. I have also written two award winning children books about the importance of sleep, created a groundbreaking school sleep curriculum, and the first ever professional development workshop for school teachers, counselors, and nurses.
My unique contribution to the world of sleep wellness was my introduction of sleep education in the schools and in corporations. During my years in private practice, I realized that children and adults had never learned WHY sleep is so important. How could I expect them to take my advice and make the daily life changes necessary for healthy sleep when they do not accept the importance of sleep nor prioritize healthy sleep in their lives. As such, I wrote two books teaching children and their parents about the importance of sleep (Devin & Evan Sleep From 8–7 and Devin & Evan Play Fortnite ’Til 11). As I embarked on my book tour, sharing my books with students and teachers in schools, it confirmed something I had expected for a long time. Students had horrible sleep habits, were significantly sleep deprived, and actually wanted to talk about it and learn how to get better sleep! As a result, I created the first ever Dr. Roban’s Solve Our Sleep School Healthy Sleep Curriculum. I had finally realized my dream of having sleep education be a part of health education in the schools!
Besides providing sleep education in the schools, the working parents in my private practice confirmed another suspicion I had about sleep in the workplace. Employees were also significantly sleep deprived, it was affecting their performance at work, and also negatively affecting the corporation’s bottom line. Therefore, years before corporations had started “waking up” to the importance of sleep, I was offering corporate sleep education and support in the workplace. The field of corporate sleep has exploded in the past few years, most significantly during the pandemic, with a strong focus on mental health and wellness benefits for workers. You cannot talk about mental health and wellness without talking about sleep, so my corporate sleep work has been busier than ever. Although many corporations have taken a liking to offering their employees sleep wearables to track their sleep, the science is undeniable in the effectiveness of sleep education, as well as sleep support in the form of CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia), to improve sleep quantity and quality. I am honored and proud to continue to be able to work in this field, one I am so passionate about, and to be able to continue to be creative and entrepreneurial in how I grow my business and reach the sleep deprived masses.
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?
The book that made a significant impact on me is Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It was the book I consulted when I sleep trained my own children, who were the impetus for my entry into the field of sleep consulting and my incredible professional journey thus far.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is by Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
This quote is significant in both my personal and professional life. Sleep is a basic biological need. We need to eat, sleep, and breathe, in order to survive. However, sole survival should not be our end goal. We should also want to thrive in all areas of our life. I believe that sleep is the bridge that can take us from just survival all the way to actually thriving in life. I am so happy that I can provide that bridge for so many people throughout my career, and to do so with the utmost passion for sleep, compassion for my clients, a little bit of humor, and of course some style.
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?
Adults should strive to get 7–9 hours of sleep per night.
Children ages 4 months — 5 years of age need 11–12 hours of night sleep.
Children ages 6 years — 12 years old need 10–11 hours of night sleep.
Teenagers need 8–10 hours of night sleep.
Adults need 7–9 hours of night sleep.
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?
The three most important aspects of healthy sleep are your sleep environment, sleep routines, and sleep schedules. Ideally, you should fall asleep when it is dark and your melatonin levels rise, and wake when it is light and your melatonin levels decrease. However, the most important aspect of your sleep schedule is having consistency in the time you fall asleep and the time you wake time. Having a consistent sleep schedule will keep your circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake cycle) steady, which leads to better sleep.
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?
I often describe sleep as an enormous umbrella that overarches all areas of our lives. Its job is to protect our physical, emotional, and behavioral health. Walking around sleep deprived is like walking through a terrible rain storm without an umbrella. You are completely unprotected from all of the outside elements that will have a negative impact on your dally life.
When a person is no longer sleep deprived, the positive effects are endless. The most significant physical benefit is a stronger immune system, which leads to less illness, both short-term and long-term. Emotionally, healthy sleep protects our mental health, leading to less mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
From a behavioral perspective, improved sleep leads to enhanced work and school performance, due to increased energy, productivity, efficiency, cognitive performance, attention, memory, creativity, and problem solving abilities.
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 all have, whether conscious or unconscious, a priority hierarchy in our lives. These are the things we most value and work hard to protect. Over the years I have asked my school and corporate sleep workshop attendees what are the top five things in their priority hierarchy. The most common responses are: their physical and emotional health; to be successful at home, school, and work; to eat healthy foods; staying active and physically fit; and managing daily stress. However, the most important priority is often left off the hierarchy: getting a good night’s sleep. I always make it a point to explain to my sleep workshop attendees that they will not be successful in their top five hierarchy goals if they don’t not only add healthy sleep to their priority hierarchy, but also to move it up the top spot. Sleep is the single most important behavior that you do everyday and has a significant impact on every single area of your daily life.
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?
The three main obstacles to changing our daily habits for improved sleep are:
- Our addiction to technology. Now so, more than ever, we are on our screens most of our waking lives. Unfortunately, technology is a major culprit in the epidemic of sleep deprivation. Not only does technology have a negative physical impact on sleep by decreasing our body’s melatonin production, but it also has a negative emotional impact on sleep by overstimulating the brain. I recommend turning off all electronics at least one hour before bed and charging them outside of your bedroom.
