July 22, 2018
Jump in bed with us while we interview this #smartbae Alix Mellor
We’re all familiar with that drowsy 3pm feeling, or those heavy-lidded mornings when you really can’t get out of bed so you play a game of chicken with your phone alarm. Did you know that four in ten Australians aren’t getting the sleep that they need, which has a big impact on how we are living our lives. But what’s a sleepy girl to do? We chatted to a true sleep kween to find out more.
Dr Alix Mellor
Researcher (Postdoctoral Research Fellow) at the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences, Monash University, Melbourne
Q: How long have you been working on Sleep?
A: It will be 10 years next year that I have been researching in the field of psychology and sleep. Time flies when you’re having fun and sleeping.
Q: What drew you to the topic of Sleep?
A: I have always been a good sleeper, so sleeping can be considered a passion and a talent of mine. I am about to have a baby though, so I am hoping this is not all about to change! I am fascinated by the brain and for years it was thought that sleep was just ‘offline’ time where everything shutdown. We now know it is pretty much the opposite – the brain works hard while we sleep to keep us well.
Q: What is your favourite aspect of Sleep to work on?
A: I have become passionate about insomnia in the past couple of years. Previously I was more involved in ageing, and also sleep apnoea.
Q: What are some aspects of Sleep research that are really innovative/ ground-breaking from recent years?
A: I have to mention the study I am currently working on. We are running the world’s first ever trial to involve the bedpartner in the treatment of insomnia. It’s surprising that this hasn’t been done before as whenever I ask clients about their sleep, so many of them will bring up their partner in some way (“She steals all the blankets!” or “He snores!”). In the treatment program, the partner gets trained as a sort of ‘surrogate sleep therapist’ and learns ways to help improve their partner’s sleep. This is all done by behavioural changes, not medication. We expect that including the partner in the treatment of insomnia will change the way insomnia is treated in the future.
The research on sleep and brain health also really fascinates me. During sleep we now know that a special fluid circulates in the brain and washes out toxins that cause all sorts of problems if left to accumulate. It’s sort of like a dishwasher. Without turning on the dishwasher each night, toxins damage brain cells. In the short term this impacts our memory and mood, but in the long term, this can be disastrous and cause premature ageing of brain cells, and even lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Q: What do you think most people would find interesting to learn about the benefits of high quality sleep?
A: There are so many benefits to good sleep, it is hard to know where to start! One thing people might not know as much about is that improved sleep is linked to better relationship satisfaction. I like to remind my partner of this when he steals all the covers!
Q: What are the most important behaviours to do when trying to improve your own sleep quality?
A: I would say the most important things are regular bed and wake times (even on weekends) and using the bed only for sleep and sex. It’s also important to consider your sleep environment. Is it dark enough? Quiet enough? If you have a snoring partner, get them checked out!
We need to be creating a peaceful and relaxing bedtime routine and environment. We want to be relaxed and not stimulated before bed so shutting down phone/laptop screens and blue light, and leaving any discussion of stressful topics for the morning are all really important.
Q: Why do you think that Sleep wellbeing has become so topical recently?
A: I think sleep has gradually received more media exposure as sleep scientists fight to get our voices heard, and more and more people are chronically sleep deprived due to the pressures of modern living. We’re talking about taking notice of real and sometimes scary consequences of poor sleep. I mean, our Governments are big on breathalysing drivers because we appreciate that alcohol impacts our reaction times and leads to accidents, but it is less recognised that sleep deprivation has very similar consequences. Research shows that after 17 hours without sleep, it’s like blowing .05%! Let’s also not forget that poor sleep is linked to greater rates of suicide, mental health problems, and huge costs to the economy in terms of healthcare and missed days of work / decreased work productivity. The list goes on.
Q: Favourite G-rated thing to do in bed (apart from sleep)?
A: Reading a good book (in dim light).
Q: Favourite song to go to sleep to?
A: I like the sound of SILENCE. And I don’t mean the Simon and Garfunkel song, I mean actual silence.
Q: Favourite pick up line?
A: Haha… “After meeting me, you'll want to spend more time in bed than Sleeping Beauty”!
Q: Weirdest thing you’ve ever used as a pillow?
A: My partner’s (clean) underwear filled with my underwear and socks. Not a good idea to forget a pillow when camping!
Q: The one thing you can’t sleep without?
A: These days it’s lavender oil. I love a tiny bit on my pillow. It’s all about creating that relaxed atmosphere before I head into dreamland.
So what are we taking away from all of this? I mean, aside from the fact that Alix is inspiring and awesome? Make sure you're getting enough sleep, and spend the time to create a relaxing space for you to rest your weary head. If we can cheekily get away with doing a little plug as well - for our Clean Pillowcases that most definitely help you unwind and have a better sleep (check out the reviews if you don't believe us) and have lavender infused into the botanical mix so even Alix might approve.