Erin Knight of Engineering Radiance stopped by the studio to discuss something shared by an estimated 40 million Americans – difficulty sleeping. Erin shared tips to reclaim this important foundation of your health. Please enjoy this excerpted interview from the show! If you want to listen to or download the show podcast, just follow this link.
Susie: ….Our next guest is Erin Knight. Erin has a Masters in Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is trained in functional diagnostic nutrition. And in Nutrigenomics. And she’s on a mission to develop and help people implement strategies for radiant health. Her company is Engineering Radiance. She teaches corporate workshops, does one on one consulting, and today Erin is here to share her powerful tips for sleep. Welcome Erin.
Erin: Thanks Susie. So glad to be here.
Susie: So before we get into talking about sleep, you have a really really interesting path that led you to becoming a health advocate. I would love to hear more about that.
Erin: Sure. I suffered from debilitating headaches and migraines all throughout high school and college. So I can really relate to the pain that somebody’s going through. But if you ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, you’re never going to get, “migraine expert.” Right? But I think the instinct to want to help people started pretty young. All my relatives have these cute stories about how as a toddler, I’d come over and check their knee reflexes. And their heartbeat every time they came over to visit.
Susie: A budding healer at a young age already.
Erin: At a young age. And I really looked up to my grandpa who was a pharmacist. I was fascinated with learning about how drugs impacted the body. And had the power to heal and interact with the body’s functions. Keyword there, functions. So the idea that the body can malfunction and that humans have the power to intervene and even extend life, captivates me today because that means we don’t have to put up with and suffer with chronic disease. We actually have the power to turn around our health.
Susie: That is a huge message because, as we were saying in the previous half of the show, too many people today are literally accepting lives filled with all kinds of discomforts and pain. To the point that they just feel like, “Well, this is just as good as it gets.”
Erin: Exactly. I wanted people to know that they can heal themselves and that I want to walk with them on that path and help them understand how to make that happen. But back to grandpa. I thought the job of pharmacist was about mixing things, weighing things and talking to people about their health but I was really disappointed when it turned out to be mostly selling pills.
Susie: So you became a pharmacist yourself?
Erin: Well, I was heading down that route when I learned about pharmaceutical engineering. And I thought, “Well, okay it sounds a lot cooler to actually design the drugs because then I can focus on the chemistry portion, and reactions, developing brand new therapies for solving new kinds of problems.” And when I was studying engineering, I really latched on to this whole idea of root cause analysis. And that’s what my masters thesis ending up being on. Teaching people how to do root cause analysis. But despite suffering with chronic headaches all of those years – and even having frequent infections in college – I did not make the connection between thinking about your health like an engineer and how your body was feeling, until years later.
Susie: You had to go down that path in order to make that connection.
Erin: It took a little bit more time to cultivate in there. But what I like about the engineering approach is, engineers look at how inputs control outputs. They look for root causes instead of just patching things up. And they think of things as processes rather than permanent states. And finally they have an insatiable drive for continuous improvement and they’re just never happy with the status quo.
When I ended up using that mindset, all those skills I had cultivated being an engineer as my career to recover from massive burnout in my late 20’s. And my migraines disappeared. Then I finally put two and together and I was, “Oh, I have to start talking about this and sharing it with people and showing the power that we have to turn our health around.”
Susie: So what exactly is a functional diagnostic nutritionist?
Erin: Functional diagnostic nutritionist as a general category…we help people find the root causes and underlying malfunctions in their bodies, in digestion, detoxification, hormone systems, for example, by letting them run functional labs and trying to understand how your body should be working and what’s gone amiss. And that will explain or be at the root of most chronic issues.
Susie: Okay. And is the nutrigenomics part of that, or is this a separate modality?
Erin: That’s part of it. That’s understanding how your genes are not necessarily in a permanent state. Yes, you’re born with certain tendencies, but you have a lot of ability to control your outcome by flipping those switches with nutrition.
Susie: I would even replace the word ability with power.
