Avoid stimulating your brain with work or planning before bed. Instead, choose calming quiet evening activities that resonate and relax you. Some examples of this are taking a bath, reading a book, or writing in a journal. You can also take time to unwind by practicing mindful meditation, deep breathing or light stretching before bed to reduce anxiety and stress.
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
Dr. Meg Mill is a Functional Medicine Health Consultant and Clinical Pharmacist. She sees patients in her virtual Functional Medicine Practice healing the root cause of their health struggles through advance diagnostic testing and personalized support.
Before practicing Functional Medicine, Meg spent almost two decades practicing as a Clinical Pharmacist. She graduated with a PharmD from Duquesne University and continued her education with a residency at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. Meg then practiced in various clinical settings before pursuing a Functional Medicine certification. She has a passion for helping people heal and live fully. Her specialties include migraines, gut health, hormone balance, and anxiety. With her conventional and functional medicine expertise, she helps her patients improve their health naturally while still understanding and respecting conventional practice protocols
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?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers. I graduated from Duquesne University with a PharmD in 2002. From there, I completed a residency at the University of Maryland School Pharmacy in Ambulatory Care and Community Pharmacy. After completing my residency, I practiced as a Clinical Pharmacist for several years and became even more passionate about helping people heal naturally. That is why I transitioned to Functional Medicine. I now see people worldwide in my virtual Functional Medicine Practice helping them bring their bodies back into balance through natural healthcare. With a holistic approach to wellness through functional medicine, I find the root cause of health problems and personalize treatments for each of my patients.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
My transition from conventional medicine into Functional Medicine stemmed from both professional and personal experiences. I always believed in preventative care and focusing on wellness and whole-person healing. Over my years of practicing, I kept seeing people placed on more and more medication without the education on how to heal themselves. They were surviving rather than thriving. Functional Medicine digs deeper into what is causing chronic illness rather than using medication to treat symptoms without educating people on how they could choose to heal naturally.
On a personal note, I suffered from GI issues from the time I was 23. I kept seeing gastroenterologists and was diagnosed with IBS. I felt frustrated and defeated that I was dismissed and told I was fine when I still did not feel well. Through a long journey, I finally healed my own gut issues with my Functional Medicine knowledge. I love Functional Medicine because we investigate the root cause of why something is happening in the body rather than trying to match a medication to it. Medication can be a wonderful thing in certain situations, but it is not always the answer. By looking into the root cause of disease often, people do not even need certain medications or the side effects that come with them.
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 work directly with patients every day, educating them on the importance of sleep for their health and wellbeing. Not only do I understand the science behind and health benefits of good quality sleep, but I also have experience helping many people achieve better sleep and see an incredible improvement in their health. I want to mention that the quality of sleep is as important as the quantity. If you are sleeping but not getting good quality sleep, your body may not be getting all the benefits from the sleep. I have seen many patients increase their energy and see their overall health improve by following my sleep hygiene protocol. I work with each person as an individual and support their unique needs.
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?
I am an avid reader, so this question was difficult for me, but I would have to say The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I am a recovering perfectionist and found this book at a time in my life when I needed it. I have gifted this book many times.
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 love the quote, “A belief is just a thought you keep thinking.” So often, we get stuck in our beliefs and view them as facts. When you examine this concept and realize that the belief holding you back is just your thought, it is a fantastic revelation and an opportunity to take control of your thoughts to make a change. I have also heard that 90% of the thoughts we think every day are the same ones we had yesterday. When you become aware of this and work on actively controlling your thoughts in a way that serves you, you can make positive changes in your life.
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?
Yes, we need less sleep as we age. For example, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommendation for a young child ages 3 to 5 is 10–13 hours of sleep. In comparison, the average adult (18 years of older) recommendation is 7–9 hours of sleep. When it comes to the ideal amount of sleep, 8 hours is the winner. Studies show that too little or too much sleep is associated with lower health outcomes. The ideal amount of sleep to feel rested can vary from person to person but aim for 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
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 10 PM and getting up at 4 AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2 AM and getting up at 10 AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health?
Can you explain?
I would first focus on the number of hours and the quality of uninterrupted sleep. Eight hours is more optimal than 6 hours of sleep, so that should be the priority. Therefore, in this example I would say the 2AM to 10AM scenario is preferable. However, timing of sleep does play a role because cortisol and melatonin have an inverse relationship in our bodies. We want our cortisol to spike in the morning, waking us up and reaching its highest point, then drop back down through the day and be the lowest in the evening allowing melatonin to rise through the night for optimal sleep.
Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?
Studies have shown adequate sleep promotes healthy immune function by increasing the body’s response to stress, which helps to fight off possible infection, potentially minimizing the risk of illness. A good night’s sleep also decreases anxiety, increases mental clarity, helps control our metabolism and weight, promotes stable moods, and helps prevent cardiovascular disease. When we do not sleep well, our rhythm of cortisol and melatonin are disrupted, and our bodies have a much more difficult time healing and are more susceptible to illness.
It is essential to have a good circadian rhythm so that the pineal gland can secrete melatonin, a neurotransmitter and hormone. It then suppresses the activity of other neurotransmitters and helps to calm the brain, partially by opposing the stress hormone cortisol from our adrenal gland. The person in this example should notice a wide variety of health benefits. More energy, better mood, and getting sick less often are just a few of these benefits. In addition, when well-rested, we have more motivation to make other healthy choices.
