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I had the pleasure of interviewing Annika Carroll, holistic sleep coach and CEO of Sleep Like a Boss a few months ago, and I can truly say that doing some of her tips and advice she mentions have been a real game changer for me.

As many of you know, I have had Fibromyalgia since I was 18, so getting quality deep restorative sleep as well as REM sleep nightly is the biggest priority in my life. It’s the difference between functioning or being in pain all day. Believe me, I have tried lots of different things over the years, most that never worked and or worked for only a short time.

What does good sleep look like?

Annika: I would say the basic underlying premise is do you have decent energy throughout the day? Do you when you wake up? Yes, it all takes us a little time to get going. That’s normal. It’s not that we should be waking up and being able to go full force. But within 20 or 30 minutes, you should start to get going. And then within two hours after you wake up, you should be at a good high level of energy because your cortisol spikes at that point. And then it will go down throughout the day, slowly, and you will feel more and more tired. That doesn’t mean we should crash at 4:00 in the afternoon and need to grab the coffee or the sugar for energy. We will experience a bit of a dip, but we should still make it through the day okay without stimulants.

Then in the evening, yes, we should be getting tired and cold at some point. And then we should fall asleep within about 20 to 30 minutes when we go to bed, that’s totally fine and totally normal. It’s not expected if you hit the pillow and you’re out, that’s often a sign of being over-tired.

It is normal to wake in the middle of the night?

Annika: Yes.

Because we go through multiple sleep cycles every night and these cycles are connected. Sometimes we’re not great at connecting them. Could be that there was a sound outside that you didn’t even notice, but it just came right in when you were in that phase of light sleep and that’s kind of why it might’ve woken you up, that car door that slammed or that dog that barked or something. You might not even really know what it is and you would just turn over, tuck yourself back in, fall right back to sleep. You might not even remember that the next day. But if we went into a sleep lab and looked at how people actually sleep, we all have these small wakings in between cycles. It’s just not so conscious for a lot of people. Some people wake up, turn around and it takes them two, three, four minutes to fall back asleep, and that’s normal too.

Going Through Sleep Cycles

We all go through sleep cycles. Every cycle is roughly about 90 minutes long. It could be a little longer or could be a little shorter depending on the individual.

Some people sleep more, some people sleep less, just because of how many sleep cycles they go through. It starts out that we go into this more like a light sleep where we kind of doze off, and then eventually we go into a deep sleep phase. After that, we go into a phase that’s called REM. People might’ve heard that phase as rapid eye movement. That’s where we dream. In the deep sleep phase, that is the restorative phase. That happens first. And then the REM sleep comes and then we dream. And then we go back and start that cycle all over, again and again.

Deep VS REM Sleep

The interesting thing about sleep is the amount of deep sleep that we get per cycle and REM sleep that we get per cycle changes throughout the night.

In the earlier stages of the night, we get more deep sleep. This is restorative sleep – cleaning the brain out, restoring tissue, everything that we’ve kind of broken down during the day.

And then the second part, the REM sleep, is quite short in the early parts of the night. The longer we sleep, the bigger the part of REM gets. So more dreaming. People often know this, because in the morning when they wake up, they kind of wake up out of a dream.

REM Sleep

While deep sleep is for restoration, REM sleep is for memory consolidation and emotional regulation. Neither REM nor deep sleep is “more important” than the other.

If we cut short in the morning and we need to get up at 6:00, because the alarm went off, while we wanted to technically sleep till 7:00 or 7:30, and we cut that REM, that’s where we can see brain fog.

Cutting short your REM sleep can mean just a little bit of cognitive dysfunction, concentration issues, or memory issues. People who struggle with mood, should really try and get that REM sleep in. Because if we’re also sabotaging that and we’re already struggling maybe with depression or anxiety that makes it even harder to feel better if we then cut it short.

Quality sleep is important. We need both of those sleep phases, and we need a good amount of deep sleep. But if we create a daily rhythm that supports our sleep, if we don’t engage in behaviors that sabotage our sleep, then I would say, generally, people should be able to get good amounts of both, if consistent. It’s not so much when we go to bed, it’s more the wake-up time.

Getting Consistent Sleep Matters

It’s the Monday morning hangover where people are “Oh, I just dread Mondays. It’s the hardest day of the week. No matter how relaxed my weekend was, I just can’t get going.”

We are cyclic beings. We have a circadian rhythm. That’s our sleep wake cycle. That is controlled by cortisol and melatonin, the two hormones. This rhythm doesn’t operate on a Monday to Friday and Saturday and Sunday rhythm, but on a 24-hour schedule.

