I tried a sleep coach program. Here’s what happened

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I’m going to be real with you: I’ve had trouble with sleep for most of my adult life. Initially, it began as difficulty falling asleep, where I would literally just stare at the wall for hours and hours, willing my overactive brain to just calm down for a hot minute. 

Most recently, it manifested as issues staying asleep; I would often wake up as many as two times per night, every night, and not be able to fall asleep after. 

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No matter how much melatonin I took or how many breathing meditations I tried, I just couldn’t stay asleep for a full night, even though I crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow. Most nights, I only got three to four hours of sleep total. 

I’m not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues, ranging from having trouble falling asleep to insomnia and sleep apnea

I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t sure what, until my trainer at Equinox, upon seeing how completely zombie-like I was at our weekly evening workouts, suggested I go to one of the gym’s dedicated sleep coaches to figure out if there was a way to get me back on track with my Z’s.

Equinox sleep coaching review

I know what you’re thinking: What the heck is a sleep coach, and are they legit? Check out my Equinox sleep coaching review to get a rundown on the program and what I thought of it. 

How sleep coaching works

According to Equinox, their sleep coaches work with each person individually to find the best routine to give them optimized sleep for their lifestyle and schedule. (It’s important to point out that Equinox’s sleep coaching program doesn’t come cheap. It’s $495 for six sessions, in addition to membership fees.)

“There is no one size fits all approach to sleep,” explains Samantha Rota, a Tier X sleep coach and EFT International master instructor at Equinox’s Sleep Training Academy. “While there may be some general guidelines, like not looking at phones or overstimulating the brain right before sleep, everyone has a different schedule and preference that works well for them depending on their schedule and activity level.”

For example, if you’re a morning workout person, your sleep schedule may look very different from a more sedentary individual who prefers a short walk mid-day. 

Other factors, such as how active your job is, whether you suffer from depression or anxiety, whether you have kids, and how much you travel, could also influence your sleep behaviors. 

So can whether you’re more of a morning or evening person, which according to Rota, is oftentimes a matter of preference based on behaviors learned from your parents while you were growing up. 

“You can’t go by someone else’s schedule when it comes to getting the best sleep possible,” explains Rota. “It has to be individualized.”

Meeting with my sleep coach

Before our one-on-one, Rota had me fill out a questionnaire that would help her figure out exactly what my problems were. 

The questions were quite extensive, discussing everything from how much I exercise to my most common sleep issues. I had to rank my quality of sleep from one to 10 (let’s just say it was like a four) and also explain my morning and nighttime routines, how much I traveled, and the foods and caffeine I consumed daily. 

After I filled out the questionnaire, Rota and I met via Zoom to discuss the results. 

Ahead of our initial meeting, I was pretty intimidated. I assumed I’d get yelled at for horrible sleep hygiene (even though I’m pretty good about having a solid nighttime routine before bed). 

But talking to Rota was like discussing my sleep with a very good, chill friend, and we managed to get to the root causes of my sleep issues pretty quickly.

Getting to the root of my sleep issues

It turns out that even though I thought I was doing everything right, there were still quite a few issues in my schedule that needed some hardcore tweaking. According to Rota, there were two major culprits for why I was waking up several times during the night. 

The first: My nighttime food and TV habits were overstimulating my brain. 

When it came to dinner, I was eating proteins and veggies, like salmon and broccoli, that were difficult to digest. Eating a heavy, hard-to-digest meal too close to bedtime can lead to acid reflux and trouble sleeping. 

I was also noshing on too many sweets before bed, and sugar is known to disrupt sleep. As for my nighttime television habits, watching gripping shows (hello, Euphoria!) was contributing to keeping me up at night. 

The second: I was actually spending too much time in bed. (I know, right? What a concept.) 

“Normally, we see that when people do too many other activities in bed, even if they’re relaxing activities like reading or chatting on the phone, the brain starts to associate the bed with activities other than sleep,” says Rota.  

So, my nighttime routine of reading for an hour before bed, which I thought was helping with my sleep, was contributing to my waking up, subconsciously creating a stimulating effect.

“Even though I’ve explained what I find are the key concepts that are preventing you from having a deep, solid night’s sleep, the goal of sleep coaching is to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed,” Rota told me after our consultation.

