Manage your daytime stress — We all live in a high stress society. So, it’s important for your sleep that you identify a stress management technique you like and use it every day. Anything that helps your nervous system to calm down during the day will help you fall asleep and stay asleep all night long. My favorite stress relief tool is using a guided meditation on my Calm app during my lunch break or while walking my dog in the evening. I also write a gratitude list and pray every night before bed. Be open to trying different techniques and see which ones resonate best for you.
Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important and how can we make it a priority?
In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.
As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Shawna Robins.
Shawna Robins is an international best-selling author of two books: Powerful Sleep — Rest Deeply, Repair Your Brain And Restore Your Life and Irresistibly Healthy — Simple Strategies to Feel Vibrant, Alive, Healthy and Full of Energy Again.
Her signature program, Irresistibly Healthy, is an online wellness program for women who want to reset their habits and change their lives. Shawna is a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach, a Certified Miracle-Minded Coach and CEO of Kaia Health and Wellness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?
I have always considered myself a healthy person until one day, in my early 30’s, I got the call from my doctor that a large biopsy she had taken from my leg was cancer. I had malignant melanoma. After my cancer surgery and recovery, I spent months researching and learning the best ways to heal my body. This journey lead me to nutrition school where I studied about the healing properties of diet, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction and sleep as powerful forces for improving overall well-being and preventing many chronic diseases.
As a full-time, working mom with three young kids, I used to spend my days running around trying to be the “perfect” wife, mother, boss, employer, friend, daughter, you name it. I was trying to be everything to everyone. I was suffering from a bad case of the Superwoman Syndrome, which put me on constant overload, feeling physically and emotionally depleted, chronically stressed and exhausted.
Cancer’s gift was that it forced me to prioritize my own health and well-being at the top of my “to-do” list. This wasn’t always easy. I had to find a new way to live with healthier lifestyle habits that supported my body’s own healing ability.
Today, I celebrate being 15 years cancer-free. I wrote both my books and created my wellness program to share all I have learned about making small but powerful changes that over time will have a huge impact on your health, wellness, longevity and quality of life.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
In my first book, Powerful Sleep — Rest Deeply, Repair Your Brain And Restore Your Life, I share with my readers the story of my father and his struggle with sleep.
My sixty-three-year-old dad asked me this question one day while I was sitting with him in his third-floor office: “How many hours a night do you sleep?”
“Eight hours,” I said. “Why? What about you?”
He looked at me perplexed, like he was trying to solve a math calculation. Maybe he is counting his sleep hours, I thought. He looked down at the email on his laptop.
“Help me write this, please. I can’t do it.”
“Sure,” I said, a bit concerned. We had been working together at his mortgage technology start-up for almost four years when he started needing my help drafting emails. He couldn’t remember how things were spelled or if words looked “right” once he wrote them.
My dad is a big man. Not in stature — although he stands about six feet two — but in his presence and demeanor. His “CEO-ism,” as my mother likes to call it, means he is always a leader, always delegating tasks, and always in charge. He is also a very intense Type A personality. Plus, he has a great love of telling stories and laughing this raucous, deep belly laugh like no one else I have ever met. In fact, when he wandered down the long cubical halls at his second successful start-up company, it was not uncommon to hear employees stand up and very loudly chant, “Story, story, story.” Then he would make a wave motion with his hand and people would bounce up out of their seats and circle around him to hear some tale he would weave. He was like Santa Claus. Everyone adored him — his friends, his family, his employees.
So, after we finished drafting his email, my instinct told me to press him on his sleep question. I didn’t know if he was evading me or had just forgotten I had asked.
“So how many hours do you sleep, Dad?” I pressed again.
“Not many,” he said.
For the first time, I could see how weary he was, and I saw a glint of worry in his eyes. “I fall asleep with no problem, but then I wake up, and I just think about stuff. For hours.”
“So, how many hours do you think you sleep at night?” I asked. A bit of concern edged my voice. “Probably three, some nights two hours,” he said. He seemed instantly angry and frustrated with himself.
“I try so hard to sleep. I hate it. But I just can’t stop my brain from being awake at 2 a.m. I lay in bed with all my worries and finally get up at 5 a.m. to do my emails. But then I can’t remember words or how to spell them,” he said exasperated. My heart began to ache. I knew there was something wrong deep in my soul. But I didn’t know what.
