Episode 1: Welcome to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby

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Welcome to the first episode of Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby! Listen as we dive into what the podcast is about, how we hope it’ll help you get better sleep, and where you can find us.

In the meantime, if you’re in need of better sleep now, check out our guide to common reasons why you can’t sleep, our picks for the best mattresses of 2024, and our favorite expert-backed tips for falling asleep fast. And tune in every other week for new episodes of Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby, on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Dr. Shelby: Welcome to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby, where we really want to know how are you sleeping? Really, are you sleeping?

Two-thirds of Americans wake up feeling groggy and weird, wondering why they were up at three in the morning, wondering if there’s something wrong with them. If that sounds like you, you have come to the right place.

I’m Dr. Shelby Harris, licensed clinical psychologist, and I’m the Director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis, where we dive deep into all things sleep, so you can get the rest that you deserve. Today, in our very first episode – yay! – I’m joined by Alanna Nuñez, Head of Content here at Sleepopolis.

Together, we’re talking about Sleep Talking. What is this show going to be? What are we doing? Why are we doing it? And how can we help you, most importantly? Alanna, thank you so much for joining us today and welcome to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby.

Alanna Nuñez: Thank you. I’m super excited to be here. I’m just really glad we’re doing this. That was the first thing I want to say. I think this is really important and I think this will be really fun. So I’m just really glad we’re doing this.

DS: I am beyond excited. So for everyone out there listening, Alanna, what is Sleep Talking?

AN: Okay, so Sleep Talking: This is hopefully going to just help people get a good night’s sleep.
We work at Sleepopolis, obviously. So we are reading about sleep. We are talking about sleep, writing about it every day. And we know that people are not getting enough sleep and the sleep people are getting, it’s not good quality. It’s not restorative. And we know that they feel frustrated and hopeless.

And sometimes there’s no answers. Or the answer when you ask somebody, how do I get a better night’s sleep is just, improve your sleep hygiene. Okay, great. That’s cool. But what happens when you have tried that and nothing works, right?

DS: Been there, done that, right?

AN: Exactly. You know – you’re a doctor, you’re a sleep doctor, you know. I’m sure you see this with your patients. And so what I’m really hoping Sleep Talking can be for those listeners is just something different than that, where we can really just dive deep. Help people who have tried everything to get a good night’s sleep, and really just feel like they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m hoping this can show them there is something better. There is a light. We are here to help. We have so much experience. We have decades worth of experience combined at both Sleepopolis and with you, Dr. Harris. And with that together, I really think we can, we can make a difference for people.

DS: Yeah. And I think the other thing too is that there are a lot of people out there who just don’t even know if their sleep is quote unquote normal, whatever that is, right? So, what is considered okay sleep during menopause, during pregnancy? When should I be worried about my nightmares? Do I have narcolepsy? Even Sleep Apnea. There’s so many issues out there that I think people are just either confused about or just not even getting the right care or guidance for, that I hope that listening to an episode on something might spark an interest or a curiosity in something that makes them actually say, okay, maybe I do need to see a doctor about this so that we can really help people see a solution to its conclusion. Not just trying something, but maybe really finding a longer-term solution that will help them.

So yeah, talk to me about like Sleep Talking. I remember it was a lot of back and forth about the title and that my New England accent will come out – sometimes I’ll be saying Sleep Talkin’. So if you hear that on the podcast, just notice that my Rhode Islander accent’s going to come out.

AN: I love it.

DS: So how did we end up with that name? Because I remember a lot of back and forth for a while.

AN: We did go through a bunch of names. We cycled through a lot. I think we just landed on this. I think it was everybody’s favorite. And what I really like about it is that I hope it suggests to people that we are here to just talk with them, not talk at them.

DS: Yes.

AN: I think a big part of the problem when you are talking about sleep health or sleep issues, especially if you’re a patient and you go to your doctor, is that all of the answers are just like couched in these very medical heavy jargony terms that I think are very hard to break down for people who might not have a medical background. Or when you are truly running on, I don’t know, fumes because you haven’t slept for the last, like, four days in a row because you’ve got a bout of insomnia that was triggered by something and you can’t seem to get out of that spiral.

You don’t want to hear the science behind, well this is the first sleep cycle, or this is REM cycle, or this is that. You just want something to help you, and I hope that with this podcast, with the title, I just really want people to know that we are there for them, and we’re talking with them, and really, we want to bring real people on.

We want to bring other experts, we want to bring people with real experience with different sleep issues to have a conversation with them. And together, right? Find a solution, you know.