She put together small, easy, actionable steps for me to take one at a time for a few days over two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, I would meet with Rota again and tell her how I fared. 

Changing my nighttime habits

I liked having smaller goals to aim for, especially because it helped the whole process feel a lot less complicated. I did one for four days and then added another. The whole process took 12 days. 

The three major steps Rota laid out for me were as follows:

  1. Read a soothing book in my living room, not my bed. The book had to be soothing enough to put me to sleep, no page-turners here! I started reading self-help books by Gabby Bernstein, a spiritual mentor. These were interesting but not gripping enough that I felt like I needed to get to the end of the book right away. I lit a candle and enjoyed the book on my couch until my eyes started drooping, then went straight to my bedroom for lights out.
  2. Change my diet before bed to include lighter veggies and proteins. I reached for sweet potato, lentils, and turkey at dinnertime to give my digestive system a break. What’s more, these foods actually help prime your body for sleep by releasing hormones such as tryptophan (the precursor to melatonin) and vitamin B6. Rota gave me a list of these foods, and I made sure to incorporate some into my dinner every day.
  3.  Write a to-do list for the following day to get the anxiety off my chest. A 2017 study found that participants who wrote down their next day’s to-do list fell asleep nine minutes faster, on average, than those who didn’t. The theory is that by brain dumping all of this information out before bed, your brain can chill out knowing it doesn’t need to be remembered or processed until the next day. Writing everything out made me feel calmer, and I didn’t ruminate on things while I was trying to get to sleep.

How I’m sleeping now

Post-sleep coaching, I feel like a whole new person. While I don’t stick to the same diet every day; hey, a girl has to go out to dinner sometimes! I always make sure to write a to-do list on weekdays, and I only go into my bedroom when it’s time to sleep. 

I create a strong boundary between my sleep and wake times. By doing so, I find that I stay asleep throughout the night pretty much all the time, unless I have a huge deadline, in which case, the anxiety can’t be helped.

Overall, my two weeks with Rota provided eye-opening (pun not intended!) ways in which my behaviors were contributing to a stimulated mental state that made it much harder for me to fall asleep. 

By looking at my sleep in a holistic way, including everything from mental health to nutrition, Rota managed to calm my nervous system to get me primed for sleep. 

The bottom line: I recommend working with a sleep coach if you suffer from any sleep issues and can afford it. I do believe that Rota managed to pinpoint habits and rewire my brain in a way I personally wouldn’t have been able to figure out on my own.

If you can’t make it to a sleep coach, we’ve rounded up our 20 best tips to help you fall asleep quickly


This article originally appeared on Saatva.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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Can alcohol actually help you sleep?

Can alcohol actually help you sleep?

I’ve never been a huge drinker, but I’ve definitely imbibed more than usual over the last year and a half. With all the added stress from the pandemic, I’ve found myself reaching for a large glass—or two, let’s be real—of wine almost every night.

Not only does drinking alcohol leave me with a serious case of acid reflux, though, but it also makes getting a good night’s sleep pretty difficult. That’s not surprising, given studies show alcohol negatively impacts sleep.

“While some people notice that an alcoholic drink or two causes drowsiness and aids them in falling asleep, there is evidence to suggest that alcohol, particularly in high doses, can interrupt and negatively affect the quality of one’s sleep,” says Emma M. Laing, PhD, RDN, clinical associate professor and director of the didactic program in dietetics at the University of Georgia.

To get my sleep (and health) back on track, I’ve decided to temporarily quit drinking and do a dry month challenge. Here, learn more about how alcohol affects sleep and the many benefits you can expect from a dry month. 

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In general, alcohol quickens how fast you’ll fall asleep — and it also makes it harder for noise and commotion to wake you up. 

Research shows alcohol increases the amount of time spent in slow-wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep, although recent data suggests this only happens in people who are already deficient in deep sleep. (This could be the case if you have a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea.) 

These effects only occur in the first part of sleep, usually within the first four hours of the night as your body metabolizes the alcohol. Once your body has broken down all of the booze, you’ll start to experience worse sleep. Now you’re awakened and can be aroused from sleep more easily.

