Renew Your Connection to the Sun! Try to rise and fall with the sun, and take 2 minutes every morning to greet the sun, even if just through a window. I love to drink my morning tea or coffee with the sunrise. In part to get some early morning (and non-damaging) rays on my face which is a vitamin D booster and in part to help my circadian rhythms align and set my body off right for the day but really already preparing it for a good night’s sleep in the evening. If you can’t do this first thing, do try to get outside for at least 15 minutes a day to soak up some natural light.
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 Megan Swan.
Megan Swan is from Calgary, Alberta where she grew up hiking and skiing in the Canadian Rockies. She has been living in Mexico for the last 11 years where she is an online Wellness & Mindset Coach specializing in detoxification, plant-based living, mindful practices, stress management, yoga and meditation. She loves guiding women to reevaluate their relationship with everyday toxins and honour their biorhythms in order to rediscover their true sense of self and natural energy.
At 30 she sold everything to embark on her own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey of sorts and now at 42 finds herself still on her first stop where she fell in love with one of her English students. She and her husband have two beautiful boys and two loving dogs. They thrive traveling, and in particular this year they have been enjoying getting out of the city on the weekends to discover hidden treasures in the jungles of Chiapas.
She is passionate about connecting with others worldwide to exchange ideas and practices in the world of wellness and online business. She has a strong sense that we are on the brink of a wellness revolution.
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?
Definitely, I would love to. I am a wanderer at heart and always felt this calling that I was meant for something more in my life. I knew early on that the traditional 9–5 was not my gig. I dabbled in the non-for-profit industry for a few years thinking that it would be completely different than the corporate world until I discovered it wasn’t that different. I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of other people and I didn’t feel like I was doing much real good until I started working one-on-one with people first in the context of being a yoga teacher, then a health coach and now a wellness and mindset coach. I thrive on helping half a dozen amazing women at a time find greater meaning, energy, motivation and empowerment from the inside out. It was a long way around to getting to this point in my life, but I am grateful for all the detours I took to get here, each one informed my coaching and my ability to help others connect the dots in ways they have not thought of before.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
Yes, becoming a coach all started when I was a sleep deprived mother of two beautiful toddlers and wondering if I was ever going to feel like ‘myself’ again. I felt constantly exhausted, overwhelmed and impatient as a first-time mom. My sleeping schedule never seemed to recover from when my children were babies, I drank a lot of coffee and ate “healthy” sweets to increase my energy during the day. I was taking care of myself, or so I thought, until I began meeting with a Health Coach and later studied to become one. After much research and experimenting with my diet, I have come to understand the short- and long-term negative effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD) on our overall health and well-being. Since I have eliminated processed foods, refined sugar and gluten from my diet, I have found new levels of energy. In fact now I have a level of energy, clarity and tranquility than ever before. I am convinced that by making small but important lifestyle adjustments, we can discover a new sense of well-being and prevent many chronic diseases through intuitive eating, exercise, mindful practices and the understanding of our own unique biorhythms and digestive cycles. My passion to help other women find what makes them thrive is how I ended up on this career path. My coaching focus grows with me because I love teaching what currently I fired up about and sharing that energy with others.
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?
Sleep is an essential part of overall optimal wellness which is my speciality. There are many reasons you should be prioritizing your sleep but some of the top few are how a good night’s sleep supports your wellness in terms of managing stress, heals our physical body and recharges our mind. When our bodies are able to recuperate completely daily and do the deep restoration and preventative healing that it is designed to do we have a whole other quality of life. I am all about a sustainable, integrated and prevention-oriented approach to health and wellness. Therefore prioritizing your sleep is key.
My Sustainable Integrative Wellness Approach dives deep to provide an energetic overall of my client’s diet, mindset, work/life balance and lifestyle so we find a sustainable and integrative solution that works perfectly for them. Honoring their sleep cycles and tuning into their biorhythms is top of the list in terms of work/life balance. This has become even more important under the umbrella of the pandemic in terms of managing the stress of the unknown, adaptation and maintaining a strong immunity system.
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?
Well I happen to be in the middle of Burnout: the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily & Amelia Nagoski which is highly relevant to the importance of our sleep cycle and supporting our nervous system in completing the stress cycle. There are so many great points in that book, but I particularly like how they don’t hesitate to bring the politics of feminism into the conversation to discuss women’s experience of burnout being next level. They talk about the Human Giver Syndrome and how we are taught to not just get it all done, but to smile and look pretty while you are doing it. Which of course is exhausting. It is having a huge impact on the emotional and mental wellness of most women who are burning the candle at both ends. This was an issue pre-Covid, but it is even more prevalent now, and quite frankly I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I do believe that women are waking up to realize we need to set the boundaries and stop apologizing for establishing limits and saying no.