DS: Yeah. And I think you hit the nail on the head there as it being a conversation. Because sometimes it is not a simple solution, right? To tell people ‘Make time for eight hours’ when you have two kids, or you have a young baby who’s just not sleeping through the night, or you’re working two jobs. It’s not always so simple.

And to try and have that conversation about, where are the struggles? Where are the struggles for women, especially, in today’s society? For people who are working a lot? Who have multiple demands? How can we make sleep a priority in that busy life instead of just saying you have to do it, without helping people really figure out where the areas are that we need to pinpoint?

AN: Exactly. And also hopefully make it a little less scary for people. Sleep is so foundational to our health. We talk about this all the time, but at the same time, you read all these studies and they will say things like, six hours of sleep or less per night is linked to this percentage increase in an early death. And that’s scary, right? Like, okay, great. Nobody wants to read that they didn’t get a good night’s sleep last night, and it’s going to contribute to their early death, right? That’s not helpful. We want to put stuff into context and just not be scary for people.

DS: I think that’s an excellent point, too, is that, you know, like my area of specialty. I mean, I deal with all areas of behavioral sleep medicine, but I’ve had many, many years of working with insomnia patients. And the thing that I hear all the time with people who have insomnia is that they feel that sometimes the information out there can make them more worried about their sleep that they end up losing sleep over it.

So it’s really about, this podcast is going to speak to people who have insomnia, who have other sleep disorders, but also good sleepers too who are just interested in sleep and want to learn more about how they can maybe better their sleep more often but they might not have a sleep disorder. So it’s not meant to make people who have sleep issues more anxious, because I get that. That can make it worse.

But we’re really going to talk about all the different issues that play in without just fear mongering a lot of times.

AN: Exactly. And it can be really hard to do that. I have insomnia, I have written about health and wellness and sleep for over a decade. And this week, I am going through a couple of days where I haven’t slept very well.

And last night, I was just in bed, like staring up the ceiling. And I was like, Everybody just says this is, like, linked to an early death. Like, even I once in a while, you know, I had to tell myself, I was like, Okay, there are solutions. It’s not the end of the world, right now, this moment. I have something, you know, I have some weapons in my arsenal, here’s what I can do. And if not, I’ll try something different tomorrow. But it can be really hard to overcome that anxiety, right?

DS: Totally. I don’t want people to feel hopeless.

AN: Exactly.

DS: So that’s where I’m hoping that they’ll get from this podcast is that it’s more than just basic sleep hygiene. Yes, we’ll talk about that from time to time, but there are so many solutions out there and ways to think about our sleep.

And I don’t want people to just feel like, well, what I hear sometimes is I’ll sleep when I’m dead. And that’s, that’s not the goal. So we don’t want to make people more worried. We want them to really feel like they are – like you said – armed with solutions.

AN: Yes, it’ll be actionable. Also, it will be fun. We are fun people. Sleepopolis is a fun brand. I think we’re pretty cool. So I think it’ll be, you know, fun for listeners.

DS: Yes, I agree 100 percent. So Alanna, how often are we going to have episodes released to the public so they can get more Sleep Talking?

AN: Great question. So we are going to release episodes every other week. So you can tune in every other week, anywhere you get your podcasts, you can look for upcoming release dates on our Instagram, TikToc, our website, keep an eye out for in our newsletter, we really want to hear from our listeners, too.

So we’ll be asking for people to submit questions for a couple of upcoming episodes, you can do so on our Instagram and TikTok. So keep an eye out for those in the coming weeks.

DS: A lot of people who are listening probably follow me @SleepDocShelby on Instagram and TikTok. So you can submit things there as well.

There’s so many different ways that you can get through to us. And we want to really answer a lot of those questions in this podcast. So Alanna, I know we’ve been doing a lot of kind of planning of some of the initial topics that we want to start covering. We’ve got so many things.

What are some of the topics that you think that we have really lined up that we’re going to start releasing over the next few months?

AN: Another great question. So we have a lot of really good ones. We have daylight saving coming up. We have an episode on teens and sleep and maybe later school start times.

We will have a complete guide to what you need to know about buying a mattress. Do you really need to spend $2,000 on a mattress to get a good night’s sleep? (No, but there are a few things you should look for.)

We want to talk to parents about what it’s like to try and get good sleep when you have a newborn baby at home, especially if you’re a first-time parent. We’ve got some holiday stuff coming up. We also want to hear from listeners. So if you ever have an idea that you really want to see turned into a podcast episode, you know, again, just throw something on our socials, just leave a comment for us on Instagram or TikTok, and we’d love to see it.