Erin: Power, I love that.
Susie: So as you might be noticing, Erin’s approach is very much a data-driven geek-out, which is pretty awesome if you really like to see the numbers and have a lot of facts behind the reasoning. Yet it still is a holistic, complementary approach that isn’t just about medicine or what traditional medicine does.
And getting into the sleep a bit, we hear about the importance of sleep all the time, but it seems to be getting to be a worse problem in the US, not better. Last year, the CDC actually declared that insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Anywhere from half to two thirds of the public is estimated to be sleep deprived. So what is going on?
Erin: What is going on? I suppose it has something to do with those little screens we can’t put down at night. But I do love to talk about sleep a lot and that’s one of the starting points with a lot of people, just because it’s so universal to struggle with that, whether it’s going to sleep or falling asleep. And yet it has a dramatic impact on how we feel every day, how our bodies are healing throughout the night, and then how our brains are functioning throughout the day. And for migraine sufferers especially, disruptions in your sleep patterns throughout the week. So, sleeping in on the weekends or just being off a couple of hours in a jet lag scenario can be a trigger for many people. If you’re somebody who suffers with frequent headaches or frequent migraines, then you want to put an extra emphasis or an extra effort into taking care of your sleep. So that’s the only reason why I really like to start with that.
Susie: And I think that not everybody realizes that we heal while we sleep. We just think about how we feel if we don’t get enough sleep. So do you have some information about what exactly is going on while we’re sleeping?
Erin: Some brain mapping studies show that there’s a fluid going through your brain washing out the toxins during a certain part of sleep. And if you’re missing that or it gets cut short, then you don’t get that clean-out of your brain, and how tragic would that be to have build up of toxins in your brain.
Susie: That would be huge, and over time, it could really impact your health. And so migraines are definitely a condition that would benefit from improved sleep. Well, is it always obvious to people that they have a sleep issue, that they’re not getting enough sleep?
Erin: Not really. A lot of studies have shown that people get comfortable at the level of exhaustion that their at. And you don’t really notice how good you can feel until you make a concerted effort to get more sleep for two or three weeks. And then you can look back and realize how tired you had been for possibly decades.
Susie: And I think we are living in a culture right now where it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “Oh, I only need five hours of sleep.” It’s like a badge of honor not to need a lot of sleep. So how much sleep should we be getting?
Erin: Well, the numbers of how much can vary. And for that reason, I like to talk about quality of sleep. Sometimes, things happen and we don’t get to lay down in bed as long as we want to, but I think every minute you’re in there should count.
Susie: Anywhere from 50 to 70 million US adults literally have a sleep problem, so this is a huge issue that not a lot of people talk about. So Erin has actually created an ebook called Supercharge Your Sleep: Eight Simple & Cheap Hacks for a Better Night’s Rest. And it’s pretty awesome. We’ll be sharing the link to download that ebook at the end of the show, but meantime can you give us a little insight into what some of your secrets are here?
Erin: Sure, let’s talk about those screens that we can’t seem to put down when we’re driving or before bed. Did you know that even looking at your screen and having that blue light at your eyeballs…even just for five minutes…it will disrupt the natural melatonin production. And that really changes how well you can fall asleep and the quality and the depth of the sleep that you’re getting.
Susie: Wow, that’s huge because everybody has a cell phone.
Erin: And you might turn it on to just check one last message to even set your alarm or maybe you just are putting on the podcast that you want to. You have good intentions of not staring at your screen, but just having it on for those few minutes can be disruptive but there’s ways to mitigate that.
Susie: Okay. And those are in the ebook?
Erin: Yeah, but let’s talk about them a little bit. At a minimum you can dim the screen and a lot of the newer phones and the newer operating systems have automatic settings, but you have to go in and turn them on. They’ll take out some of that blue light towards the evening and warm up the tone of the screen. And then that’ll stay all through the night in case you wake up and have to urgently check something.
Susie: I actually am using one of those.