So if we have our Monday to Friday work schedule, and then we have our weekend schedule, and we get up at 6:00 in the morning Monday to Friday, and we get up at 8:00, 9:00, maybe sleep in even later to 10:00 on Sundays, that really messes up your circadian rhythm. Your body has a very hard time getting back into this rhythm. That’s often why by Tuesday or maybe Wednesday, when we’ve had two more days of the old rhythm, the rhythm that we have more of, the body does better.

Sleep Consistently

I always recommend people try and stay as consistent with your wake-up time as you can. Yes, I understand, we don’t necessarily want to get up at 6:00 on a Saturday or a Sunday. But if you’re somebody who’s struggling with sleep, try it. Maybe just shift it by a maximum of an hour for the weekend. So aim for 7:00, then. Or, the other question, “Do you really have to get up at 6:00 during the week, or is 6:30 something that works for you too?” And then we have a little bit more leeway. But I wouldn’t shift more than an hour onto the weekend if you can.

Can’t Sleep – Staring at the Ceiling

From a cognitive behavioral therapy perspective, what we want to do is two things:

  1. We want to avoid anxiety around being able to fall asleep.
  2. We don’t want the brain to associate the bed with just lying down and not sleeping.

When you are lying in bed and you’ve been lying there for a while, don’t check the clock. Because then we start doing math, and then we engage our brain, and then cortisol comes in.

Stop Checking the Clock

If we’re lying there and we’re starting to feel nervous, and you’re like, “Oh, when is this going to happen?”

It’s not.

If we’re already at this, “When is it going to happen?” It’s likely not going to happen soon because our brains are already moving at too fast a pace for sleep to come.

The best thing you can do at this point is to leave your bedroom. Keep the house dim. Do something non-engaging.

That could be reading a magazine, doing a crossword puzzle, or journal, if that’s your thing.

Does watching TV help you sleep?

It really depends on what you’re watching. Nothing engaging. If you’re watching the 300th rerun of Friends that’s probably fine. Stay away from things like the news.

Can I eat something to help me sleep?

If you’re in bed and you can’t fall asleep, and you feel like you’re hungry, eat something. Because if you actually didn’t eat enough dinner and you are hungry, you’re not going to fall asleep for a while because your body is hungry. That will raise cortisol because the body needs energy. It breaks down tissue for energy and it does that using cortisol. That takes about an hour, hour and a half to be broken down again, so you’ll be lying there. So you might as well go get a little snack. That often helps.

I would stay away from anything just too sweet, nothing sugar laden because that will spike your blood sugar and that raises cortisol again.

Can I drink to help me sleep?

Alcohol is not a sleep aid!

Women often say, “It helps me fall asleep.” Scientifically, that is correct. Though it doesn’t help men, wine can help women fall asleep.

But it doesn’t give you good restorative sleep. It messes with your deep sleep, and it messes with your REM sleep later in the night.

It also interferes with your body’s detoxing because the liver knows alcohol is one of the biggest poisons, from a liver perspective, that you can put in your body. So the liver will start detoxing immediately. So depending on how burdened your liver is, this process can actually cause people to wake up. Over time, if we’re somebody who continuously has wine at night, you just build up more toxins in the body because all the other toxins line up behind the alcohol.

How to enjoy alcohol and still sleep

If you have the 3:00 wake-ups after drinking alcohol, then your body is in need of a bit of support. If you want to have alcohol, do that around dinner or before. If alcohol is something that you want to enjoy, drink it early enough so the body has time to get rid of it before you want to go to sleep.

Are sleeping pills a safe long-term choice?

Sleeping pills do not induce natural sleep. It is more of a sedation. If there’s something traumatic going on in your life or something that’s been really hard for about four weeks, you can go on this short term. You work on everything else in your life to get the nervous system back into balance, and then you come off.

The importance of morning sunlight

Morning sunlight is so important! If natural light isn’t an option, you can use products designed to mimic the morning sun. One product I recommend is called the HappyLight and I also like A-Y-O.

You still want to get natural light when you can, but these can really help in the morning to get that kick start when it’s so dark out.

Other helpful sleep aids

I also really recommend looking into castor oil packs for liver support.

If you’re somebody who’s more anxious when you go to bed, like in general, you have that, maybe, evening anxiety building up. Things like valerian root tincture are great.

Sleepy time teas can also work. Lavender is a great choice, as are teas that contain lemon balm or valerian root, those kinds of things in them.

