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Sleep: Dr. Anna Persaud of ‘This Works’ On Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And Here Is How You Can Make That Happen

Avoid consuming alcohol, nicotine and caffeine after 9 p.m. Many people think alcohol helps you sleep, but it can often make you wake up in the middle of the night for no reason.

Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important and how can we make it a priority?

In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.

As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Dr. Anna Persaud.

Dr. Anna Persaud, CEO of This Works and VP of Skincare & Topicals for Canopy Growth, has been leading the This Works brand for 12 years, following an 11-year tenure with the LVMH group as Marketing Director, Parfums Christian Dior. Anna has driven the company’s growth both at home and internationally, leading to its acquisition in 2019 by Canopy Growth. With a PHD in Biochemistry, Anna brings unique insight into product development and understands the need for best-in-class R&D processes and trials to ensure product efficacy. In her roles, Anna pioneers efforts to develop market-leading, high-quality skincare and topicals that meet consumer needs, including best-in-class CBD products.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?

Sure, you may be curious as to how someone with a PhD in biochemistry comes to be the CEO of a skin care brand!

I have always been fascinated and motivated by how things work. My PhD focused on detoxification mechanisms and oxidative stress in parasites from where I entered the pharmaceutical industry. My move into mainstream beauty came with a position on the marketing team at Dior, during a time when we really saw skincare and beauty establish themselves in the mainstream. That led into my current role as CEO of This Works.

Today my scientific background gives me focus on backing our product claims with user and clinical trials so that any product launched would meet consumer expectations. To ensure we deliver on our name we invest heavily in consumer and clinical trials during the product development process. For example, all new launches are trialed with the This Works Panel — our dedicated testing system with 750 members — ensures that our products deliver on their promise, every time. At least 70% of our chosen panelists must agree ‘This Works’ before a product is launched. That focus on robust efficacy is crucial for the brand today as increasingly (and appropriately) consumers are demanding transparency from brands on their ingredients, sustainability, and delivering on promises made.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?

Long before I entered the beauty industry, I already had an obsession with skincare. I became particularly aware of external aggressors that could damage the skin barrier and by doing so undermine skin’s integrity and then curious as to why beauty companies weren’t trying to protect skin from UV and free radicals. I took this understanding and inspiration into the pharmaceutical industry and I worked in medical writing and specialising in acne and dermatitis and have never looked back.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

My unique background has brought me to the forefront of leading research around circadian rhythms as related to managing our moods, sleep, and stress within the 24 hour cycle. Sleep, skincare, and stress are intrinsically linked, which is fascinating as we dive into the research.

The wellness industry has seen unparalleled scale over the past decade, and truly in the past year as consumers invest in their mental and physical health in response to the global pandemic.

With this scale, it’s often difficult to navigate the claims among emerging brands. I view the product development of skincare and sleep products through the lens of the science of sleep. My background aids in the focus on backing our product claims with user and clinical trials before going to market.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much? — see previous interview

The book I’ve read that really sticks with me is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It shaped my understanding around what emotional intelligence is and how it contributes to functioning, relationships, performance and leadership. It definitely shaped the way I looked at myself in the workplace from the early 90s onwards.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work? — see previous interview

In years gone by I would have cited ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’ After the last twelve months this has evolved with the addition of ‘and when you know this trust your gut, be bold and do it’.

When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to change the world as we knew it, we entered a space where there was nobody to follow, where trends were unfolding day-by-day and where it seemed no one had the answers. In that space, we had to create our own path to follow.

I went back to the basics, asking “what do I and my neighbours need right now?” and came back with a two-part answer. First, sleep and rest were in order, to deal with whatever was coming next and to give ourselves the best chance of resiliency.

Second, whilst we didn’t know how to cure or prevent COVID-19, we did understand transmission. Previously unassuming products such as hand sanitisers were going to become highly sought after and a source of great reassurance and comfort — at a time when there were very few available.

Based on these two inputs, we developed our stress check hand sanitiser from concept to market in under two months. This product development played a crucial role for our business’ continued growth and also demonstrated our business’ ethics as we priced low and distributed wide to ensure it was as accessible as possible for all consumers.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?