Flash forward to today, almost ten years later, and my father has Alzheimer’s disease. It was a devastating diagnosis for him, for my mother, and for all of us. He is my rock, my hero, and my North Star. He still has so many adoring fans, but his language skills are mostly impaired, and some days he can barely speak. He can no longer write or read, but he still tries to stumble through his stories to all who will listen.
Why is hindsight always twenty-twenty? It seems to be a cruel and torturous joke played on mortal beings by some higher power. I can clearly weave together like a tapestry all the little things that led him to his disease. The lack of sleep for several years, the high stress of running his companies, his diet of processed food and sugar (my nickname for him was the Cookie Monster because he always had a box of cookies in his desk drawer), his eighteen-year use of statins for high cholesterol, his dislike of any gym and exercising in general (unless it was a rare weekend bike ride, golf with his buddies, or a hike in nature), and the unfortunate APOE-4 gene that he genetically carries which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. All these unfortunate pieces make up the perfect storm for Alzheimer’s disease. His lack of sleep coupled with a poor diet and stress was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In March 2021, my father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. He fought this devastating disease like a champion for 11 years by making many important lifestyle changes that helped to improve his longevity and his quality of life. Cognitive decline can start as early as your 30’s and 40’s so it is my life’s work to continue my father’s legacy by speaking out publicly about the importance of sleep and how to make healthier lifestyle habits.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are two statistics that I think are very important for all women to understand and be aware of. First, “currently there are six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and two-thirds of them are women.” Second, “women over age 60 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.”
Alzheimer’s disease is clearly a woman’s disease.
In Powerful Sleep — Rest Easy, Repair Your Brain And Restore Your Life, I tackle one of the biggest risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease — what I call “sacred sleep” and how women can get quality nighttime sleep after the age of 50.
Through my extensive research and firsthand knowledge, I was able to piece together the main reasons why sleep becomes such a challenge for women as they age. I share with my readers many important tips, encouragement and success strategies. By creating a roadmap for sleep which includes diet, nutrition, supplements, exercise, stress management, support and success stories, I give women all the tools they need to find their way back to restorative rest so they can age in a healthy way while avoiding a chronic disease and cognitive decline.
I know how hard it can be for women to sleep the recommended seven to nine uninterrupted hours each night. I used to struggle with sleeping well myself, especially when menopause hit me like a ton of bricks. But I found my way back to sacred sleep and you can too.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Return To Love by Marianne Williamson is one of my favorite books that has made such a huge impact on my life, my health and my coaching practice.
I have been blessed to learn from Marianne Williamson for the past year and I am certified by her as a Miracle-Minded Coach. Her books and teachings resonate deep inside my heart and soul.
When I work with clients, oftentimes there is deep healing that must happen before healthy lifestyle habits can begin. Healing requires patience and compassion. It is common that we are able to extend both patience and compassion to others more easily that we do for ourselves.
Many of my clients have past traumas that interfere with their ability to make healthier choices. By using Miracle-Minded Coaching skills, I can create a safe and loving space to guide them into offering themselves compassion, forgiveness and love. Then they experience an inner healing journey on a cellular level that leads to a path of outer healing.
Science shows us through epigenetics that our lifestyle can change the way our DNA expresses itself. When an unresolved trauma or “adverse childhood experience” (ACE) happens to a child before the age of 18 years old, the child’s body can be negatively impacted for the rest of its life. This unresolved trauma leads to a higher probability of a chronic disease, heart attack, anxiety, depression, suicide and an overall shorter lifespan. By healing the trauma, the body can heal and repair itself.
Cultivating self-love is a powerful force. By using intuition and non-judgement, my clients are able to uncover the ways they can heal themselves by themselves so that their body, mind and spirit can become whole and healthy again.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My favorite life lesson quote is: “Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself,” by Glennon Doyle, best-selling author of Love Warrior and Untamed.
This quote is the advice I wish someone would have given me in my 20’s and 30’s. It’s the advice I wish my mother and grandmothers could have been given as well. I come from a long line of very capable, strong, intelligent women who felt that they had to put everyone’s needs and wishes before their own. We are great martyrs for the cause of other people’s happiness. But it only breeds our own unhappiness, resentment, anger and illness.
Glennon’s quote reminds me that showing up for myself is not selfish but instead it’s a radical act of love.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?
