Q&A: Dr. Mairav Cohen-Zion on sleep training

Q&A: Dr. Mairav Cohen-Zion on sleep training


Dr. Mairav Cohen Zion, Chief Science Officer at Dayzz, is a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, with particular expertise in behavioral and cognitive therapies for insomnia and other sleep disorders.

What is sleep training?

Sleep quality is influenced by many external (environmental) and internal (bodily) factors. Sleep training helps us identify these elements and learn how to change or manage these factors in your day-to-day life thereby greatly improving your sleep and wakefulness.  But don’t worry, often a little effort, goes a long way in your sleep.

Does it really work?

Absolutely!  Countless research studies have shown that even minor changes in our sleep habits can improve our overall health and functioning, helps us reach our goals, whether they be educational, physical (weight loss), or work-related (creativity).  

Is it important to improve sleep?

Sleep is one of the central pillars of brain and body health. Although the function of sleep has not yet been fully understood, chronic lack of it has been linked with a range of negative health consequences, including weight gain, increased risk of becoming ill (from the common cold virus to serious conditions such as diabetes and cancer), poorer cognitive skills, affecting our ability to learn, our work productivity, our ability to memorize important information, and changes how we make decisions and solve problems.

What is an example of sleep training?

Today, electronic gadgets have become an inseparable part of our lives. Although, there is no doubt as to benefits of electronic devices in the modern world, there are also significant deficits of gadget use during the “dark” hours. Most electronic screens today emit short wavelength (“blue”) light (acts like morning sunlight), which tricks our brain into believing it is actually daytime, leading to the brain delaying sleep-promoting processes and advancing wake-promoting one (like alertness). This can make it very hard to fall asleep and feel rested in the morning. The Dayzz sleep app will passively monitor the intensity, type and timing of your light exposure and guide you in making gradual and simple changes in the timing and light exposure you get, thereby promoting the high quality restorative sleep, we all need.

For whom is sleep training appropriate?

Sleep training is for anyone (over age 18) interested in improving their sleep and feeling more well-rested during the day.

I can't fall asleep. What is the most important thing I can do?

This may seem counterintuitive; however, the first thing I would recommend is to change the overall approach. Many people with insomnia try very hard to fall asleep, adding and avoiding certain behaviors/thoughts that they think will improve their or expand sleep ability. And although some work (at least for a time limited period) and some don’t the mental and physical effort they expend in trying is very hard. Although, this is approach is totally understandable, it often does not work very well and can even exacerbate sleep problems due to “over-occupation” with sleep which can lead to hyperarousal (or excessive wakefulness at night) – making it often very hard to fall asleep.

How do I know if I have a sleep problem?

If you're asking yourself "do I have a sleep disorder", the honest answer is that at times it is not easy to detect. I would actually focus first on how you feel in the morning hours (not immediately after you wake up but 2-3 hours later). Are you tired? It is hard to stay awake and focused during the day? Certain symptoms may also be suggestive of a sleep disorder, like snoring, or difficulty falling asleep, or uncomfortable feelings in the legs which keep you from falling asleep.

How should I start sleep training?

Let us do the work for you. Download our Dayzz Sleep App, answer our brief assessment questions and we will get you on your way in no time.

How did you come to study sleep? Where does your interest in sleep come from?

Actually, after my BA in psychology, I started conducting behavioral therapy with children with Autism in Boston, MA. At the time a sleep laboratory affiliated with Harvard Medical School was conducting a research study on sleep in Autism, which can be very disturbed and difficult to treat. The study really peaked my interest in sleep and I started volunteering with this research team. Overtime, I became research coordinator at the sleep lab, and started to work on a study examining non-pharmacological treatments for insomnia in older women. Since then, sleep research has become my passion. I continued to get my PhD in Clinical Psychology, with an expertise in sleep disorder and their treatment, at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), an academic hub for sleep research and continue to conduct my research interests, which focus on the functional consequences of sleep deprivation, in my own laboratory today.

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