The book is spot on. It resonates with me personally, but also has given me helpful insight in how to explain stress management when working with my clients.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Well actually from that book they mention this quote: “When I dare to be powerful and use my strength in the service of my vision then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audre Lorde.
I also love the life lesson that the Universe works in alignment, not in time.
Both quotes perfectly paint my journey over the last few years to find new levels of empowerment and clarity on where and what I want to focus my energy on. Helping other women find this same clarity, motivation and empowerment is so energizing for me. I see that there is this deep rooted, diverse and powerful trend towards women coming to realize and embody their power in new and inspiring ways. With more and more women finding ways to start businesses online there is a shift towards a very personal, female-oriented and collaborative network of powerful feminine energy. It is an exciting time. There are huge transitions and transformations going on, on a global scale. As even more women step out of fear and into the power of their potential to do things differently the shift away from traditional power structures will continue. I am extremely optimistic for the future.
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 easy short answer is to aim for 8 hours of sleep a night. Now, the long more complex answer is that I would argue first that quality is more important than quantity — or at least as important. So getting a solid 6 hours, uninterrupted would be more beneficial than 8 hours with two trips to the bathroom or to check on the kids. Second, it does somewhat depend on your stage of life and what your lifestyle entails. If you are training for a marathon for example you will need to prioritize sleep for optimal growth and recovery on a cellular level. Kids and teenagers need a lot more sleep, up to 14 hours a day depending on the age. This is why establishing a solid bedtime routine will really support them in terms of their overall development, learning capacity and keeping their immune systems strong. Same goes for adults really, we seem to know that kids need a bedtime story or lullaby, but then as adults we often forget to allow ourselves a screen-free transition into dreamland.
Elderly people often need less sleep, but it greatly depends on their overall state of health, how active they are and how well they take care of themselves.
I think the biggest takeaway that maybe other experts don’t touch on is the importance, even as adults, of establishing a consistent bedtime, even on weekends. Getting up and going to bed around the same time everyday is hugely beneficial to all of your systems and dramatically improves the quality of your sleep and your ability to fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed. After a couple weeks of implementation you likely won’t need an alarm, your body will just naturally wake up at the same time everyday. So although this might sound really like a killjoy solution to making sure you get better sleep, it can really be transformational to the overall quality of your life in a matter of weeks. You could start with aiming for 6 days a week and allow yourself to stay up late just one night a week if that is really important to you socially for example.
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?
Yes, I would actually suggest that going to be at 10PM and waking up at 4AM would be ideal because it is more inline with your biorhythms that function best when you are rising and falling with the sun. Therefore getting to bed a few hours after sunset and getting up at dawn would be better for your digestion, circulation, nervous system and mental wellness in terms of having optimal quality sleep to support your body with its ability to self heal and restore the body during the sleep cycle.
However, if you are someone who currently maintains a schedule that looks more like option B it is important to know you should not just try to shift quickly from one to the other. Shifting your sleep cycle takes time, patience and grace. Work in 15–30 minute increments to shift your bedtime gradually over time so your body is given time to adapt and maximize the benefits of the new sleep schedule. So if you are currently a night owl, try going to be 30 minutes early for the first week, then 30 minutes even earlier the week after and so on until you are closer to going to bed by 11 or 10PM.
The other thing to consider here is for the night owls, that our bodies do not naturally want to stay up that late. Of course we can adapt to any behavior over time, but more than likely there is a factor of caffeine consumption after 4PM and too much screen time in the evening that is kicking your brain into its ‘second wind’. Operating on our second wind causes low level inflammation and would be detrimental to your health and wellness overtime. If stress is keeping you up, then that is an even more important reason you need to establish a solid bedtime routine that involves a consistent ‘power-down’ strategy that signals to the body it is safe to shift into rest and restore mode.
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?
Yes, what a great question because decreased quality of sleep is something that can sneak up on you over time but the effects are cumulative, positively if you prioritize it and negatively if you don’t. Especially after becoming parents so many people just resign themselves to interrupted sleep cycles and it deeply impacts their quality of life, mood, memory, mental performance and creativity.