Many things provide benefits, but they aren’t necessarily a priority.
Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a significant priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?
We do need to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. High-quality sleep is vital to our healing. While the body appears inactive, it is busy during sleep. While we sleep, we process toxins, replace hormones, repair tissues, generate white blood cells for immunity, and process emotions. Sleep is your first line of defense against infectious disease. During sleep your body produces cytokines which are proteins that fight inflammation and infection. Therefore, lack of sleep can slow down your immune response. Good sleep has benefits for our immunity, detoxification, tissue repair, and more.
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?
- I see lifestyle choices as a significant obstacle. We live in a busy culture where more is often considered better. We want to do it all, so sleep becomes less of a priority. Suppose you are active all day, and into the evening, then you may think you need to choose between going to bed and getting some downtime to feel relaxed. I help educate my patients on the importance of sleep for their health and help them figure out where they can make some changes to prioritize getting a good night’s sleep.
- Mindset can be another significant block. Habit change is difficult for many people. When you have a routine you enjoy, it can be difficult to change, even if you know the benefits. We ideally see the benefit but choosing to do it is more challenging. I tell my patients it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Once your new routine becomes a habit and you experience benefit, it becomes your desire rather than obligation.
- We are bombarded with constant information. We never get to turn off outside interruptions. Someone can send you a work text at 9 PM that gets you spun up, and then your heart rate increases and your adrenaline spikes. You can’t let it go or fall asleep because you are still thinking about it. Try storing your phone in a different room an hour or two before bed.
Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?
Absolutely. One of the main things that make it more difficult is the cell phone that may be in your hand while you are reading this article. Not only do our phones keep us constantly engaged, but the blue light interferes with the hormonal shift we need for ideal sleep.
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.
- Turn off all full-spectrum lights for a complete 1–2 hours before bedtime. To get ideal sleep, melatonin should be rising steadily, and cortisol should be rock-bottom at bedtime. However, the pineal gland secretes melatonin in response to darkness. When we lay in bed with our phones, it can interfere with these chemical shifts. Since the phone displays full-spectrum light, it can confuse the brain about whether it’s nighttime.
- Avoid stimulating your brain with work or planning before bed. Instead, choose calming quiet evening activities that resonate and relax you. Some examples of this are taking a bath, reading a book, or writing in a journal. You can also take time to unwind by practicing mindful meditation, deep breathing or light stretching before bed to reduce anxiety and stress.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark. Our pineal gland secretes melatonin in response to darkness, and our cortisol levels are lowest when there is low noise. Consider using room-darkening curtains or an eye mask when you sleep to block light. Light also stimulates your body to wake you up disrupting your sleep. If you are sensitive to noise or live in a place where you can hear noise from the outside, consider the white noise from a fan or soft foam earplugs. Temperatures that are too hot or too cold tend to wake us because we are uncomfortable. Temperature extremes also increase our stress hormones which can wake us up. It is ideal to keep the room cool but not too cold while sleeping. Evaluate your sleeping environment to see if it is optimal for good quality sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated food or drink at all after 2 PM. For example, I had a patient who was having trouble falling asleep. She was working on prioritizing sleep, but she still had so much trouble falling asleep. She was only having one cup of coffee in the morning, but when we dug in further, she told me she ate a piece of dark chocolate after dinner every evening. Once we eliminated the chocolate, she was finally able to fall asleep easier. She was not associating the caffeine with the chocolate snack. We all have different genetic propensities to metabolize caffeine, so something you eat or drink earlier in the day may be affecting you at night if you genetically metabolize caffeine slowly. You can try adding in a calming herbal tea to replace caffeine, such as lavender, passionfruit, or chamomile.
- Calm your digestion by limiting food three hours before bed. This one may surprise you, but what you eat in the evening could inhibit restful sleep. The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine did a recent study concluding food intake in the evening was negatively associated with sleep quality. Research shows that eating food primarily high in fat in the evening correlates to less REM sleep. The intake of food promotes the release of insulin, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm, and eating too close to bed can also cause heartburn. Therefore, be mindful about what you eat in the evenings before bed.
What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?
One tip my patients find very helpful is to listen to an audiobook or guided meditation. You want to listen to something soothing that you have enough interest to keep your mind focused but is not so engaging that it will keep you from falling back to sleep. Therefore, I would suggest something like a nonfiction audiobook rather than a mystery. The apps Inside Timer and Calm have good, guided meditations. You can also find a wide variety of meditations on YouTube.
What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect sleep well at night?
Taking a nap can boost your immunity and make you feel more alert. Aim for a 20–30 minute nap early to mid-afternoon but be careful that it does not interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. While napping can be beneficial, it is no substitute for the benefit of a good night’s sleep.
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 am shooting big here, but I would pick Oprah Winfrey. I am a big fan of Oprah. She is generous, inspirational, and authentic. I admire how she paved her own way in the world. Super Soul Sunday is a favorite of mine.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website is www.megmill.com. You can also connect with me on Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook. Please don’t hesitate to send me a direct message. I love getting to know new people. My Instagram handle is @drmegmill.
This was very meaningful; thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!