Why is that? According to studies on alcohol and sleep, you tend to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep and REM sleep (the period when you dream) during the later part of the night, after you’ve thrown back a few cocktails. 

In general, most people can metabolize one drink every one to two hours. But when it comes to how alcohol will affect your individual body and sleep, a lot of factors come into play. These include:

  • What you drink: Some types of booze have a higher alcohol content than others and will therefore hit you harder. A standard serving of beer (12 ounces) usually has around 5% alcohol; a standard serving of wine (5 ounces) usually has around 12% alcohol; and a standard serving of distilled 80-proof liquor (1.5 ounces) usually has around 40% alcohol. 
  • How much you drink: The more alcohol you drink, the higher your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will be. 
  • How quickly you drink: The faster you down drinks, the higher your BAC will be. 
  • Your gender: Alcohol affects men and women differently. Women tend to weigh less than men and ultimately tend to get intoxicated more quickly. Women also have less dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. This can lead to higher BACs for women even if they drink the same amount of alcohol as men. 
  • Your body size: People with smaller body sizes will feel the effects of alcohol faster. 
  • What you eat: Food also plays a role in how alcohol will affect you. Having something in your stomach, whether it’s carbs, fat or protein, will help slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. The larger the meal and the closer you time it to your drinking, the lower your peak BAC is likely to be. 

That said, research shows as little as one drink could worsen your sleep, regardless of your gender or your weight. A 2018 study found that one drink reduces the restorative quality of sleep by 9.3%. Moderate alcohol consumption (three drinks), meanwhile, was shown to lower sleep quality by 24%. High alcohol consumption (seven drinks) was shown to decrease sleep quality by as much as 39.2%. 

Results were similar for women and men, as well as for people of smaller and larger body sizes and people who were physically active versus those who were more sedentary. 

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Research shows alcohol can increase the amount of deep sleep people with insomnia get. But this increase in deep sleep is only temporary. After about six nights, people with insomnia will start to develop a tolerance to alcohol and need to drink more to get the same effect, according to one study. 

While the research isn’t conclusive, it does suggest using alcohol as a sleep aid for insomnia could increase the risk of alcohol abuse.

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There’s a link between alcohol consumption and sleep apnea. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, slowing down the part of the brain that controls breathing, along with the firing of the muscles that keep your airway open. When you have sleep apnea, this part of the airway gets repeatedly blocked during sleep. This causes brief arousals throughout the night.

Moderate to heavy drinking can lead to episodes of sleep apnea, even if you don’t have the condition. And for people who do have sleep apnea, studies show drinking can exacerbate this problem.

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Yes, alcohol can disrupt sleep. While it has sedative effects that can cause feelings of sleepiness, studies show alcohol, particularly when consumed in excess, can reduce sleep quality and sleep duration.  

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Drinking alcohol isn’t going to do your sleep any favors. But if you’re smart about when, what and how much you imbibe, a glass (or two) of Pinot noir won’t necessarily ruin your night, either. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Stop drinking a few hours before bed. Exactly how long you should leave between your last drink and hitting the pillow depends on how much you drink and how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol. Most of us metabolize about one drink every one to two hours.
  • Don’t overdo it. The more drinks you consume, the longer it takes your body to metabolize the alcohol. Regardless of whether your body metabolizes alcohol quickly or slowly, the less alcohol in your system, the less potential for your sleep to get disrupted.
  • Watch out for heavy pours. Stick to standard-size drinks, not doubles, extra-large wine glasses or mixed drinks with multiple shots of different liquors. Bonus: You’ll certainly save money the next time you hit the bar. 

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Now you know all the ways alcohol can wreak havoc on your sleep. So naturally, you might be wondering whether taking a break from booze could improve your shut-eye. 

Here’s what you need to know about Dry January, the benefits of doing a dry month, and how to stick with it to experience the best results. 

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Dry January involves taking a month-long break from alcohol. Because it begins on January 1, some people participate in Dry January to kick-start a New Year’s resolution to cut back on alcohol. Other people use it as a way to reset after lots of holiday drinking.

The first Dry January took place in 2013. The campaign originated with Alcohol Concern, a U.K. organization, as a way to encourage mindfulness around alcohol consumption.