Our sleep quality starts with how we start our day, and it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So for example, when we get a good night’s sleep it is easier to remember all the things we need to do in a given day, make decisions and prioritize tasks without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Keeping everything in perspective if you will. Getting a good night’s sleep means we are more likely to follow through with a healthy morning routine, exercise, eat well, set intentions, connect with nature and loved ones, start the day relaxed and not rushed energy. Basically waking up refreshed and well-rested sets off a cascade of good decisions, motivation and intention that we otherwise lack when we wake up still needing rest. In turn, making all these good, relaxed and intentional decisions throughout our day helps us get a better night’s sleep — so therein lies the cycle. When we wake up exhausted we reach immediately for the coffee, which sparks sugar cravings, keeps us dehydrated throughout the day and less motivated to exercise and connect with others in a meaningful way leaving us more inclined to turn to Netflix or social media for some quick dopamine hits which ends up keeping us awake much longer.
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?
Oh I would definitely say it is a priority, arguably your number one priority because as I explained above all other good habits and decisions stem from you getting a good night’s rest. That is in terms of the day to day, supporting yourself and your systems to be in a healthy flow and in the long run because the wear and tear to your body is much lower when you prioritize sleep. Athletes know this, that you need to get quality sleep to repair and build muscles. We need quality sleep to heal and grow on a cellular level but also in terms of our mind, memory and ability to concentrate. Whether you prioritize sleep or not either has a profound positive or negative impact on your overall health and wellness on the day to day but also on your longevity and ability to avoid the risks of all chronic disease. Operating on a half-full gas tank is just another stressor provoking low level inflammation in the body that is the precursor for all chronic diseases that are plaguing our society.
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?
Well I think it is similar to any healthy habit we have on our radar as a good idea but just can’t manage to truly implement the major mental blocks are time, organization and identity.
Time: we often think there are not enough hours in the day to get more hours of sleep, but it is not a sustainable mindset. In order to be more effective at everything you do throughout the day you need to be well rested. If not, the long-term reality is burnout. Sooner or later you are going to hit a wall. It might not be for a decade, but it is coming in the form of complete exhaustion, broken relationships, or chronic disease to name a few. Our bodies are not built to sustain the current accelerated pace. Those of us who are pulling back and slowing down are actually going to have more traction in the long run because our decisions are intentional and well thought out with the big picture in mind instead of hasty and reactionary.
Organization: similar to time, but slightly different, we often don’t appreciate where exactly our time goes. One, we are often in the habit of doing certain bad habits that negatively impact our sleep cycle simply because that was how we were raised or we got into bad habits as young adults and haven’t decided to ‘grow up’ yet and appreciate the long term implications. Second we are wasting so much time online, on social media or watching shows we don’t even remember a week later. The rate at which we are consuming content is stressing out our nervous system and sucking hours out of our days (and increasingly our nights). Block your week in its entirety; what are you doing at every hour of the day? What percentage of 168 hours a week are you scrolling, streaming or otherwise wasting online when you could be doing something that would really promote a better night’s sleep.
Identity: all major shifts in habits require a shift on an identity level or they are not sustainable. So if you really identify with the phrase, “I’m not a morning person.” or “I’m a night owl.” you are already self sabotaging your ability to get a good night’s rest. You can’t shift these habits over night. You will benefit from getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier but you need to demonstrate that to yourself over time so that you shift your mindset around sleep. Therefore just start with 15 minutes, not by doing a complete 180 degree shift of your sleep schedule. Start actually by observing, ‘what are the stories I tell myself about sleep?’. Your sleep narrative is powerful and will need to shift in order for you to make deep, sustainable and integrated changes in your life.
Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?
Yes I definitely think we are faced with more challenges with the level of digitalization, lights, screens, and hyper pace of our daily information cycle. Our brains are not designed for our modern lifestyle so it is no wonder many of us tend to stay up late or get drawn into watching too much Netflix instead of going to bed. This is why as I mentioned above we need to be very mindful about the amount of screen time we are having before bed, and attempting to ‘power down’ a few hours after the sun has set as nature intended. Try to be in bed by 10 PM, charge your phone in a separate room or put on airplane mode an hour before bed. Limiting your evening video streaming to positive images and narratives to allow your subconscious to relax and not shift into fear mode. Ideally have a bedtime routine, maybe write down 3 things you are grateful for, read a book and apply some essential oil to your feet before you tuck yourself in. Keep the lights and volume low in the bedroom if you are listening to something before bed. Set the tone for rest and restore and cue the body up for a truly restful night’s 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.
