Annika Carroll of the SleepMasteryMethod: “CHECK YOUR GUT HEALTH”

The most noticeable change will be an increase in energy. Good quality sleep also increases mental clarity, eliminates brain fog, and sharpens the mind. With sufficient sleep you will also be able to show more patience with others and become more resilient to stress. Your mood will improve and you won’t feel that you are […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

The most noticeable change will be an increase in energy. Good quality sleep also increases mental clarity, eliminates brain fog, and sharpens the mind. With sufficient sleep you will also be able to show more patience with others and become more resilient to stress. Your mood will improve and you won’t feel that you are just getting by or making it through the day.


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 Annika Carroll.

Annika Carroll is a sleep expert and the founder of the SleepMasteryMethod™, a coaching program in which she helps sleep deprived professional women get control over their sleep, so they can stop living in survival mode, avoid burnout, have energy for their loved ones and perform better at work. She combines 15 years of experience in Corporate Human Resources of a Fortune 100 Company with her expertise in sleep, nutrition and health coaching.


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?

My background is actually in international business and I spent the first 15 years of my career working at one of the world’s largest Consumer Care Companies as a Senior Human Resources Manager. So coaching and supporting people through changes in their (work) life has been a passion of mine and a large part of my life for a while.

I loved my job. I worked hard. I lived my job. I was successful. “Go-Go-Go” was my motto.

That all changed when I burnt out and crashed. That was when I finally started listening to myself and looked at how I had been working and living and what I wanted the next 15 years of my life to be like.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?

I became a mom in 2013, went back to work full-time after a year and took on the biggest role of my career: implementing a Shared Service HR Center for a workforce of 4.000 people in Germany. It was an extremely stressful time: non-stop meetings, long hours, hardly any breaks (by choice!).

I started to wake up in the middle of the night every night for months and couldn’t fall back asleep. My mind was racing, I felt like a walking to-do list. I became sick, got treated with antibiotics, ignored all the symptoms my body was throwing at me and eventually ended up burnt out. Even though I was exhausted, I was still not sleeping — which wasn’t helping me recover. It actually had a detrimental effect on my mental and physical health. I developed anxiety and had panic attacks and episodes of depression. And I also suffered from serious stomach pains.

My doctors ran test after test and told me everything was in a ”normal” range. They couldn’t find anything, which was so frustrating and stressful. I wondered how there could be nothing wrong with me when I felt so ill. I felt that I wasn’t taken seriously and didn’t want to accept that nothing else could be done. I had no choice but to take matters into my own hands and I went on a three year journey with different practitioners to learn all about the body and what could be disrupting my sleep and how to address this to ultimately heal. Whenever I didn’t sleep well, my anxiety skyrocketed and even if I wanted to exercise or do something fun, I just did not have the energy for it.

My personal experience has led me on the path to helping others with their sleep and through that increase their energy and improve their mental health. During my time in the corporate world I had a lot of employees who came to me for support with regards to their burnout, anxiety, as well being tired but wired and not being able to sleep. I feel obligated to give back and share my knowledge and show others a way forward that works.

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?

I would be glad to share more about my background. The journey that has positioned me as an authority on wellness and sleep in particular began a while back. After working for 15 years as an HR manager coaching, developing, and listening has provided me with in depth insight into the struggles we all face in our lives. As I left the corporate world and tackled my own struggles with burnout, insomnia, hormones, and gut issues I learned first hand various methodologies and strategies to resolve these challenges. That process motivated me to study holistic nutrition and sleep and create the Sleep Mastery Method™. Recently I have partnered with a wonderful international team of women at and completed a certification in the Sleep like a Boss Method©. The Sleep Mastery Method™ is based on a foundation of quantitative and qualitative data to create a personal plan for each client to achieve results quickly and efficiently, rather than hope for things to change. My desire to help others that find themselves in similar situations comes from the heart and the best part is there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I can help.

My contribution is to support busy professional women get their sleep back, so they have the energy and calm to raise their kids, be a great partner and have a successful career without burning out. I also hope to support them in shifting their beliefs from living in survival mode and hustle to living in the moment.

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?

Oh yes! It’s the “Surrender Experiment — my journey into life’s perfection“ by Michael A. Singer. I have not been so captivated by a story in a long time. It is actually his life’s story and it was so inspiring to me to see how he lives his life so contently, taking on and enjoying every challenge and obstacle without worry.