Beyond tea, you might also consider looking into tinctures to help you sleep. A tincture is a lot more highly potent. So I think sleepy teas are worth a try if it’s just you need a wind down routine and you want to get to bed. Otherwise, I think valerian root is great.

Magnesium for sleep

Magnesium is not to be underestimated either. We need magnesium for everything, but most of us are deficient. Often, it just helps if people take a tiny bit of magnesium.

I would always go for something like magnesium glycinate because there’s lots of different forms of magnesium. What I love is there are also magnesium lotions on the market, to put on your legs. I find they work really well too. I use that once in a while instead of a magnesium supplement.


Often, one to three milligrams of melatonin is enough. We have tiny, tiny amounts of melatonin in our pineal glands that get released that is supposed to get us to sleep.

In general am I a fan of melatonin? Not so much. I use it for jet lag mostly or whenever we might need to shift our circadian rhythm.

Sleeping with Chronic Pain

Pain and chronic pain is a real challenge when it comes to sleep. Anybody who’s been in pain to some degree knows you’re not sleeping when you’re in pain. It’s nearly impossible, right? It is so hard. I think in those cases, what is really helpful is to understand, “Are there things you are doing that you know are going to make you feel better throughout the day? What is it for you that’s triggering? Is it certain foods? Is it stress? What is it for you that triggers pain or episodes?” Whatever the pain condition the person has. Is there something we can do to support that?


I normally look at gut health, hormones and nutrient deficiencies but now we’re looking also into neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are little messengers in the body.

One that people might know is dopamine. We want them to be in balance. Or when the excitatory ones kick in, eventually have the other ones, the inhibitors come in, so we’re back in balance and we can then sleep, because a lot of these are linked to sleep disruptions too.

People who have chronic pain are often depleted in certain neurotransmitters because of that. The body’s constantly in a fight or flight kind of situation, and constantly fighting this pain. What I found is that if you know which ones are low and you target them with amino acids, because those are the building blocks that neurotransmitters are made from. Proteins get broken down in amino acids, and then they get made into neurotransmitters. If we can selectively target the neurotransmitters that are low, it takes a bit of the burden off for people.

Our sleep to wake cycle has to be healthy

The number one tip is we need to have our sleep wake cycle healthy. So our circadian rhythm needs to be good, which is only dictated by our exposure to light and darkness.

Cortisol rises with light and melatonin comes in with darkness. We live in a world where we don’t have day and night if we don’t want to, where lights are on all the time, where action is happening all the time.

Ideally you sleep in the dark, and then you wake up to light. You either really open your window so the natural light comes in, so you can see the sky, or you step outside for 10 minutes. Either walk the dog around the block or just sit there with a cup of tea or something and get that natural light into your eye because that tells your body, “Ah, cortisol needs to kick in. It’s morning time.”

Be Mindful of Lighting

Then at night, once the sun has set, you want to avoid overhead lights as much as you can, and any bright lights in your house. Because if we have a light bulb right over our heads, or these lovely pot lights in the ceilings, the light falls down straight from the top. That is noon sunlight in the summer. That’s where the sun is. So, your brain thinks not that it’s 7:00 or 8:00 or 9:00 at night but it’s sometime during the day, and your melatonin is not kicking in strong enough and your cortisol will still be up.

So, lower your lights. If you have something, like in the kitchen, people often have these under cabinet lights. That’s great because it’s that light below eye level. So, it doesn’t come from up top, but it comes more from this height. Or if you have side lamps on your tables in your living room or something where you’d sit and read, those kinds of heights are great. I would avoid overhead light as much as I can after sunset.

Getting Better Sleep Starts Today

Annika has given us a lot of great tips for better sleep! I’m not only grateful to be able to use some of these tips myself, but I appreciate her taking the time to share these with you (my lovely readers!)

Getting better sleep can start today. Even just utilizing one or two of these tips – like controlling your lighting – can make a big difference!

Annika is a Sleep & Health Coach for women and the CEO of Sleep Like A Boss. She is a former Senior HR Manager who has recovered from insomnia and burnout twice in the last five years. She was a Type A-stress addict who rode on adrenaline and cortisol for years, ignoring her body’s signals like a pro. Today, she helps ambitious women regain control of their sleep, get their energy back and avoid burnout. Annika helps her clients identify and get on top of physical issues that affect their sleep – such as gut health, hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.  She also teaches her clients tools for managing stress and changing their mindset around their ability to sleep. Annika’s expertise has caught the attention of notable publications such as People Magazine Online, Sleepopolis, mindbodygreen, and The Spruce. You can find her at