Sleep is essential for all ages and getting a good night’s rest should be a priority for everyone, with the standard advice being to aim for 8 hours of sleep a night.

When considering differences in sleep between age groups, there isn’t a direct hard and fast rule on how much sleep we should be getting, but there are some underlying physiological reasons why we may find our sleep disrupted.

It’s important to understand that our sleep-wake pattern is linked to our circadian rhythm — essentially our body’s in-built clock that controls our natural functions — from the release of hormones to cell repair. Disruption to our circadian rhythm, through lifestyle or aging or other causes, will impact our sleep duration and quality.

For example, during adolescence there is a shift in circadian rhythm, linked to the onset of puberty and its accompanying hormonal changes, which can make it hard for children to both fall asleep and wake up early.

As we age, our circadian rhythm changes again, ‘desynchronising’ our circadian rhythm and potentially impacting our sleep quality. For example, the timing of our cortisol rhythm and melatonin release take place earlier in the day or evening, which may see us becoming tired earlier than we are used to but also waking earlier in the morning.

Life changes such as pregnancy or menopause will also impact our sleep. For example, in pregnancy the significant hormonal changes in the first trimester may cause our sleep to be broken and as the pregnancy advances this can be exacerbated by factors such as heartburn (reported to be up to 75% of pregnancies), vivid dreams, and of course, the increased need to urinate as our abdomen increasingly presses against the bladder.

Is the amount of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10PM and getting up at 4AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2AM and getting up at 10AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?

Historically, our sleep cycle was attuned to the rising and setting of the sun and we would have been unlikely to sleep in the monophasic eight-hour cycle we strive for today. In fact, it’s believed this way of sleeping evolved as a result of our modern industrial workday and advances such as electrical lighting.

In an ideal world, we would still try to attune our sleep/wake cycle to the natural ebb and flow of the day. This optimizes our body’s natural daily rhythm.

Recognizing that we can’t always follow a more ‘traditional’ night-time schedule, we focus on sleep quality vs. quantity as this is the key to waking up feeling refreshed. For quality sleep it’s important that we try maintaining a regular sleep schedule (including the time we wake up each morning) and that we’re able to complete full sleep cycles.

This is also worth considering in terms of what time you go to bed, for example are you going to be able to sleep uninterrupted from 2am — 10am or will your household wake you and disturb your sleep?

Staying asleep is important as there are two key stages to sleep NREM and REM; these are repeated throughout the night in a cycle that will, on average, take around 80–90 minutes — interruption to this cycle can mean we don’t enjoy the full benefits of a good night’s sleep.

To maximize the quality of your sleep, if possible, time your sleep so that you wake at the end of a 80–90-minute sleep cycle — Waking up during a REM sleep period often makes us aware we have been been dreaming.

NREM is the state we enter as we begin to fall asleep. It stands for Non-Rapid Eye Movement and covers our transition from wakefulness to light sleep, to deep sleep. During this phase we disengage from our surroundings, our breathing and heart rate are regular, and our body temperature drops. As we transition into our deepest and most restorative sleep our blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower and muscles relax; at this stage of sleep tissue growth, repair occurs, energy is restored, and hormones (such as growth) are released. Slowly we transition into the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase, during which our bodies are immobile, but our brain is active (an essential phase for memory consolidation), and dreams occur.

That was a lot of information! The key takeaway is neither the amount of sleep (although a minimum is required) nor the time going to bed are the main criteria for a good sleep/health.

So, what are the essentials?

  1. Keep a regular schedule — regardless if the time to go to bed is 8PM or 2AM (e.g. night shift workers, DJs etc…)
  2. Maintain a continuous, non-fragmented sleep; whether 6 or 8 hours of sleep is irrelevant; the amount needed is individual; the criteria is to feel refreshed and not abnormally tired during the day
  3. If you need more than 6 hrs sleep and it is not possible for you to achieve this in one continuous block, try to sleep for at least 5 hrs and then compensate for the shortfall with a short nap (preferably prior to 2 pm).

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35 year old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for 6 months he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?

Better sleep will show itself in so many areas of our life, from our appearance, to stabilizing our mood, our decision making and impulse control, as well as our physical health.

