It’s Sleep Awareness Week and we’re excited to talk about sleep and the impact it can have on our mental health with one of our favorite companies in the sleep space: Gravity Blankets!
Gravity Blankets developed a weighted blanket (among other sleep-enhancing products) that has calming effects on users, allowing them to get deeper, higher-quality sleep. More on the science behind them below, but we’re pretty big fans of these blankets at Two Chairs. We use them at our San Francisco HQ, and make them available in our waiting areas for moments of relaxation before and after sessions for our clients.
So what exactly is the connection between sleep and stress?
- The same hormones released in deep sleep are the ones that shut off the stress response. When we don’t enter a deep stage sleep, our body keeps pumping out stress hormones.
- Sleep deprivation decreases memory consolidation, causes weight gain, and negatively impacts mood and cognitive functioning.
- Research also shows that despite what people think, very few individuals can function optimally on less than 8 hours of sleep.
Given what we know about sleep, and all the research that’s come out in the last few decades about its importance, why is it often the first thing we sacrifice, or the first thing to suffer when we have extremely busy schedules or when we’re experiencing high levels of stress?
While there are certainly individuals who have diagnosed insomnia (in which case we recommend seeking out CBTi that can help target the root cause), there’s a quote from a well-known book called “Why We Sleep?” by Matthew Walker, PhD, that sums it up for most people:
“We have stigmatized sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we're getting. It's a badge of honour. Humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason.”
So this Sleep Awareness Week, let’s try our best to prioritize sleep, and commit to addressing underlying issues that may keep us from getting the minimum suggested amount. A few of our suggestions can be found at the end of the post.
Before that, let’s #TalkTherapy with Co-founder and CEO of Gravity Blankets, and fellow sleep advocate, Mike Grillo, about his own mental health and how Gravity Blankets can be a helpful component of a person’s sleep toolkit.
A Conversation with Mike Grillo, Co-founder and CEO of Gravity Blankets
Thanks for sitting down with us, Mike! We’re huge proponents of the work Gravity is doing to promote and de-stigmatize sleep health and a person’s overall wellbeing.
Of course, and likewise! I think the dialogue around mental health and wellness is far more open and inclusive than ever before, and this new landscape deserves a new approach, which is what drew me to your work at Two Chairs. It’s great that you’re making therapy a place someone wants to go to—where the physical space feels relaxed and inviting and where there's supplementary products (like the Gravity Blanket) that patients can use to put themselves in the right headspace for clinical breakthroughs. I hope that will make people more inclined to start therapy and advance their mental health and wellness.
Us too, and we appreciate the support! Can you walk us through your journey with Gravity Products? What is your long-term vision for the company?
I co-founded Gravity in late 2016 and launched the product on Kickstarter in April 2017 as a 3 SKU product company (one grey weighted blanket available in 15, 20 and 25 pounds). Since its inception, we've built the brand into a full fledged sleep and relaxation brand, with over 70 SKUs that have generated more than 45 MM in sales in 70 countries around the world.
Our vision is to continue to develop and provide low-tech, high-science backed solutions for sleep and relaxation all while continuing to advance the national dialogue on personal wellness and mental health.
What do mental health and mental wellness mean to you? What factors helped shape your definitions of these terms?
I believe you come to a better understanding of your mental health and wellness over time. It's something we're constantly learning more about within ourselves, and improving upon. For me, mental wellness means I'm feeling balanced and present in the current moment — not overly caught up with the "what ifs" that tend to cloud the mind sometimes.
On a more tactical level, that means getting the best quality sleep I can, staying really active and moving my body 3-4 times a week, and taking in the events of each day versus getting too caught up in the future.
How has your mental health been affected by your role as an entrepreneur over the last few years?
Running a company can easily become an all consuming job if you don't set appropriate boundaries for yourself. I'd be lying if I said I don't think about the business constantly, and it's very easy for me to fixate or obsess about various aspects of the company if I'm not careful. I'm lucky to have years of therapy behind me, so I'm equipped with the tools and foundational understanding to realize and correct myself when my thoughts are moving from a healthy focus to an obsession.
How has traditional talk therapy figured into your life?
I've been in therapy on and off for 14 years and have also introduced some non-clinical practices into my life as well to maintain what I'd like to think is a "net-positive" state of wellness.
Therapy often comes into play for me when I'm going through a particularly rough stretch of time. I had a really hard time adjusting to college and being away from home, so that's the first time I found myself in the therapist's chair. I also had a very difficult time coming out in my late 20s, which prompted me to seek out therapy again. Having clinical support at that point in my life was invaluable.
More recently, though, I've been thinking about my mental health and wellness less reactively, which brought me to a life coach. While there are certain areas of overlap, I generally think of life coaches as those who help you achieve long-term goals by creating a strong system of thoughts and behaviors.
With both paradigms, money (or lack thereof) certainly comes into play. Early on in my career, I would often have to choose between seeing my therapist (out of network, as most NYC practitioners are) and going out on the weekends. Some people are forced to make much more dire choices, proving that access to affordable mental health is a critically important part of the healthcare debate in our country.
How do you view Gravity’s role in the mental wellness space?
Gravity Products is focused on improving sleep and reducing stress, the former being what we're most known for. Sleep specifically plays a huge role in mental health and wellness, as lack of sleep has been shown to impair cognition and negatively impact mood.
How exactly do Gravity Blankets “work”?
Our weighted blankets apply what's called "deep touch pressure stimulation" atop key pressure points in the body. By stimulating these pressure points with weight, two things are thought to occur in the brain: serotonin and melatonin levels increase (key hormones related to mood and sleep), and cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced. All of this, coupled with a general feeling of groundedness, helps many people achieve a state of relaxation, and ultimately, better sleep.
Tell me about your mental wellness regimen outside of therapy. What do you do for self-care, and to cultivate good mental health for yourself?
Outside of therapy and coaching, I am rigorous about my workout routine. I try to engage in some type of group fitness once or twice a week, and then supplement that with weight lifting or other physical activity another two times per week.
I also try as hard as I can to get 7-8 hours per night of sleep. I'm extremely sensitive to lack of sleep, so when I've had a few bad nights in a row, it really takes a toll on my mind and body.
I doubt there's much to it scientifically, but I also LOVE getting my hair cut. A fresh cut and shave makes me feel like a new man, and it’s a period for 30-45 minutes where I can just veg out.
Thanks for your willingness to talk about your own journey with mental health.
Happy to share!
After all of this talk about sleep, you’re likely wondering how you can get better sleep yourself. Research shows that changing sleep behaviors works better long term than using sleep medications, so here’s what we suggest:
Improve Your Sleep Efficiency
- Consolidate the time you spend in your bed to the time you are actually asleep. This is called Sleep Efficiency. This means you should limit the time that you are in bed to sleeping and intimate moments.
- Sleep Efficiency = the total amount of time actually asleep ÷ total time in bed
- With insomnia, your brain has forgotten how to sleep efficiently, so limiting your time in bed to when you are actually sleeping gets rid of all the time you are tossing and turning.
Increase Your Sleep Drive
- We all have a natural drive to sleep. The longer we are awake, the higher our drive to sleep is.
- Although doing things like taking a nap, or drinking excessive caffeine can help compensate for poor sleep, they disrupt our ability to increase sleep drive. Eliminate any behavior that decreases your drive to sleep at night.
Finding the right sleep routines and techniques for yourself can be a long process of trial-and-error, so above all, be patient as you embark on your sleep journey, and try your best to see it through. Happy sleeping!
If you would like to share your story, we'd love to #TalkTherapy with you. Email us at email@example.com.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.