The average recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine uninterrupted hours each night. Of course, this is bio-individual based on the person’s body and age. Some people do well on six hours while others need eight. Children and teens need more than adults because their bodies and brains are growing at such a fast pace.
One of the main reasons we must sleep is for our brain. Sleep is a very active time for our brain to clean, repair and regenerate itself. In my book, I describe sleep as a “self-cleaning cycle” for your brain much like a self-cleaning cycle on your oven. Your brain needs roughly seven to nine uninterrupted hours to get completely through this cycle to make the proper repairs, regenerate new tissue, store memories and clean itself out of any bacteria or viruses that entered from your eyes, nose or mouth during the day.
Good quality nighttime sleep is a very important factor in keeping your body and brain healthy as you age. All adults should aim for a minimum of seven hours of uninterrupted nighttime rest.
Is the amount of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10PM and getting up at 4AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2AM and getting up at 10AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?
Sleep cycles are bio-indivual to each person. As humans, our circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) is naturally aligned with the sun. So, a healthy sleep cycle is always during the nighttime hours. As long as you are getting seven to nine uninterrupted hours, your brain and body will be able to activate its important restore and repair mode.
I have many clients who are “night owls” and go to sleep after midnight, and many who can’t keep their eyes open after 9:00 pm. Whatever feels healthy for your body is right for you. Just keep your focus on getting the goal of seven to nine uninterrupted hours each night.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35-year-old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for 6 months he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?
Sleeping well has so many positive benefits for your entire body. In fact, it creates a positive feedback loop with many, many health benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
- Your brain — As I mentioned above, sleeping for seven to nine uninterrupted hours each night allows your brain to clean, repair, regenerate and restore itself. Your brain also processes and stores your memories during sleep. Sleep keeps your brain healthy, sharp and high functioning.
- Your heart — During nighttime sleep, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, and your breathing stabilizes. These changes create less stress on your heart which allows your cardiovascular system to repair itself. In a recent study, people who sleep under six hours per night have a 20% higher chance of having a heart attack.
- Your immune system — People who sleep well at night rarely get sick. Why? Because your immune fighter cells are only made in your gut while you sleep. Not at any other time. Getting good quality nighttime rest will keep your immune system working properly.
- Your weight — Quality sleep at night will lower your daytime hunger levels, lower sugar and carb cravings and improve your metabolism, so you burn more calories and naturally crave healthier foods. This helps your body to naturally lower its insulin levels which in turn helps to heal metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.
- Your energy levels — The higher quality of your sleep, the more energized you will feel during the day. More energy leads to more productivity, higher creativity and a better mental outlook.
- Mental health — The better sleep you get, the less depression and anxiety you will experience.
- Inflammation — Inflammation is the leading cause of autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. By getting good quality nighttime sleep, your body will naturally lower its inflammation levels.
- Exercise — Sleep helps to improve your energy level, which leads to more motivation to exercise. Daily exercise leads to better to sleep quality. This is a powerful positive feedback loop.
These are only a few of the amazing benefits your body and mind will get from getting good quality nighttime rest. So, make sleep your #1 priority.
Many things provide benefits, but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?
Sleep is sacred, powerful and deeply healing on many levels. Our Western culture glorifies chronic exhaustion.
Don’t buy into it. A good night’s sleep is the best prescription you can get for improving your overall health.
Sleep is considered one of the first-level, physiological requirements in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This means that people are motivated to fulfill this basic need for sleep before moving on to other, more advanced needs.
The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles?
The three main obstacles that most people deal with are stress, poor diet and lack of exercise.
Stress is very hard to remove in many Western cultures, so having a favorite “go-to” stress management technique like meditation, exercise, prayer, breathwork, walking in nature, reading, etc. that you can use every day, anytime and anywhere is key to better sleep. When you spend 20 to 30 minutes a day lowering your stress levels, then your body can more easily make the shift into deep, restorative sleep and stay there all night.
Poor diet is usually a response to stress, lack of available fresh food options, cravings or lack of motivation. Unfortunately, a diet high in ultra-processed foods (UPFs) will rob your body’s ability to sleep well at night. In Powerful Sleep, I share my Sleep Well eating plan and which foods are best to consume so your body can get the restorative rest it needs.