DS: Yeah, I think that the amount of topics that we have are really varied too. So hopefully someone will find something that speaks to them. The kid stuff is stuff that I get asked about all the time. So I’m really glad that we’re going to be talking about it. And also the mattress thing, right? Like we recorded that video content a few months ago for how I ended up picking my mattress out. But still I get – daily – I get questions. What’s the ideal mattress? What’s the ideal pillow? All that sort of stuff. So I’m so glad that we’re going to really be diving into that much, much deeper so that people really have a better understanding.

AN: Me too. And again, we want to hear from listeners if there’s something there we haven’t talked about, but you think this would make a great episode.

Just let us know. There’s so many things out there about sleep that we could talk about. We obviously love sleep. We’re obsessed with it, getting it, not getting it. And so again, I could talk about this all day. I know you could too. So there’s, there’s just so many things we could talk about.

DS: But I think that’s why this whole podcast idea really came about is that people will just want to talk with me about sleep all the time. And I can’t stop talking about sleep. It’s like pretty bad. So this is the perfect outlet for it. So I can really talk about sleep, talk about in a very actionable way, but also just be interested and, like, get different topics out sleepwalking, right? We came up with the title Sleep Talking. I was a big sleepwalker as a kid. So like just talking about that sort of stuff.

AN: Yes. So normally in these episodes moving forward, we’ll have an episode topic, you’ll be on here with a guest, either an expert or a real person talking through all things related to that topic. But today, since I have you and you’re my captive audience, I want to ask you a bunch of questions.

DS: Sure.

AN: I also just think this would be a great opportunity for our audience to get to know you, you’ll be the host moving forward. So I just want to let people get to know you a little bit. So, what brought you into sleep medicine? How did you get your start as a sleep doctor?

DS: So, okay, um, I was a terrible sleepwalker as a child. I would sometimes try to leave my parents house. I was setting off the alarm and my dad, I remember him waking me up once with, like, a bat because he thought there was a burglar. I mean, he saw me there, thank goodness, but he thought there was a burglar in the house. So it was really bad. I always had to have the bottom bunk at sleepaway camp.

And then I just started to outgrow it when I became a teenager. And then when I went to college, I was always interested in, I was interested, interestingly, I was both a double bass major and classical upright bass. and psychology. So I was really always interested in psychology. But once I graduated from undergrad, I went to Brown.

They had me put on a research study, which I had never really thought about this before, but they had me going into rehabs for people who were in early rehab for alcoholism. So they were there, maybe they’re one, two weeks into rehab at that point. This was, like, in the year 2000.

And at that point, what they were doing was, they were using a medication called Trazodone.
Now we do CBTI, they do use Trazodone sometimes, but they were treating insomnia. in people who are in early recovery from alcohol addiction because one of the main reasons that people would relapse with alcohol is because they weren’t sleeping. So the idea was, let’s treat their sleep and maybe that will help with relapse risk.

And you know what? It actually helped a lot. And so now they’ve done a lot of studies on treating insomnia and people who are in early addiction. And it was just so eye-opening to me at at that time, like, why are we not talking about sleep in other areas of the world besides these very specific areas?

Sleep is important to everyone. It’s the bedrock for which all of our medical psychiatric functioning really is based upon a lot of times. And why are we not just incorporating it into wellness, into mental health? And so when I went to graduate school, I looked for graduate programs that had – which was, mind you, very hard to do – I went to graduate programs to find someone who was on staff who actually did sleep work. So that’s how I ended up at Yeshiva University, and I worked with Dr. Ross Levin, who was very well-versed in insomnia and also nightmare work.

And then from there, it just grew, and after I went to graduate school, I worked at Montefiore Medical Center and the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center there. And I ran the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic and I work with Michael Thorpy, who is one of the giants in the sleep medicine field. And I learned a lot about insomnia treatment, all different areas of sleep medicine, narcolepsy from him.

And I really do credit a lot of my expertise to working with him over the years. And then I worked at the sleep lab there for many years, and then I went into private practice. So I’ve had a varied history in sleep medicine from being someone who actually was a sleepwalker to someone who now works with patients who are sleepwalkers.

And mind you, it’s also very hereditary. So I see it in my kids when they’re not sleeping well once in a while. So, it’s something that I’m very fascinated with and I’m so glad that we’re talking about it more in the general public because I felt like I was one of very few people who was doing what I was doing back in 2000, 2001.

AN: That would be a great podcast episode.

DS: There you go.

AN: Okay. So you mentioned your kids just now and that it’s hereditary. Do they love having a sleep expert for a parent, or no?