But I also appreciate that it can feel daunting to overhaul our sleep routines. The reality is that even just getting 1 more hour of sleep per night can have an impact. For anyone wondering if they’d benefit from getting more / better sleep, I often ask them to answer the below questions, giving themselves a score of 1–10. If the score is then less than 70, they’d probably benefit from getting an extra hour of sleep every day.

  1. How alert are you?
  2. How energetic do you feel?
  3. How good is your memory?
  4. Can you control what you eat?
  5. Can you control your mood?
  6. How confident are you feeling?
  7. How easy is it to focus on a task?
  8. Are you feeling creative?
  9. How happy are you feeling?
  10. How attractive do you feel?

I’d really urge anyone reading this with questions or concerns about their own sleep, rate the above today, commit to 1 extra hour of sleep per night, and then ask yourself the same questions in one week, one month etc… to track your progress.

Many things provide benefits but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?

We all know life gets in the way… but getting a good night’s rest should be a priority every day, for everyone. Make positive choices throughout your day to prepare yourself for good quality sleep. Not making sleep a priority impacts your day, your stress levels, physical appearance, and mental health. Let me articulate further.

There is a distinct relationship between sleep and stress.

Cortisol, the major stress hormone involved in our fight-or-flight reaction, is produced by our adrenal glances. Essential for survival, Cortisol plays an important role in many of our bodily functions and follows its own circadian rhythm, peaking in the morning between 6AM and 8AM as we wake. It is meant to be released only when needed and just for short periods. However, if our Cortisol levels remain elevated, it can have an impact on our Melatonin (the sleep hormone) release, creating issues falling and staying asleep. In reverse, a lack of sleep can also lead to an increase in Cortisol. Put simply, reducing our stress levels and maintaining healthy sleep patterns as much as possible is essential for our wellbeing. When we stress less, we sleep better, and when we sleep better, we stress less.

There is a distinct relationship between sleep and beauty.

It is imperative to get a good night’s sleep if you want to keep your skin looking healthy and ageless. While you sleep, skin goes into repair and restore mode, meaning it eliminates toxins, repairs cells and DNA damage caused by the environment, replaces ageing cells and creates new ones. That’s why after high-quality sleep, skin looks fresher, younger and more illuminated.

If we regularly do not get enough sleep, then our overnight repair is compromised. One of the primary signifiers of this is an overnight acceleration of our natural Transepidermal Water Loss. We quickly see the impact of this in features such as dark circles under our eyes, loss of elasticity and the onset of fine lines and wrinkles.

There is a distinct relationship between sleep and mood regulation.

Sleep loss is thought to cause both daytime sleepiness and impaired conscious mental activity (such as our hand-eye coordination) and can also impact emotional stability, anxiety levels, confusion, and an increase in negative moods. From personal experience, if I haven’t slept well and am functioning on Adrenalin, I’m more likely to reach for sugar and more prone to burnout.

As one can see, there are many positive benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. Whether it’s to diminish stress, enhance your beauty, or stabilize your mood — sleep is important for all aspects of your life and should be prioritized.

The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles? — see previous interview

There are so many factors prohibiting us from integrating this knowledge into our daily wellness routines. There are a few that standout to me — the “cult of busy”, our micro-environments, and not prioritizing sleep.

Although the general public is far more informed on the importance of sleep than in 2011 when we launched our first pillow spray, I do think there is still a ‘cult of busy’ — the idea that the less sleep we get, the higher functioning we are, and surviving on little sleep is worn as a badge of honour. Throughout my corporate career, I can see shifts in the mindsets of some of our younger employees who take a far more holistic view of their wellbeing than I ever did. But I do think if we scratch beneath the surface, some of these beliefs are still there.

Our macro-environment may also disrupt our natural sleep pattern and prevent us from getting enough sleep at night — those with small children or those with a job outside regular hours such as pilots, nurses, postal workers. In these situations, it’s important to adapt your sleep pattern appropriately, for example, scheduling an afternoon nap, but we often don’t give ourselves permission to do so.

