Prioritizing Sleep with Nicole Shallow, Sleep Expert and Behaviour Coach
Prioritizing sleep can be a challenge for many of us, so we sat down to speak with sleep expert and behaviour coach Nicole Shallow to get her tips and tricks on maintaining healthy sleep patterns. She shares how to relieve stressful thoughts that keep us awake at night, environmental changes we can make that encourage more zen, and wind down routines to help us settle in for a good night’s rest.
You are a behavioral analyst that specializes in sleep. Can you share some common behaviors that may impact our sleep negatively? Some that can improve our sleep?
Some of the most common behaviors that impact sleep are: staying indoors all day, sitting at our desks for work, watching screens all day, eating poorly, etc. Behaviors that can significantly help our sleep are: walking outside for 15-30 minutes in the AM getting your morning daylight, eating regular healthy meals, dimming the lights approximately 2 hours before bed to allow for natural melatonin production, and using the bed for sleeping and sex only!
Sometimes environmental triggers such as temperature, noise, light, bed comfort and electronic distractions can impact our sleep. Do you have any suggestions for setting up the most comfortable bedtime environment?
Temperature is key; find yourself sheets and comforters that are breathable. The use of white noise machines or ear plugs to help keep out any unwanted noise and a mattress that has cooling features – one of my favourites is the Haven Mattress – are also great additions. Finally, keep electronics out of the bedroom. I always recommend purchasing an old fashioned alarm clock so the “it’s my alarm” excuse is no longer valid.
What effect do our wakeup and wind down routines have on our sleep? Are there any steps that you feel we should absolutely include in these rituals for better sleep hygiene?
Wake up time is crucial to anchoring your circadian clock. If you shift your wake up time too much and too often the biological rhythms will become confused and things will become out of sync. A wake up routine including movement outdoors and exposure to daylight is one of the best things you can do and it is easy. Turning on all the lights in the home (if it is dark when you wake up) can also be helpful until the sun comes up. Allowing yourself time in the morning will allow for all systems to gear up, for example, eating breakfast and drinking water will wake up the digestive system.
When winding down, cut out the active technology. This means scrolling on YouTube, TikTok, and other social media about 1.5 hours before bed. Active screen use can activate our alert systems (e.g., cortisol) as well as prevent natural production of melatonin. Turn off work 3-4 hours before bed. Allow yourself time to settle, and engage in some relaxing and connecting activities. Time is precious – using this time to connect with your family and yourself will be key to settling in for the night. Playing games, watching a TV show (passive screen use is okay!) taking a bath, mindfulness/meditation, and reading a good book are all great ways to wind down. Notice as you shut down, your mind and body will slow down.
Does wearing sleep accessories such as an eye mask or pair of socks lead to better sleep?
An eye mask can be helpful especially if there is any “light pollution” in the bedroom. I use an eye mask on occasion, especially when traveling, and my partner uses it when he is sleeping after a night shift! This plus ear plugs can work magic!
Many of us rely on electronics to help us fall asleep. How does screen time impact our quality of sleep?
Screen time can impact the quality of sleep that we get. The research is mixed and may not be the full reason why you aren’t feeling rested in the morning. If you have tried fading electronics and still struggling with sleep it is important to reach out for some assistance from a professional. I offer discovery calls to help clients identify what sleep problem may be happening and if I can help (medication free!)
Our bodies naturally produce melatonin. Are there any ways we can naturally increase melatonin without supplements during or before bedtime?
Dimming the lights and and turning off screens approximately 2 hours before bed can be helpful in kick-starting the melatonin release. Watching the sunset can also be a helpful strategy. Some people may have naturally lower levels of melatonin – this can be determined via blood or urine tests. Some support from Nutritionists may be helpful as there are many micronutrients required to help create the hormone melatonin.
Prioritizing sleep can be difficult especially when we are busy, do you have any tips on how we can begin to prioritize sleep more?
Setting clear boundaries with your time and asking for help. Structuring your day in a way that prioritizes your basic needs (food, sleep, hygiene, movement) and saying no to things that do not move the needle forward will be key. If there are areas in your life where you feel busy, ask yourself “is there a way I can ask for help or delegate this out somehow to free up time?” For me, that may be things like: hiring someone to help clean the house every couple of months, ordering pre-prepped lunches to help with regular meals, taking at-least 2 days off of work, setting timers and boundaries with my screen time.
Do you have a bedtime ritual?
For me rituals have never been my thing. My brain loves to feel in flow within structure. I have a general structure that I follow, but allow flexibility within that structure. Some nights, I may have a bath, journal and watch a show with my husband. Other nights we may have dinner early, watch Survivor and hop into bed and go to sleep. Every day is different, and our bodies, minds and relationships require different needs everyday.
What do you wear to bed?
Not much… anything super soft and cozy or just skin against my cozy covers!
What is on your bedside table?
My low blue light lamp from Ocushield, a book, blue light blocking glasses from Ocushield, my sun lamp, and alarm clock.
Are you a night owl or an early bird?
Middle – I love to go to bed around 10:30 and wake up at around 7:30.
Which scent makes you think of bedtime?
Lavender for sure!
Are you reading or watching anything good at the moment?
I’m re-watching How to Get Away with Murder with Viola Davis – inspired by reading her autobiography!
What are some nighttime items you cannot live without?
My low blue light lamp– I take it with me everywhere! It is portable which is amazing. And, my iPad so I can wind down with some of my favourite reruns, and a good book.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Don’t really have one! Feeling guilty has not been helpful for me in the past, so noticing why I engage in certain behaviors and understanding why it serves me has been so helpful in reframing!
Are there any health & wellness trends you’re interested in trying?
Right now I am experimenting with some new healthy beverages from Blume as my evening snack.
How do you engage in self-care?
In all sorts of ways. I really attune to what my body and mind need and start from there. Working through the basics, starting with sleep, hygiene, getting my eyebrows done, learning something new, etc.
What is your favorite way to de-stress?
Connecting with my family and friends, going to new places, making new recipes, and laughing.
What is your favorite workout at the moment?
Swimming! I love to swim– swimming 2-3km is the best for my mind, body and soul!
What do you consider the single most important thing for a good night’s sleep?
Gaining knowledge and understanding how your own rhythms work and defining a plan that works for you!
What was your favourite childhood bedtime story?
“Love You Forever” AND when my mom read us all the Harry Potters (1-3 at the times haha)
What is your skincare routine like? Do you have any holy grail products?
I am so flexible around this stuff! Any oil based cleansers and hemp moisturizer!
How would you choose to spend one hour of free time?
Reading a good book and cuddling with my puppy Milo.
If you could choose a song to wake up to every morning, what would it be?
Explore the World – Brainheart – Sis