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Sara Mednick, PhD: Sleep is the Best Way to Get Smart

Dr. Mednick's latest book, The Power of the Downstate, focuses on the integrated role of sleep by following the "rhythm of upstates and downstates" that people operate in every day.

Sara Mednick, PhD, is a professor of cognitive science in the School of Social Sciences at University of California, Irvine (UCI) where she runs the Sleep and Cognition Lab. In the 7-bedroom sleep lab, Mednick and her team study mechanisms of the brain that vary during sleep to further understand how cognition, health and longevity is supported by this state.

"I started getting into this research by just this idea of, can we get smarter?" she explained. "And then I got excited by the idea of, actually, sleep is probably the best way to get smart."

The importance of sleep isn't emphasized enough, according to Mednick, not only in doctor-patient interactions, but in healthcare overall. She said that hospitals are especially difficult settings to achieve quality sleep because patients aren't able to benefit from the healing mechanisms that come with sleep, and at the same time, doctors and nurses are working around the clock to care for these patients.

"So, in every facet of medicine sleep is an under-respected and under-utilized domain of health, especially since sleep is the main source of all our natural healing," Medick said. "It's a gap that I think we really need to start trying to fill in."

By simply asking patients how their sleep has been lately, regardless of the reason of their visit, can give a physician extensive insight on their health, she explained. Using remote devices with patients so they can see how their health is impacted by sleep each day is another tool that can be implemented to be more inclusive with their overall health.

In addition to various research, Mednick has authored several books on the subject. Her latest book, The Power of the Downstate, focuses on the integrated role of sleep to support comprehensive health by following the "rhythm of upstates and downstates" that people operate in every day.