Too Tired to Maintain Your Healthy Habits? What to Do When You Are Not Sleeping Well

by | Jul 24, 2017

Despite enjoying her healthy habits, Chrissy often finds herself exhausted in the evenings and not motivated to cook dinner, even when she has ingredients already prepped.

She reached out asking for strategies to curb this habit, since it can lead to a downward spiral of ordering takeout for weeks at a time.

Sometimes an issue like this is a result of failing tactics, but for Chrissy it runs deeper. Her problem is that she doesn’t sleep well at night, and as a result is too tired to maintain her healthy habits later in the day.

There is no amount of strategy or experimentation that will fix this for her. She needs to focus on getting enough rest.

Together Chrissy and I discuss why it’s essential that she refocus her efforts on getting enough sleep, since it is foundational for the rest of her healthstyle habits. This requires addressing some of her fears and limiting beliefs around sleep, as well as some practical sleep hygiene habits.

Wish you had more time to listen to the podcast? I use an app called Overcast (no affiliation) to play back my favorite podcasts at faster speeds, dynamically shortening silences in talk shows so it doesn’t sound weird. It’s pretty rad.


Related links:

How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

Obesity and Reduced Sleep: Will Sleeping Less Make Me Fat?

What I Learned From 10 Days of Silence

How To Lose Weight, Meditate Like a Monk and Hone Your Super Powers: The Magic of Lucid Dreaming

The Oura Ring Sleep Tracker



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17 Responses to “Too Tired to Maintain Your Healthy Habits? What to Do When You Are Not Sleeping Well”

  1. JCC says:

    Has sleep apnea been ruled out? You need not snore and be overweight to have apnea. Vivid nightmares are often reported.

  2. KS says:

    I have also had chronic insomnia for most of my life. I don’t always struggle with nightmares, but I did in college. A lot of my nightmares had a recurring theme (for me, it was people breaking into my house or rearranging everything in it), and I finally realized those dreams frequently happened when I was letting other people make decisions for me. Once I started making more decisions that I was happy with, the dreams went away. It’s helpful to try to track your dreams and see if they have anything in common.

    Other stuff that causes nightmares for me: working too close to bedtime, scary movies, intense fiction right before bedtime, too much of certain supplements (B6, melatonin).

    And one more thing for Chrissy: for me it hasn’t been just one thing that has helped me sleep better. It’s a bunch of things that I have to be regular about (supplements, meditation, exercise, avoiding foods that I’m sensitive to, avoiding caffeine and chocolate, a strict bedtime routine, a cool and dark bedroom, white noise, foam rolling, dealing with recurrent stressors). Even doing all those things, I’m not guaranteed a good night’s sleep, but without them I’ll definitely have a bad one. I hope you find what works for you!

  3. Leilani jensen says:

    I had chronic nightmares until I found out that I have a food interance ( gluten ) and got that food completely 100 percent out of my diet . It would be worth seeing a naturopathic doc to find out if there is something you are eating or drinking that your body cannot tolerate . My brain was trying to tell me something ( my body was being given a substance it could not handle ) and once I got it out – my sleep improved so much . I cannot remember the last nightmare I had , and I used to wake up in a cold sweat and so freaked out . Check this out , I wish you the best !

  4. Pam says:

    Here are several articles about dreams, including nightmares and stress, by Dr. Michael Breus, “The Sleep Doctor.” I wish you the best … I’ve had my fair share of nightmares! [link removed]

  5. Kelly Mahan says:

    Very interesting, indeed. I always like discovering the mysteries behind not sleeping well.

  6. Andy says:

    I used to suffer a lot from insomnia. But I did a few things that made me sleep better:
    – No coffee in the afternoon
    – White noise app for my smartphone
    – No electronics in the bedroom. Instead read a book.

    Hope those things will help!

    • Nelson Wells says:

      I’ll add to what Andy said (and agree on all as they’ve helped me):

      _ No ice cream or sweets (sugar, period!) after dinner

      (2 bites maybe, but anything more and I have terrible dreams for the first two hours I’m trying to sleep)
      Cheers, @Summertomato! love from, @Clermont1 @NelsonWells

  7. Leanne says:

    Dear Darya,

    Thank you for the fascinating podcast and conversation on sleep habits. I have been battling regulating my own tendencies towards allergies/inflammation, anxiety, and sleep irregularities for a few years.

    I don’t have nightmares often but I completely agree with your guest that when big life changes are happening the subconscious is often trying to work through a lot of fears and new circumstances and these changes may stir up a person who tends to be sensitive to new experiences and feels less emotionally stable sometimes.

    As I learned recently from the psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson (a Canadian psychologist) via some of his Youtube videos, if someone is a vivid dreamer and dreams often, they are often higher in trait Openness. (I’m referring to the Big Five Personality Traits). It sounds like in this case for her, but that she is also having anxiety issues. What I heard when she was speaking is that there may be new, or chaotic situations that her nervous system is feeling overwhelmed by, and is throwing back at her cognitive systems, via her subconscious, via nightmares.