I am a Type A personality, and am learning to let go of control and ease up on perfectionism as we speak. I used to hustle and “go go go”. For me, it is so fascinating to see how Singer lives in such acceptance of the situations that present themselves in his life.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I have adopted a quote by Vivian Greene as my motto:

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

Life consists ups and downs, and sometimes the downs (the storm) might feel stronger or more intense. They might linger and take time to pass. But while we are still weathering the storm we can embrace the moment and start to see the joy in life again and participate actively in it. Dancing can be equated to acceptance and resilience, which are two traits I feel have brought calm to many of my personal “storms”.

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?

If you look up “How much sleep should I get?” you will generally find the guideline of 7 to 9 hours for an adult.

The reason for is that most adults go through 5 sleep cycles per night and each sleep cycle lasts anywhere from 90 to 110 minutes. So that gets us to that number of hours. However, there are adults who only need 4 sleep cycles and there are people who wake up in between sleep cycles and need few minutes longer to fall back asleep.

Do aging adults need more or less sleep than adults in their 30s, 40s or 50s?

No. The sleep need for aging adults doesn’t really differ from younger adults. The main difference is that aging adults spend more time in lighter sleep phases. That is why they wake up more easily. Often, they are also taking medication that can interrupt their sleep.

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?

You would think: the more sleep the better. But in fact, there are three criteria that define the quality and positive health impact of your sleep:

  • Timing: when you are asleep
  • Quantity: how long you sleep for
  • Quality: amount of time spent in deep and REM sleep

Our bodies all have an internal clock that manages our 24-hour wake-and-sleep cycle. It is called our circadian rhythm. This inner clock needs information from the environment to work properly. Its most important piece of information is a light signal from the sun. Once our body receives this signal, it starts to produce cortisol — our awake hormone — giving us energy for the day. In the absence of light the body produces melatonin — our sleep hormone.

In order to maintain a health circadian rhythm it is best to sleep when the sun is down and be awake when the sun is up.

To apply this to your hypothetical scenarios: the 6-hour-sleep falls more into the optimal range of sunset to sunrise than the 8-hour sleep from 2am to 10am, so in that regard sleeping from 10 pm to 4 am would be preferable.

However, let’s look at duration and quality of sleep:

As mentioned before, most of us need 5 sleep cycles per night to achieve a restful sleep. A sleep cycle consists of four stages, divided into two different phases:

  • Non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep starts off the sleep cycle and includes three stages. Stage two and three are your deep sleep stages. This is when your body restores itself and grows new cells.
  • REM sleep occurs about at the end of each sleep cycle. It is the dream phase and very important for memory consolidation and emotion processing.

Your body cycles through these phases 5 times per night. The difference in the cycles is that the longer you sleep, the longer your REM sleep phase becomes and the more your deep sleep decreases.

So if you cut your sleep short — by sleeping for just six hours, you skip the last sleep cycle, which is the one with the highest amount of REM sleep. This phase is where we process our emotions — so it is very important for mood and happiness.

Back to your example: the person sleeping six hours likely did not get enough REM sleep. The person in the eight-hour example likely did.

So, if we combined your cases, the winner would be going to bed at 10 pm and sleeping for eight hours. Some people needing a little less, some maybe a little more.

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?

The most noticeable change will be an increase in energy. Good quality sleep also increases mental clarity, eliminates brain fog, and sharpens the mind. With sufficient sleep you will also be able to show more patience with others and become more resilient to stress. Your mood will improve and you won’t feel that you are just getting by or making it through the day.

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?

YES! Absolutely. Sleep is magical! It has positive impacts on our brain, mood, immune function, on top of improving performance, ability to learn and resilience. Who doesn’t want to be happier, healthier, more stress resistant and just a better version of themselves?

If I look at my clientele — who are busy professional women — and the daily responsibilities they have from raising children, running a household, being a partner, maybe a caregiver to a parent (or two) and having a career and I see how sleep-deprived they are, that really concerns me. They are burning the candle at both ends.

With everything that has been going on over the past year, I have seen women’s resilience stretched to its limits and beyond: kids schedules changing as schools went towards remote learning and hybrid school models with in-school and virtual classrooms, parents trying to work from home, zoom conference calls being held while supervising the kids and prepping dinner.

These situations are high stresses for the body. Our body spikes cortisol levels to give us the energy we need to manage these situations. People with good resilience will be able to lower their cortisol levels very quickly, recover and avoid burning out. A lot of us don’t. We have elevated cortisol throughout the day and night and that prevents us from sleeping and recharging.

