How to use sleep and circadian science to get better rest

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One way to get better rest is to find things that are comforting to us, says UC Berkeley clinical psychology professor Allison Harvey. (Photo by Rafal Jedrzejek via Unsplash)

As the global pandemic stretches on and massive wildfires rage along the West Coast, many people are finding it hard - if not impossible - to get the restful sleep they need. But Allison Harvey, a professor of clinical psychology and director of the Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic at UC Berkeley, says that finding comfort is key when trying to sleep.

"I think as humans, at this point, we either have too many people in our lives and in our faces or we’re lonely and we’re maybe feeling that as we go off to sleep … we need to go to safe burrows and nests in order to sleep. So, things that are comforting really make a difference to us.”

On Aug. 7, Harvey gave a talk, sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), about how changing certain behaviors - when and how we wake up and go to bed, for instance - can allow us to experience the sleep rhythms we’re made to have.

"I invite you to cast your eye, your attention, your mind’s eye, to the rhythmic nature of the world all around us,” said Harvey. "That night always follows day, day always follows night. That there are four seasons, except in Berkeley and the surrounding area, where there seems to be 12 or more seasons. Stars have annual patterns. Some flowers close at night and open during the day. And some birds migrate annually or biannually. So, we live in this very rhythmic world and I think, often, we’re moving so fast that we miss these rhythms.”

The body itself is incredibly rhythmic, she adds, and different stages of sleep play important roles in growth and immune system repair, as well as creativity and memory.

For more tips for improving sleep, listen to Berkeley Talks episode #94: "How to use sleep and circadian science to get better rest.”

Watch a video of Harvey’s talk below.

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