    Peterson calls dreams “precursors to thought”. [link removed]

    As I listened to the chat, what I kept thinking was to suggest that she see therapist (but not just the so-called talk therapy therapist) but a pragmatic, Jungian influenced psychologist (or perhaps a really good friend!!) who may be able to help her create some more understanding and feedback around the content of the dreams themselves and could help her learn to, so to speak, talk back, to her bad dreams.

    Here’s an example in this other lecture clip from Jordan Peterson where he describes a nightmare that his young nephew had.
    Firstly, here’s a shorter version of the dream – [link removed]
    Here’s a longer version where he discusses the nephew’s nightmare again, and other dreams of his children from when they were young – [link removed]

    My second point is, I wonder if perhaps writing therapy might be interesting for her, using the Dr. James Pennebaker Protocol as her starting point. Here’s a general description [link removed]

    Or, maybe she might consider writing out alternative endings to the dream(s) in the mornings, wherein she imagines herself taking actions to assist herself, fight back, or such.

    Lastly, I agree that the other commenters that the digestive tract seems to be an important part of the nervous system and we know so little about gut bacteria, maybe it would be useful to get allergy tested, or totally cut out caffeine for a few days to see if that moves things a bit forward for her. She did say she’s been like this her whole life, so maybe there’s some kind of food issue that’s been around for her whole life, too.

    On the other hand, she mentioned how it improved when she lived alone in a quieter space. Perhaps, there’s some time in her life where she can pinpoint when it started, and/or got worse.

    My experience is that when I finally get to bed, I love to fall asleep with my earplugs. It creates a kind of white noise and muffles a lot of distracting sounds but I can still hear my alarm (and often because they fall out in the night!)

    Thank you again for all these podcasts, Darya. I’ve been recommending them to friends who seem interested in the topics you cover.

    Best wishes!

  8. Jamie Dana says:

    These sound like night terrors. They tend to be worse in the initial stages of falling asleep, as they have to do with being woken during specific parts of the sleep cycle triggered by sound, light, or movement(which may be why it is harder to sleep when other people are home).

    Although a person appears to be awake, and may sit up with their eyes open, or even walk out of the room, they are still in asleep. It can be scary both for the individual and for anyone else present 🙂

    I am a mental health practitioner in the Phoenix area who often needs to address sleep issues with clients. I make many other recommendations provided by other people in this thread. Another thing I do specifically for those having night terrors is suggest wearing earplugs and a sleeping mask. This limits the chances of disruption during the sleep cycle, and also helps the person orient themselves to the fact that it’s the sleep disorder and not reality (for instance, if the terror is being attacked by bees, and you’re wearing a face mask, it must be the dream because you can’t see).

    Unfortunately, stress and lack of sleep contribute to an increase in the terrors. This is why all of the other suggestions regarding stress reduction are so important!

  9. Sandy says:

    I would definitely recommend seeing a therapist and / or sleep specialist. I rarely suffer from nightmares but the few I have are intense and connect to my anxieties. Dealing with those may help reduce their incidence at night.

    As a temporary solution you could sleep in a different room from your husband and see if that helps. It’s unromantic but fairly common. Plus exhaustion isn’t romantic either!

    I also find getting ready for bed earlier helps – sometimes I feel suddenly tired but can’t make myself get ready for bed. (Recommended by Gretchen Rubin)

    Also if I really need sleep I sometimes get anxious I won’t be able to – which of course means I’m more likely to get insomnia! What work for me is going to bed REALLY early. Then if I wake up I will do something useful & boring for a couple of hours, and still have time to go back to bed. It may seem like a waste of time, but I actually get a lot done if I wake up, and if i don’t I’m much more efficient the next day. (I do a lot of organising at 3am!)

  10. Katarina says:

    I feel so sorry for you Chrissy, it must be horrible to not get enough good sleep!
    I have a son who is now 8 and who has suffered from a lot of sleep problems. The biggest one being night terrors but also other types of disturbed sleep/parasomnias. Right now he sleeps great, but we have had years of terrible sleep, and I know it’s so frustrating!
    My tips are:
    Check for allergies. And even if tests come back negative it might be worth trying an eliminating diet. I personally believe in paleo and especially avoiding inflammatory foods like gluten.
    Take an omega 3 supplement!! This is very helpful for sleep!!!
    Make sure to get enough sleep (haha). I know it sounds strange, but sleep deprivation leads to more sleep problems. Read up on parasomnias and night terrors.
    Go to bed early and at the same time every day.
    Make sure the room is dark and cool. Heat has been a big issue for my son.
    Do you wake up stuffy? Nose spray can help but check with your doctor. You can also check your adenoids.
    If nothing helps, make sure to get help from your doctor!! You can do a sleep study at the hospital where they monitor your sleep and see what is happening in your brain when you sleep.
    Also of course the usual, make sure you have a way to handle stress. It doesn’t have to be meditation. Find out what works for you. It can be taking a walk, talking to someone, writing in a diary or trying something like cognitive behavioral therapy.
    I really hope your sleep improves. Good luck to you, and please keep us posted!