Finally, choosing sleep isn’t always the sexy, exciting option, and we have a sense of being invincible with an ability to override nature. We can get away with this for a while because we’re not feeling the impact immediately. If we don’t see the consequences of something, we don’t feel it is relevant to us. However, in this case, we lead ourselves into poor sleep habits and when life throws us a curveball, we’re not best placed to deal with it and it’s so easy to turn to stimulants to compensate for lack of sleep.

Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?

Yes! We have so many distractions, and paired with more daily responsibilities, we end up not sleeping well at night. One thing that really impacts sleep is our stress levels. In the past year, COVID-19 increased our stress levels. In fact, two in three Americans (67%) said they are sleeping more or less than they wanted to since the pandemic started. Similar proportions reported less (35%) and more (31%) sleep than desired.

Outside of the pandemic, our daily lives create disruptions to sleep. Factors such as 24-hour access to light, irregular and more sedentary working hours, caffeine usage, and addictive use of devices all disrupt and impact natural sleep cycles — making it much harder to achieve restorative sleep than even a decade ago.

That said, the growing awareness and conversation around the importance of sleep also means that natural solutions to overcome temporary sleep issues are far more accessible. For example, when we launched our deep sleep pillow spray in 2011 it was one of the first non-ingestible sleep solutions available. The conversation has come a long way in the last ten years.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.

I have a few bedtime tips to ensure you can unwind and sleep well.

  1. Establish a ritual of going to bed and getting up at the same time, even on weekends. This will help your body’s circadian rhythm.
  2. Avoid consuming alcohol, nicotine and caffeine after 9 p.m. Many people think alcohol helps you sleep, but it can often make you wake up in the middle of the night for no reason.
  3. Take a bath, but be aware that the water temperature is not too warm because your body rhythm needs cooler temperatures in the evening to fall asleep. An optimal water temperature needs to be between 16(60 degrees fahrenheit) to 19 degrees celsius (19 degrees fahrenheit).
  4. Ensure your bedroom is a dark environment because you need absence of light. I recommend using darkening shades, curtains, or a sleep mask to prevent lights from signaling your brain to wake up.
  5. Try to find a way to calm your mind, such as meditation or yoga in the hours before bedtime.

What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?

Waking up in the middle of the night is a true nightmare. I recommend following a few steps to ensure you resume sleep naturally.

  • Avoid further stimulating the brain. Do not pick up your phone (however tempting) and try not to think about the next day instead jot it down in a notebook in whatever form it has come to you, don’t’ try to refine it or formalize it
  • Engage your brain with a book — something that you’ve not read before — until you feel tired again. Don’t lie there getting anxious or angry that you’re not sleeping — let sleep come naturally.
  • Use a sleep spray with essential oils, including lavender-renowned, which can help you ease into restful sleep. I recommend using This Works sleep plus pillow spray, a unique solution for restless sleepers.
  • If you really can’t get back to sleep, as a last resort and the only time I’d suggest tech in the bedroom, try a guided meditation or use a calming app to help clear your head and relax.
  • Check in on yourself — do you need the bathroom? are you thirsty? — and then take care of this, don’t lie there thinking “I should really get up”. Keep lighting low, get up, do what needs to be done, and get back to bed.

What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?

I believe naps can be very helpful, especially for anyone who struggles with achieving longer periods of sustained sleep either through lifestyle factors such as shift work or physiological related factors such as those mentioned previously.

What is important is that you’re getting enough (8hrs) quality sleep in a 24hr period. During the day, your energy levels dip between noon and 3 p.m. This is a good time for a nap and I’d advise against napping any later as it could interrupt your ability to fall asleep at bedtime.

If you’re wondering how long you need to take a nap, I suggest one of the following options:

  1. Short power nap for 20 minutes — Allows you 10 minutes to help you fall asleep, 15 minutes for sleep time, and around 5 minutes to wake up. Before taking a power nap, set a gentle alarm to help you wake up. This nap will help boost your mood and creativity.
  2. 90-minute nap — A nap this long spans an entire sleep cycle and can help with muscle regeneration and productivity.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-) — see previous interview

This took almost more thought than everything else, but I think Jane Fonda would be up there! Incredibly successful, living life on her own terms, effortlessly stylish and an absolute icon.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out ThisWorks.com and follow us on social media!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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