DS: Depends upon the day that you ask them. So I have a 13 year old who is, you know, he’s going through the typical delayed – I mean, it’s not really a disorder because naturally teenagers sleep.

And this is something we’re going to talk about on the podcast too. So naturally teenagers go to bed later and they wake up later. And so having to get him out of sleep a little, or out of bed in the morning sometimes, is a little struggle. And getting him to go to bed earlier. He doesn’t love that because I know better. My eight-year-old daughter just thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world right now. So we’ll see if that changes, but she really loves it.

AN: You obviously work a lot with patients now.

DS: Yeah.

AN: What is one of the biggest specific sleep challenges you see in your patients?

DS: For me it’s, really it’s insomnia with a lot of my patients. And I think since the pandemic began, it’s really… insomnia has just gotten even worse for a lot of people. And one of the biggest challenges that I’m seeing now in my patients is medication overuse. So a lot of people, when the world was shutting down, were using a lot of medication to help them sleep better because we didn’t know, I mean, I was freaked out too, I’m a human being. Like we didn’t know what was going on. So people were taking a lot of medication at the beginning. And now I’m seeing a lot of people trying to get off of those medications and feeling really lost. So that’s a big issue I’m seeing.

AN: I took medication for sleep problems when I was a teenager. I took Ambien actually. And this was back before they realized the dosages for women and girls should be different. This is sort of in the early days of those trials. And now I think they have lowered that recommended dose for girls and women. And it was a terrible experience, and it put me off sleep meds for the rest of my life.

DS: Oh my goodness, just the reducing, or the reduction of the dosage did that, or the Ambien itself?

AN: It was, I think it was the Ambien itself, and now it’s been so long that I can’t actually remember the dose, but I remember that I think it was actually maybe too high, and that what happened a few years later was that they made that recommended dose. The national guidelines around it or national recommendations, I should say, they lowered it.
And I think I was before that. And it was a really bad, I just had a terrible reaction to it. And then it just put me off other sleep medications for the rest of my life.

DS: Yeah, it went from, it was 10 milligrams for everyone. And then they cut it to five for women. But I will tell you, I still see so many people who are women who are prescribed it, the higher dosage and you know, doctors will make their own risk-benefit discussion with the patient. But sometimes there are other treatments too that can be tried. So that’s stuff that I hope we get to talk about on the podcast as well.

AN: For sure. Sorry, I put us on a little bit of a tangent.

DS: That’s okay.

AN: Okay, but now I have a couple of more questions for you. What is your must-have sleep accessory, routine, or ritual that you have to do in order for you to get a good night’s sleep?

DS: For me, I think the number one thing is keeping my bedroom cool. But I tend to be pretty cold at the beginning of the night. So it’s, it’s so silly sounding, but I love to sleep with fuzzy warm socks on. And that helps to just cool my body off, but not make me shivering so that I can then sleep throughout the night a little bit better. And then sometimes I wake up a little warmer and I’ll take the socks off.

And then the other thing I really love is a really lovely, fluffy down comforter. Like there’s nothing to me – like right now it’s a rainy day out here in New York, and it’s cold. Nothing better than getting –

AN: Yeah, it’s terrible out.

DS: I know it’s, like, horrible But there’s nothing better than getting under like a comfy blanket that’s not too warm. It’s just perfectly suited for me.

AN: Okay. So you sleep with your socks on. That is like a big debate on TikTok.

DS: I know.

AN: Do you, do you sleep with your jeans on? That’s another big one. Even, even at Pillar Four, we, it is a house divided. People who either sleep with their jeans on or people who don’t, and there’s no in-between.

DS: Okay. We need to have a discussion one episode with these people who sleep with their jeans on because I am extremely curious now.
Like some people will sleep with their workout clothes on the night before. I tried that one I was like, Heck no, that’s not happening. There’s something about sleeping with lycra on that’s not happening in my world. So good luck.

AN: Well, we should do an episode about this. One of the explanations I’ve heard from the people who sleep with their jeans on is that it makes it easier to just get dressed in the morning.

DS: Yeah, I would –

AN: It’s a thing. People do it. It’s a debate. People have strong feelings.

DS: We’re gonna, we’re gonna dive into this one at some point. ‘Cause that I can’t wrap my head around. All right.

AN: What is your sleeping position?

DS: I start on my stomach and then end up somewhere on my side or my back.

AN: Okay. So you are what we would call a combination sleeper here at Sleepopolis, which is exactly what you said. You start out in one position, you end up waking up in another one.