  11. Tammy says:

    I had sleeping problems about 6-7 years ago, it was horrid really. Not only did I finally go get a sleeping pill to help me fall asleep I then had to get one to keep sleeping (I don’t like pills, I prefer a natural alternative). I would fall asleep and then wake up an hour or so later with these big owl eyes and be awake all night and it does really play on your emotions and eating and absolutely EVERYTHING (work-relationships-etc.)

    You said in the podcast you got married and there is a life change but you also said you’ve had nightmares a good portion of your life (if I’m not mistaken). I was going through lifes changes when my sleep deprivation was triggered. The great news? I’m free from all that now and you can get there too. I’m absolutely pill free and there is no sleep deprivation and I’m so very thankful. I sleep unbelievable well now.

    For me I’m became a Christian and God opened my eyes to a lot of spiritual stuff going on. I believe nightmares are torment. I went to God and scripture and a good church with people that prayed for me. Healing needed to take place and there were things triggering me. Yes I meditated on scripture and stuck to Gods truth such as some of the following scripture:

    [link removed]

    God is good and not only did he deliver me from that problem he’s healed a number of other things in my life such a TMJ disorder, bad shoulder, I could go on and on with several supernatural stories that are off topic. God healed me.

    Bless you that you would get free from this too.

  12. Emily says:

    Hi Darya and Chrissy,
    I would highly recommend that Chrissy seek out a psychologist who specializes in sleep to help with this issue. I’m a health psychologist myself and there are behavioral treatments for both nightmares and insomnia that have really great evidence behind them. Imagery rehearsal therapy has been found to work well for nightmares (I believe Chrissy alluded to this in the podcast), but it likely requires working with a professional to get the full benefit. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia also sounds like it could be very useful in this case, which includes some of the sleep hygiene/relaxation strategies Chrissy has been trying, as well as altering the sleep schedule to improve sleep efficiency. These treatments are short-term, typically taking 10 or fewer sessions. The Society for Behavioral Sleep Medicine ( is a resource to find out more about these treatments and also to find a providers who are certified in behavioral sleep medicine. I hope this information is helpful!

  13. Margot says:

    I had sleeping problems similar to Chrissy’s and wanted to mention 2 things that worked for me — they may not work for you, but are at least easy to try!

    1. I used to get more nightmares, and identified a pattern that when I was too hot at night, I would often get nightmares. I switched from a single comforter to a few light layers of blankets which I can adjust better at night, and this has basically fixed the problem.

    2. I used to try to go to bed early so I had a 9 hour window before I needed to be up in the morning, and I would always wake up a few hours after going to sleep, and be up for at least a couple of hours. At some point I tried: reducing that window — a.k.a., staying up later. I now go to bed with only a 7 hour window in which to sleep. This has helped me substantially — I even occasionally sleep through the night now. Most nights I do still wake up in the middle, but I often can go back to sleep. I have 2 hypotheses about why this has helped me: first, the schedule may be more in line with my “body clock” — melatonin production, etc.; second, it’s possible I really can get only about 6-7 hours of sleep, and so it was just impossible for me to stay asleep during those 9 hour windows. Regardless, even if I am currently getting slightly too little sleep, I don’t have many days where I am just exhausted and unable to function. This approach has also made nights more pleasant and less frustrating, and has helped reduce some of my negative emotions around sleeping.

  14. Nedc says:

    Great discussion here and on the podcast. I second the comment above about the body clock. There’s a lot of emphasis in the productivity literature these days on being a morning person and waking up at the crack of dawn etc. I would have been curious to hear if the caller must get up at 6am (or earlier) or if that’s pressure she’s putting on herself. I mention it because if I go to bed at 9, when my natural sleep rhythm puts me closer to sleeping well starting at midnight, I will fall asleep briefly and then wake up hours later wide awake and have my sleep disrupted all night. I don’t think this is the whole problem for her, and the suggestions about a sleep therapist seem great, but I’d recommend throwing it in the mix as part of designing some sleep habit experiments.

  15. Hannah says:

    I highly recommend the book The Insomnia Answer: A Personalized Program for Identifying and Overcoming the Three Types of Insomnia by Paul Glovinsky.

    It’s by far the best and most helpful book I’ve ever read on the subject. Explains the science of sleep and insomnia, and as the title says, how to identify what type of insomnia you have and how to address it.

  16. Lizard says:

    Get a dream catcher. I used to be plagued with nightmares when I was going through a stressful time in my life. Native Americans suggest it catches the bad dreams. I received this in the mail and it has hung in the spare room for 20 years. It helped me right away. I still have occasional nightmares but not like I used to. Not sure why it worked!

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