That first year, 4,000 Brits took the challenge, and it’s since expanded worldwide. Close to 25% of Americans reported interest in participating in Dry January in 2019.

Other popular months to stop drinking include September and October, which you’ll often see referred to as Sober September and Sober October. But really, you can do a dry challenge any month of the year.

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Even taking a short hiatus from drinking alcohol can result in better quality sleep. According to 2015 research out of the University of Sussex, 62% of Dry January participants reported better sleep.

“Appreciating the various ways in which alcohol can disrupt sleep, it makes sense that taking a break from drinking can result in more restful nights,” says Laing.

She does note, however, that heavy drinkers who decide to stop drinking abruptly may experience withdrawal symptoms before they start to see the sleep benefits. “Multiple factors, including how much and how often you drink, can contribute to the severity of these withdrawal symptoms,” she says.

Hilary Sheinbaum, journalist and author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month, first took the Dry January challenge in 2017 and noticed improvements in her sleep.

“When I gave up alcohol for one month, one of the most surprising epiphanies was my quality of sleep,” she says. Before taking the challenge, Sheinbaum says she used to sleep an average of five hours a night, often waking up in the middle of the night.

“I truly thought that was due to my crazy-busy New York City life, my around-the-clock job and my anxiety as a whole,” she says. “Nope! Not long into my first Dry January, I realized that even though my work and lifestyle were as busy as ever, I was sleeping seven to eight hours each night, which was a personal record.”

The only change Sheinbaum had made in her life? Giving up alcohol.

Laing says additional health benefits of cutting out alcohol, even for a short period, include an improved immune system and liver function, as well as a heightened ability to curb mindless snacking.

Per the University of Sussex research, 62% of Dry January participants reported more energy, while 82% felt a sense of achievement. Additionally, 49% of participants said they lost weight.

One of the more surprising benefits for Sheinbaum, meanwhile, had to do with her skin.

“My skin looked infinitely clearer and more glowy, even in the dead, dull, month of January,” she says. “As it turns out, alcohol dehydrates your body, including your skin.”

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A month without booze might sound daunting, but there are some things you can do to ensure the process goes smoothly, no matter if you plan it for January or any other month:

  • Be clear about your intentions. Make a list of the top reasons you’re giving up alcohol to remind yourself why you’re taking this break in the first place, suggests Laing. “Keep your list in a prominent place and refer to it when the urge to drink strikes,” she says. “If possible, talk about your intentions with your friends, family, and your healthcare provider, so they understand and are able to offer support when needed.”
  • Enlist a friend to do it with you. “For first-timers, I suggest recruiting a friend or friends to partake in the challenge with you,” says Sheinbaum. Her first Dry January stemmed from a spontaneous bet she made with a friend on New Year’s Eve in 2016. “The first year I did the dry challenge, and made a Dry January bet, it felt like a group effort,” she says. “It was so helpful to have a friend to keep me accountable—and also share tips and tricks along the way.”
  • Replace drinking with another activity. These last few months, I’d always reach for a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day. But there are healthier ways to relieve anxiety, and Dry January is the perfect time to incorporate some of these activities into your routine. Try taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk around the block with your pet or cooking a new recipe, says Laing.
  • Keep alcohol out of sight. “If you think you’ll be tempted by having alcohol in the house, put it away or give it to a friend to temporarily hold,” suggests Sheinbaum. As she notes, the point of a dry challenge isn’t to torture you. “It’s to make a dry month as simple, easy and as enjoyable as possible,” says Sheinbaum.
  • Sip tasty non-alcoholic beverages. “Replacing what is in your glass or cup doesn’t have to be fancy or require a lot of effort,”  Laing says. “Making a cup of soothing hot or iced tea, coffee or hot chocolate can be a helpful alternative, along with juices, smoothies, bubbly waters, and other beverages you have on hand that pique your interest.” Sheinbaum likes flavored seltzers, as well as Gruvi’s non-alcoholic prosecco and Athletic Brewing Company’s non-alcoholic beers. (For more inspiration, we’ve rounded up these delicious mocktail recipes.)

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This article originally appeared on Saatva.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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