Former insomniac Síne Dunne is doing a Master's degree in Sleep Medicine at Oxford University. The ex-Googler has been deeply invested in sleep for several years and now runs a business – Siest Sleep – that promotes better sleeping. So, it's probably fair to say that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to sleep. Síne told Oliver Callan that when she was working at Google, they brought in a sleep expert and that made her realise how little she knew about the subject:
"Most people don’t even think about how to sleep and the effects, really, of not sleeping well. I wasn’t a chronic insomniac, I was one of those people who – I think like a lot of people listening – you're not sleeping very well, but it’s not so bad that you feel you need to take action."
Hearing how dangerous for health it is to have ongoing sleep issues, Síne decided she needed to learn more about sleep and the effects the lack of it has on people. We all know what it’s like to suffer the occasional bad night: you spend the next day tired, grumpy and – as Oliver says – you have scratchy eyeballs. It’s not nice. But the effects of longer periods of bad sleep are on another level, particularly when it comes to mental health:
"I think if you don’t sleep, fundamentally, you don’t feel like yourself. You don’t wake up joyful and feeling like you can have a bit of fun."
So what exactly is insomnia? Síne tells Oliver that there are two main types, the first of which is far more common than the second:
"It’s called acute insomnia. And what that means is just a few nights that you don’t sleep very well. So, insomnia, you can have it from being really excited, like last night I was so excited to be coming on here today. But you can have it from being nervous about something as well. But chronic insomnia is defined as having, so three nights a week for about three months you’re not sleeping."
The effects of chronic insomnia will show up in your waking life and, typically, an affected person will feel exhausted most of the time. So what do you do if you’re afflicted by chronic insomnia? Well, Síne says, there aren’t a lot of medical routes to take:
"There aren’t that many options if you can’t sleep that well. There are: take an antidepressant, take a sleeping tablet – sleeping tablets should be used for about three weeks, I think. The average use is 5 to 7 years. So, not only do they not work very well after a certain period of time, they have all these side effects and they sort of become like a placebo or a hook for you. So there aren’t that many options for people."
This is despite the fact that Síne is driven by the realisation that it’s very easy to help people sleep better. One of the methods that she tried for her own insomnia was weighted blankets:
"It’s a sensory product and it’s a weight that you place on you and I personally just found it a little claustrophobic... and I was too hot as well."
This was just at the start of the pandemic and, as Síne describes it, hugs had been taken away from us, so she decided to create something that was a mixture of hug and weighted blanket: a weighted pillow.
"What it does quickly is just get you out of your head and into your body... You use your normal pillows. I call it a sleeper. So, you lie on your side and you hug it. And you can hug it into your tummy, and you can also place it between your knees."
The pillow remains cool in the bed, so it’s good for children as well as adults. Given a sample to play with, Oliver declared the Siest sleeper to be his new friend, making him the most comfortable he’s ever been. And he didn't even have to sleep on it.