I love these questions, as I am a natural energy specialist! So here it goes:
- Renew Your Connection to the Sun! Try to rise and fall with the sun, and take 2 minutes every morning to greet the sun, even if just through a window. I love to drink my morning tea or coffee with the sunrise. In part to get some early morning (and non-damaging) rays on my face which is a vitamin D booster and in part to help my circadian rhythms align and set my body off right for the day but really already preparing it for a good night’s sleep in the evening. If you can’t do this first thing, do try to get outside for at least 15 minutes a day to soak up some natural light.
- Hydration is key! Drink water first off, not coffee. This was such a hard habit to break! It took me more than a year, but now I love starting my day with warm water with a squirt of lemon or lime juice and then drinking tea or coffee. We lose a lot of water while we are sleeping, even if you are not sweating at night, just with the regular functioning of the body. Do drink water throughout your day as well, but do your body a favor and start first by hydrating not caffeinating.
- Caffeine or other stimulants such as sugar might be having a bigger effect than you appreciate! Limit your stimulant consumption in general, but particularly after 2pm. If you do drink coffee, ideally drink no more than 2 cups a day and drink it before noon. Be careful you are not getting caffeine in other places you might not be aware of, because it dramatically impacts our ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep overall. If you do want to consume processed or fast food do so in the middle of the day and not before bed. Same goes for sweet treats and desserts, try to have that in the middle of your day or before 4 pm and not in the evening. Make sure you check your supplements for ginseng, maca root and green tea to ensure you are not ingesting a natural stimulant before bed. Allow your system an 8 hour window to flush out the effects of these everyday stimulants that we eat and drink.
- Bedtime Routine is so important especially in our increasingly digital lives. Create a bedtime ritual, even just a few minutes to signal to your mind, body and specifically your nervous system that you can ‘power down’. Set the tone for deep rest and restoration. This should ideally be screen, tech and notifications free. Or at the very least be more mindful about the kind of tech you are including into your bedroom, feel good TV before bed, a meditation app or binaural beats to soothe you to sleep might be great ways to wean you off watching Netflix crime shows way too late.
- Alcohol has a huge impact on the quality of our sleep. It’s half-life in the bloodstream is up to six hours which is to say that even 12 hours you have been drinking you are still not free of the effects. Studies show it may be detectable in our urine for up to 96 hours or 3–5 days after ingestion. Needless to say being more mindful about our weekday consumption before bed could radically improve our sleep quality because while our body is working to detoxify itself from alcohol it is not able to do the higher level preventative and restorative work like memory sorting or monitoring aging cells to making sure they don’t wreak havoc on our system. So there is a compound effect and a two fold reason you should potentially bring more awareness to when and how much you are drinking if you are truly interested in optimal wellness, sustainable energy, productivity and creativity.
What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?
I would suggest if you randomly wake up in the middle of the night once in a while to embrace it. Pick up a book to read or listen to an inspiring podcast, journal or make a cup of tea. Try to not get caught up in frustration that you can’t sleep — enjoy the wee quiet hours for a bit and then naturally you might want to sleep again.
However, if you are routinely waking up in the middle of the night that is something you need to get to the bottom of because it is dramatically affecting your quality of life and overall health and wellness now and in the long run. Do an audit of your day, where are you consuming stimulants and when? Are you powering down? Is your bedroom free of work stressors? Are you eating a heavy meal before bed? Are you drinking too much tea or water before bed which results in you needing to get up to go to the bathroom at night? Drill down on where you might be negatively impacting your best opportunity to get a solid night’s rest.
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?
I am a huge fan of naps, however I think it depends on why your body shifts into needing a nap. That is to say, do you need a nap because your body and brain need a quick recharge or are you needing a nap because you over ate or ate foods that are difficult to digest or maybe just didn’t drink enough water? If you just need a rest, I find meditating can be an alternative if you are not in a place you can comfortably nap. If you have the option to nap try to aim for 20 minutes for an optimal power nap. If you need more, try for an hour. Either way, set an alarm so you can rest fully and not be subconsciously worrying about napping too long.
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. 🙂
It would be a blessing to share a meal or meditate with my spiritual teacher Julie Piatt or Srimati. She is a dear role model for me in many ways, as a female entrepreneur, mother, spiritual teacher and plant-based chef. If she had prepared this dream date meal that would be even more next level!!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Yes please do connect with me on Instagram @meganswanwellness or on my website
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so kindly for the opportunity to collaborate!