Where is the energy to keep up supposed to come? Like they say: You can’t pour from an empty cup.

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?

Our human brain is wired for safety and consistency. It is its job to constantly protect us from the unknown. And our brain has 5 times more neurons wired for fear than for protective mechanisms. This can sometimes get in our way. Our brain doesn’t understand that more sleep is actually better for us.

How to overcome that resistance? Figure out WHY you want more energy, less brain fog and less mood swings.

Ask yourself: What is important to me? Who is important to me and why?

You might want to be healthier to live longer, be there for your family, have more energy to spend time with your kids or be better at your job. Be more patient with others.

Is my current energy level helping me achieve this? What am I afraid of? Is this fear actually serving me? What would it look like if I could accomplish this?

This WHY then becomes your priority and will help you make choices and compromises in favor of your sleep and resist temptations such as watching that next episode of the Netflix show that night.

And then start small. Set a bedtime alarm on your phone for 15 minutes earlier and increase it over the next few days. This also gives your circadian rhythm time to adjust. Going to bed an hour early right away might lead to you laying in bed having trouble falling asleep.

Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?

Yes, I think that a lot of what makes our lives more convenient during the day requires us to be a bit more aware of how it can impact our sleep at night.

For example: we don’t just live day-to-day in tribes with constant support anymore, hunting for food and sleeping in dark, cool and quiet caves that provide an optimal sleep environment.

Instead, we mostly live in cities with lots of lights and sounds, air pollution and eat large amounts of highly processed foods. We have constant access to technology and believe we need to be constantly available. The hustle mentality that is ever present and the acceptance of tired and burnt out being “normal” is not helping us to get a good night’s rest.

I think we need to be smart about this and use what we have to our advantage: blackout curtains, sleep masks, air condition, thermostats, switch off buttons on our phones. And we need to think about putting boundaries in place and ask for help to help us protect our sleep and mental health.

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.

Your night time routine starts when you wake up!

  1. THE POWER OF LIGHT(S)
  2. Be awake with the sun and asleep with the moon.

Get sunlight into your eyes within the first thirty minutes of waking up. Go outside: on your deck, in your garden or on a 10-minute walk around the block. No sunglasses! Get that sunshine on your face. The early morning light will support your cortisol rise — and shut off melatonin production.

If you can, get another 10 minutes in the afternoon. Maybe a quick walk after lunch or a coffee in the park. Our body uses the light and its hues as clues for what time of the day it is.

And then finish the day off with a short after-dinner walk around sunset. Or enjoy a good book on your porch. This will clue the body to get you ready for sleep.

If you do look at screens (TV, phone, computer) after sunset, wear orange blue blockers. This helps to keep cortisol levels in check and let you fall asleep.

2. EAT FOR SLEEP

We need stable blood sugar during the day and at night to sleep well. If we send our blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride during the day, the ride will continue at night and we will wake up.

What sends us on this carousel? Skipping meals, foods high in sugars and refined carbohydrates from pasta, bread, cakes, and candies.

To balance out the spikes and dips of blood sugar and insulin the body releases — you guessed it — cortisol.

Some tips to keep your blood sugar stable: eat protein, healthy fats and veggies at every meal. This will also help to get rid of the nasty afternoon crashes that make you reach for the chocolate bar. If you wake up hungry at night, try a snack before dinner that has protein, carbs and fat such as a banana with almond butter and hemp seeds.

Also, make sure you have starchy carbohydrates with dinner, such as potatoes, squashes, zucchini. This helps your body to make serotonin — our happy hormone. If you have trouble sleeping, take a break from ketogenic or low carb diets if that is your current way of eating. It will serve your sleep.

Lastly, avoid food that your body can’t handle: these can cause low grade inflammation in your gut. Inflammation triggers cortisol and will disrupt your sleep. Typical suspects are: gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and corn.

3. CHECK YOUR GUT HEALTH

A healthy gut makes a healthy sleeper. An imbalance of our gut microbiome — the rain forest of micro-organisms living in the intestinal tract — can lead to infections, inflammation or the inability of the good bacteria to produce relaxing hormones.

Infections in the gut can stem from have a parasite, an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria or a yeast overgrowth such as candida. Parasites are active at night. Their activity releases toxins into the gut and to fight this, the body releases cortisol. This will again wake you up.