DS: Yep. Full on.

AN: What is your chronotype? People at Sleepopolis, they want to know, they love chronotypes. So, which are you? Are you a dolphin? A bear?

DS: Oh, God. When it comes to chronotype, I consider myself, it’s funny. Before the pandemic, I was like a full on early bird. I would go to bed, don’t laugh, like 8:45, 9 o’clock, every night and get up at like 4:45 because I would go and do CrossFit at the time. I’m not doing CrossFit so much anymore. Pandemic hits. And I was like, you know what, I don’t need to get up so early. I’m not going to the CrossFit gym right now. So I started to actually naturally shift a little later. So I’m still very much an early bird, but I go to bed closer to 9:30, 9:45. Get up about 5:45 most days.

AN: You are not the only person, I think, who goes to bed that early. I don’t know if you remember this, but a couple of years ago, New York Mag published this article. It was an op-ed from somebody who was like, the best time to go to bed is 8:45, no questions asked. And she inspired another heated debate, but she was on your side, early bed is the best bedtime.

DS: Well, there’s no – I would debate that actually, I would say there’s no best bedtime. It’s just [that] everyone has their own way that works in their lives. And whatever works for you is your schedule, if it works in your life. That being said, for me, it works in my life because I’m a runner. So I like to get up and when I can I run in the morning. So that’s what works in my life.

AN: Love it. So there are five million podcasts out there in every category imaginable, including health and wellness, including sleep. So how can we really set ourselves apart? What does that mean to you?

DS: So I think the first thing that sets me apart is that I’m a woman, right? There aren’t that many podcasts out there that are about sleep that are hosted by women. I’m in my mid-40s. So I’m dealing with – I have a teenager and I have an elementary school kid.

So I am a mom, I’m a busy mom. I also have, you know, I have parents who are aging. There’s so many different things that are pulling me in many directions that I get that stress that a lot of people are feeling now, that just being talked to about things that have to be done to get more sleep is sometimes feels very demoralizing. And so I want to have that conversation with people.

And I think the other thing too, is that I’m a psychologist by training, I, you know, I can talk about the mental health aspect of it more. And I’m a clinician, so I’m also a sleep clinician, and my board certification in behavioral sleep medicine means that I can talk about insomnia, narcolepsy, all these different things in a very educated manner with other experts, maybe it might be MDs in the field who might be specialists in narcolepsy, or whatever it is that we’re talking about.

So I can really have a well-rounded conversation from both the mental health standpoint, how it works with patients that I see all the time, and then really be able to kind of pull on some of my, you know, have some of my colleagues in the field who are really world renowned experts on -whether they’re MDs, patients, PhDs, all different things. So we really get a very well rounded group here.

Well, thank you so much, Alanna, for being here. I’m really, really excited for all the work that we’re going to be doing, and I can’t wait to host more of these episodes and to release them out into the public.

AN: Me too. Again, I’m so glad we’re doing this. Thank you for having me on today. I’m really excited to launch this, see it out in the world, and hope that it’ll be helpful.

DS: Yeah, and I think if anybody’s thinking like, what can I do today, if I want to start thinking about my sleep moving forward? I think just the first thing to do is just take inventory of your sleep.

Start thinking about it. Maybe if you already are thinking a lot about it, I’m not telling you to think more about it. Like if you have insomnia, but maybe think, like, what are some of the pressure points for you? Like, is it that I tend to have, whenever I’m stressed, I have a bad night of sleep?

Or is it that I’ve been excessively sleepy a lot or I’m struggling to sleep because my husband’s next to me? You know, what are some of the issues that you feel like are really pressing for you when it comes to sleep? Or do you feel like you’re a really good sleeper overall? So just try to take a little bit of inventory in your sleep , your sleep patterns and just kind of see where some of the issues might be because there might be a podcast episode that speaks to that in the near future.

AN: And once you’ve thought about those, make sure to just drop us a line at Instagram or TikTok. We want to hear from you. If you have a question you want answered, just let us know. If you have a topic you think should become a podcast episode, just let us know. The more the merrier.

DS: Thanks for listening to Sleep Talking with Dr. Shelby, a Sleepopolis original podcast. If you’re not routinely getting a great night’s sleep, remember to follow and subscribe for more Sleep Talking, wherever you get your podcasts. And for even more sleep tips, visit Sleepopolis. com. And you can also visit my Instagram page @sleepdocshelby.

Today’s episode was produced and edited by Freddie Beckley. Our Head of Content is Alanna Nuñez, and I’m Dr. Shelby Harris.

Until next time, sleep well.