This week we are featuring Dr. Lauren Hale, one of the Nerdy Girls who has been helping Dear Pandemic serve up practical (and often entertaining) COVID info since March 13th.
Dr. Hale mostly studies the social patterning of 💤 sleep 💤, with particular attention to how social and contextual factors influence sleep and health disparities. Generally speaking, her training is in population science and she has expertise in sleep health disparities and adolescent sleep. Her broader interests include women’s health, maternal and child health, and basically, all things demography.
It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that sleep, stress, physical health, and mental health are closely interrelated–and are being affected by the pandemic. Nonetheless, Dr. Hale says that when we asked her to join the team, she paused.
“At the time, I was overwhelmed with a combination of work and family responsibilities. Also, I felt underqualified — sure, I had been closely following the pandemic since January and posting about it on social media, but I was hardly an [infectious disease] expert. At the same time, I felt honored to be invited. I had a Zoom call with Alison… and I thought to myself, “I can do this.” Being a part of Dear Pandemic has been a deeply rewarding social and professional experience.”
And we are SO glad she joined the team, because Dr. Hale likes to write about **the weird stuff**–which includes many of our favorite posts. She claims authorship for the phrase “COVID bed spread” 🛌🏿🛌🏿 (referring to couples who sleep in separate beds to reduce exposure).
She also covers COVID-sniffing dogs 🐕🦺and why you can smell farts through a mask 💨. Her sense of humor shines in this uncertain time.
As for the new directions her research has taken since the pandemic began, Dr. Hale says “I still study the social determinants of sleep, but now we’ve got a new factor to consider — everyday life during the pandemic.” In fact, recent science has only highlighted the importance of sleep in wellbeing. Her research group is now studying how sleep has changed during COVID-19 (hint: teens are sleeping longer).
When she’s not thinking about sleep, Dr. Hale keeps busy with her two kids (ages 6 and 9). “I spend a lot of my cognitive load thinking about food (online shopping for it, growing it, preparing it, storing it). Sharing meals with family is a daily gift. Thankfully, we currently have family meals in abundance.”
❇️ Why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?
“It sounds a bit like a fairy tale. During college, I spent a few summers learning about demographic research at an institute situated in a castle in Austria (The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. I loved the freedom to explore research questions independently, while also belonging to a larger team. My mentors there encouraged me to consider getting my Ph.D.” 🏰
❇️ What you miss most from before the pandemic:
“In terms of everyday life, I miss going to the office, chatting with and learning from my colleagues, and being alone in my office for most of the day. I also miss in-person interactions with students. My new Work-From-Home coworkers (ages 9 and 6) are great people, but they need a lot of assistance throughout the day. And milk. Why do they drink so much milk? 🐄 I also miss travel, including both conferences and family visits.’
❇️ What you don’t miss at all:
“My commute time is wonderfully efficient nowadays. It used to take me all day to get into and out of the city to give (or attend) a one-hour talk. 🚇 Now, I can literally be doing my laundry at the same time as giving a talk.”
❇️ What’s your superpower?
“I’m pretty good at anagramming.” [Editorial note: She’s being humble. Dr. Hale has competed–and placed–in Scrabble competitions. S-O-E-W-E-A-M!]
❇️ What are you most proud of?
“I take little credit for the Dear Pandemic initiative, but I am pretty damn proud of this community. I am also proud of being part of the growing sleep health community for bringing much needed public health attention to the importance of sleep as a pillar of public health. Two key issues for me are racial/ethnic disparities in sleep and school start times.”
❇️ Fun fact about Dr. Hale: When she was a kid, she wanted to grow up to be a clown, and aimed to attend Clown College. 🤡
Dr. Hale earned a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Public Affairs from Princeton University. She is also an undergraduate alumna of Harvard University. She completed a predoctoral fellowship with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a postdoctoral fellowship in population studies with the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the RAND Corporation (which is where she first met Nerdy Girl Malia).
Today, she’s a Professor in the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine.
She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Sleep Foundation and is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Health. She also serves on the National Scientific Advisory Boards for the Children and Screens Institute and the Pajama Program.