If you have a “leaky gut”, which means the protective gut wall has been injured due to stress, foods you are sensitive to, or taking antibiotics, you will have constant low grade inflammation in your gut. This again triggers a cortisol release — as cortisol is an anti-inflammatory.

So, by getting on top of your gut health you can lower your cortisol which can have a great impact on your sleep.

How do you do this? Start by avoiding foods that don’t make you feel good and cut out gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol for a few weeks to see how you feel. Eat a variety of different foods, the different foods feed different bacteria in our gut. Chew, chew, chew and enjoy your meal. Your gut health really takes a hit when you eat on-the-go.

To check for parasites and candida it is best to work with a practitioner to get tested and then treated properly.

4. SUPPORT YOUR LIVER

According to the traditional Chinese organ clock the liver — our main detoxifying organ — works very hard between 1 am and 3 am. Are you regularly waking up between 1 am and 3 am with a racing heart and mind having trouble falling back asleep?

A reason for that could be that your liver and gallbladder need some attention. It is the liver’s job to clear the body of all the toxins from alcohol, pesticides, chemicals in cleaning and personal care products we accumulate throughout the day. It does a lot of its work overnight, around 1 am to 3 am. If the liver is congested, the toxins will recirculate into the bloodstream and will cause inflammation in different parts of the body. If this happens your body will release cortisol again and wake you up.

To support your liver you should: avoid alcohol, switch to chemical free body care and household cleansers, take digestive bitters before every meal, start dry brushing your body before the shower in the morning or use castor oil packs two or three times per week.

5. PLAY THE GAME OF GRATITUDE

This is a very easy, fun activity to work on your resilience and stress reactions. Anyone can play this — either by themselves or with their partner or kids.

Go for a short walk after dinner and play the game of gratitude. You each take turns at mentioning things you are grateful for. As an example: I am grateful for the beautiful weather today, the geese babies I saw at the park or for great conversation I had with a friend today. Small or big, whatever made you feel good today.

You will see how your mindset shifts from the survival and stress mode into a calmer state very quickly. When you do this consistently, your cortisol will lower and your sleep will improve. This is a tool you can use anytime you are in a stressful situation. Just remember what you were grateful for yesterday on the walk and you will feel better immediately.

Other added benefits of doing this during an evening walk are: movement supports your digestion and your brain will get the evening light signal. The perfect setup for a great night’s sleep.

What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?

Emergency advice for while you are laying in bed staring at the ceiling:

  • Don’t check the time! Try to relax about being awake. Your body will go back to sleep when it is ready to.
  • Most importantly: Get out of bed and leave the bedroom. Your body should associate the bedroom only with sleep (and sex) and not with lounging or anxiously tossing and turning.
  • Keep the lights dim and ideally do not turn on pot lights or overhead lights, rather side table or night lights. We don’t want to simulate sunrise yet. It’s 2 am!
  • Do a non-engaging activity such as reading a fiction book, folding laundry or do some journaling.
  • Stay away from screens. Don’t watch or read the news or scroll social media. All this elevates your cortisol.
  • Don’t open the fridge door — Hello LED blue lights.
  • Do some deep breathing: inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Do that for a few minutes.
  • Write down five things you are grateful for.
  • Go back to bed when your body is getting tired or you are feeling the sleepy chills.

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?

If you feel like you need to rest — absolutely do so. Listen to your body.

Just keep a few things in mind:

  • Your nap should not be longer than 20 minutes, that way you get light sleep and do not go through a full sleep cycle. That might be too much and could keep you up at night.
  • Set your alarm for 30 minutes as it will take you a few minutes to fall asleep.
  • No napping after 2 pm. You need to give the body enough time to rebuild its need for sleep for the night.

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. 🙂

Yes, I would love to meet Catherine Reitman. She is the writer, producer and main actress in my favorite TV show “Workin’ Moms”. Her character on the show is Kate Foster. She is just brilliant, funny and smart and I would love to catch with her about the show, her ideas for the future and life in general.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check out my website at www.sleepmasterymethod.com and follow me on Instagram @_annikacarroll.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

You might also like...

Rebecca Nelson/ Getty Images
Sleep//

Generation Sleepless: Why Tweens and Teens Aren’t Sleeping Enough, and How We Can Help Them

by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
Thriving With Music//

5 Ways to Manage Stress With Music

by Frank Fitzpatrick
Thriving With Music//

Sound Sleep: A Lullaby for the Modern Brain

by Frank Fitzpatrick
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.