Lack of daily exercise is one of the biggest blocks I see people face. Many clients ask me, “What is the best type of exercise for sleep?” I always tell them the same thing. Any form of exercise you love and can do every day is the best. If it gets your heart rate up and gets you breathing heavy and sweating, then even better. There is not a “magic” sleep exercise here. Just have fun moving your body every day, with no exceptions.
Sleeping well is all about making a few small tweaks that over time create a big difference in your life. Just pick the low hanging fruit and start there. Walk your dog up some hills, take the stairs, make a homemade salad or snack of veggies, nuts and fruit, make yourself a smoothie for breakfast instead of grabbing fast food, find 10 or 20 min to meditate or walk outside in nature and breathe slowly. These are small changes that will create a powerful positive feedback loop of healthy sleep and overall wellness.
Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?
Absolutely! Our levels of chronic stress are much higher than in previous generations which effects our body’s ability to sleep. Our exposure to blue light has exponentially increased over the last 10 years, which interferes with our body’s ability to make melatonin and regulate our sleep-wake cycles. We also sit for longer periods of time inside, so we get less exercise and less exposure to sunlight.
Getting great sleep these days requires making an effort to level up your daytime habits and make sleep your top priority.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.
Here are five things you need to know to get great nighttime sleep.
- No eating or drinking 3 hours before bedtime — Many people don’t realize that consuming food and liquids too close to bedtime will interfere with their sleep cycle. Make sure to stop eating and drinking at least 3 hours before you head off to bed.
- Manage your daytime stress — We all live in a high stress society. So, it’s important for your sleep that you identify a stress management technique you like and use it every day. Anything that helps your nervous system to calm down during the day will help you fall asleep and stay asleep all night long. My favorite stress relief tool is using a guided meditation on my Calm app during my lunch break or while walking my dog in the evening. I also write a gratitude list and pray every night before bed. Be open to trying different techniques and see which ones resonate best for you.
- Limit your alcohol consumption — Alcohol is terrible for your sleep. First, it may have a short-term relaxing effect on your nervous system, but it will interfere with the REM phase of your sleep cycle. Second, alcohol will spike your blood sugar, causing a blood sugar drop during the night which will wake you. Third, alcohol is a diuretic and will cause you to wake up to use the bathroom during the night. Finally, alcohol is a known carcinogen (cancer causing substance). Best to limit your alcohol use to 2 drinks per week for women and 4 drinks per week for men. Remember to stop drinking 3 hours before bedtime.
- Turn off blue light 60 min before bed — This includes the blue light on your tablet, phone, Kindle, overhead LED lights and TV. Take a warm bath or shower instead and get into bed with a book or magazine to read.
- Create a sleep sanctuary — Your bedroom should only be used for two things — sleep and sex. No work or TV in your bedroom. Keep the room cool, dark and quiet. Use white noise, ear plugs, blackout curtains and a fan to help create a great sleep environment. Always charge your phone, watch and computer in another room to limit blue light exposure.
What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?
Nighttime waking between sleep cycles is very normal. If you do wake up, just roll over and tell yourself gently to go back to sleep. But if your sleep is disturbed by a pet, child, night sweats, racing thoughts, worries or the constant need to use the bathroom, then you can troubleshoot those problems with the help of my book or contact me and together we can find solutions that can help.
If you have chronic insomnia or sleep apnea, it’s important to see your doctor and have a sleep study done so you can get the help you need.
What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?
Your body needs a full seven to nine uninterrupted hours at night. So, if you are not getting this and you feel exhausted, try to head to bed earlier instead of napping. Naps can rob your body’s ability to sleep well at night. In fact, the need for daytime naps is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
If you are tired from traveling, stress, chronic pain or having sleep interruptions, then try to lay down and do some breathwork or a mediation to calm your body. You can also take a warm shower or bath to relax.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I really enjoyed Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution, and I applaud her for sharing her journey through burnout and exhaustion. I hope to continue this honest conversation so more women can feel inspired, encouraged and motivated to take care of themselves before an injury, diagnosis or disease strikes.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
A free copy of Powerful Sleep — Rest Deeply, Repair Your Brain And Restore Your Life can be found at: www.powerfulsleepbook.com. It can also be purchased on Amazon.
To find out more about my Irresistibly Healthy program and set up a free consultation, book here: https://kaiahealthcoach.com/connect
Follow me on Instagram and Facebook at: @kaiahealthcoach and on LinkedIn @ Shawna McKinley Robins
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!