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Wake-Up Call: How a Course on Sleep Changed My Life

Your brain is your most important asset: It's your memories, relationships, emotions, decisions and ultimately your source of income. It's also the only organ that you can't replace, so it's critical that you learn how to take care of it, no matter your stage in life.
11/10/2015 12:58pm ET | Updated November 10, 2016
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You go to college to find out what you don't know. Most of the time, that newly acquired knowledge relates to a specific vocation for which you're preparing for four (or five, or six) years. My story is a bit different, not that I didn't learn things I hadn't known -- there was plenty of that -- but rather, I took this knowledge and turned it into something that can be applied across all professions and stages of life.

As a senior at Notre Dame, I enrolled in associate professor Jessica Payne's course, "The Sleeping Brain." Immediately, I was struck by two things: First, just how much the brain does while we sleep, and second, the fact that I was doing virtually everything wrong when it came to this extremely important part of life. Far from a passive state of rest, the brain is incredibly dynamic while you sleep, especially the areas used to consolidate memories, process emotions and "encode" new information into insights and connections that we use every day in work, school and life. Yet I was the poster child for the typical college student's sleep life: pulling all-nighters, using aids to stay awake, looking at electronic devices in bed and other bad habits that were robbing me of the time the brain needed to put to use the information I was receiving in classes.

The disconnect was obvious. Here I was in college, spending money and time ostensibly to learn, and yet I wasn't protecting the investment with a proper sleep routine. I began to change, using the information from The Sleeping Brain course to develop better overall sleep hygiene and patterns. After a few years of noticeable improvements in all areas of my own life, I approached Payne with an idea: place cutting-edge sleep research from her lab and other highly regarded labs into the hands of everyone who wants to use sleep as a tool to become better at their jobs, their family and their life.

The result is Somni, a digital platform that delivers interactive content and tools designed to help everyone improve their cognitive, emotional and physical health through better sleep. No pills or fussy gadgets, just helping people get back to pure simple sleep and realize the benefits from it. We have seen some very promising results at making meaningful behavior change working with students and faculty here at Notre Dame. Using Somni, on average, members get an additional 103 hours (or 4.3 days) of sleep a year and report increases in alertness and overall well-being.

As a student, you're never taught strategies to take care of your sleep, but the reality is that it's one of the first things you should learn. For me, it was the ultimate a-ha moment. Your brain is your most important asset: It's your memories, relationships, emotions, decisions and ultimately your source of income. It's also the only organ that you can't replace, so it's critical that you learn how to take care of it, no matter your stage in life. Sleep is incredibly important to a good life, and that's why at Somni, we think improving your sleep via behavior change is one of the best investments you can make over the long term.