- Wanting a quick fix to sleep problems instead of putting in the time and effort to make the changes necessary that will lead to overcoming sleep problems in the long term. The great news is that there is a scientifically validated treatment for insomnia, CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia). It is short-term, there are no side effects, and it is safer and more effective that sleep medications. However, many people choose to use medications or supplements hoping for an easy and quick sleep improvement, either because they don’t want to put in the hard work or they don’t even know that a safe and effective treatment such as CBT-I exists.
- Believing that sleep is more of a “want” than a “need”. Of course, we all want great sleep. We know we feel better when we are not sleep deprived. However, the power of sleep crosses the bridge from a “want” to a “need”, for every human being. Sleep is a basic biological need. We need to eat healthy food, breathe healthy air, and get healthy sleep. No one is immune to the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Sure, some people need less sleep than others, but only a small percentage of us (1%) are truly short sleepers. The other 99% of us need somewhere between 7–9 hours of sleep per night.
Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?
I do believe that getting good sleep is more difficult today than it was in the past. The factors that affect this downturn in overall sleep quantity and quality are:
- The chronic use of electronic devices, especially in the evenings. We are all utilizing some form of electronics morning, noon and night. Night time usage is particularly detrimental to night time sleep.
- The constant 24 hour news cycles, which can lead to increased anxiety, especially if the news is consumed close to bedtime.
- The increased demands of homework and academic pressure on children, as well as the expectation for adults to work well into the evening hours, does not allow for appropriate bedtimes nor does it allow for the critical downtime needed to drift off to sleep quickly and easily.
- Of course, the global pandemic, has lead to approximately a 30% increase in mental health issues and a 60% increase in reported insomnia.
- Unhealthy diets, increased prevalence of obesity, and lack of exercise all have a negative impact on healthy sleep.
* The lack of sleep education, not prioritizing healthy sleep, and the modeling of poor sleep habits in the home perpetuate the current epidemic of sleep deprivation.
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) Follow a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up approximately the same time each day. Our bodies thrive on consistency, and a consistent sleep schedule promotes healthy sleep.
2) Follow a brief and consistent bedtime routine every night. Do something that relaxes you (yoga stretches, deep breathing, journaling, reading a non-digital book, listening to relaxing music) every night before bed. A consistent bedtime routine will signal to the brain and body that it is time for sleep.
3) Turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed and charge them outside of your bedroom. Make sure your sleep environment is dark, quiet, and cool.
4) No caffeine after lunch and no heavy meals close to bedtime. Avoid fatty and spicy food before bed.
5) Recognize and accept the importance of sleep in your life. Make a list of your top 5 priorities in life. If sleep is not on your list, realize that sleep affects everything in your daily life and must be added to your daily priority hierarchy. Once you prioritize sleep, it will be easier to make the the daily behavioral changes and commitment that will lead to healthy sleep.
What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?
I recommend doing the one thing from your bedtime routine that you found the most relaxing and that helped you fall asleep at the beginning of the night. That might entail things such as deep breathing, positive visualizations, or meditation. If, after 30 minutes you do not fall back to sleep, you should go to a separate room (or separate area of your bedroom if you don’t have another room to utilize) and do something calming and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy again. At that time, return to your bed and attempt to fall asleep again. It is a good idea to have that separate area, what I call your “sleep oasis”, set up before bed so that everything you might need to relax is already there. Some things I recommend for your sleep oasis are white noise, lavender spray, a weighted lap blanket, and a book.
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?
If you had a particularly bad night of sleep and need to refuel in order to get through the day, a nap is a good option. However, you must follow these two important nap rules so that it doesn’t make falling asleep that night more difficult. Rule number one is for the nap length to be 30 minutes or less. You do not want to nap longer, as you want to avoid entering into a deep stage of sleep. If you do so, you will wake feeling worse than you felt before the nap. A brief nap of thirty minutes or less will give you the burst of energy you need. Rule number two is for the nap to end before 3:00pm. Remember, sleep schedule consistency is of utmost importance for healthy sleep. If you nap too late in the day, it will throw off your sleep schedule and your circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake cycle).
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 like to have a private meeting with Dr. Karen Hacker, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). The NCCDPHP currently has eight divisions that they fund and work with partners to prevent chronic diseases, and encourage healthy habits. However, the NCCDPHP does not list sleep deprivation as a cause of chronic disease, nor does it have a division devoted to sleep health. We must increase public awareness, education and funding in order to “wake up” the world to the importance of sleep. The NCCDPHP also runs the CDC Healthy Schools initiative. I would love to get involved in this initiative. I have created the first ever school healthy sleep curriculum and I provide sleep education and support to students, teachers, parents, and administrators around the country. My mission is to see sleep education become a standard part of the school health curriculum. If children are taught in school about the importance of sleep and how to get better sleep, we might just finally end the second world epidemic, that of sleep deprivation.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!