Erin: Which one do you use?
Susie: I use Twilight on Android.
Erin: Really? Oh, okay. Perfect.
Susie: And then I actually also do it on my desktop computer screen and I have it dimmed even during the day a little bit. I think what I’m using at home is called f.lux. It kind of goes with the sunrise and the sunset, and so I’ll just start to notice at certain times, the screen color is changing. It’s that natural cycle.
Erin: Yes. I use f.lux for my laptop. It’s really easy to install. At a minimum, do that. Now what about things like TVs and things like that? Well, you can get orange glasses on Amazon or anything like that and just put those over your eyeglasses, or use as your eyeglasses when you’re watching TV or working on a desktop or something like that. And that will filter out the blue light to a certain extent, so that’ll help also. And then why not try to avoid the screens, right? I was talking to somebody earlier this week and we had to brainstorm a little bit like, “What else do you do in the evening other than stare at a screen?” Well, let’s see. You could go for a walk.
Susie: What about the lighting in the house? Is that also a form of blue light?
Erin: Yes, you can choose different light bulbs with different color patterns, and choosing a warmer or softer lighting, especially in the bedroom, even having a string of red or orange lights to blend in and change the tone if you flip that on in the evening can help a bit. The worst are those bright daylight bulbs. That’s probably not going to set yourself up for sleep.
Susie: So what are some other things that people can do?
Erin: It’s really helpful to create ritual around bed. So you’re telling your body it’s time for bed and one of the things that I like to do actually is give myself a foot massage with some essential oils. I get the benefit of essential oils and the benefit of the foot massage, but I also get this added benefit of ritual. And telling your brain, “Okay, it’s time for bed.”
Susie: So what else would be in a bedtime ritual?
Erin: Anytime you’re gonna bring in your senses you’re gonna get a lot of benefit out of it. So a calming herbal tea, you get the smell and the warmth of it. Lots of people do baths before bedtime for a good reason. You get the Epsom salt of magnesium which is relaxing but you also get the warm sensation and the warm relaxation and the change in body temperature that will help you drift off as you cool down. One of my favorite drinks to recommend in the evening is called Golden Milk. So it’s a blend of coconut milk with some turmeric.
Susie: I love that stuff, yes.
Erin: It packs an anti-inflammatory punch and it’s relaxing, and it’s ritual so why not.
Susie: It has all of those warming spices that are just, they feel like comforting. So definitely relaxing.
Erin: I mentioned Epsom salt as a little bit. I can go into magnesium a little bit more. A lot of us are deficient in magnesium to start with. One of the factors there is that our soil has been depleted with modern agriculture. We are not getting it in our food the way we used too. And another thing is in our stressed out state we burn through magnesium faster. Our bodies need a lot of it and to replenish that a great way to do that is Epsom salt bath. The trick is though a lot of people just put a little scoop full of those fancy bath salts that they got at the spa store. You don’t wanna waste them but you’re not really getting the concentration in the tub that you need to properly absorb to the skin. So I would recommend buy them in a wholesale. There is cool place here locally in Woodinville actually called Salt Works. You can buy a 40 pound bag for around $40. It’s way cheaper than buying them at the grocery store and then you don’t feel guilty about the shoveling it in.
Susie: And if you don’t have tub is there another way to get the magnesium?
Erin: Feet. You can do your feet in a bowl [with magnesium], you can also do topical magnesium gel which you can find online. They come in either an oil or a gel format and then absorbs really well through the skin. So both of those are nice because they bypass the digestive tract. But if you wanted to do magnesium supplementation. I will go into that just because most of the magnesium supplements out there are not really absorbable. I will go so far as to say they’re garbage. So instead be very careful to look for magnesium malate, magnesium glycinate or one of those other forms that’s more absorbable. They’re a little bit harder to find but your body is gonna be really happy because it will put it to use. And you should feel a noticeable difference when you take it. I sleep like a baby if I take it and I can really tell when I need to take it more tension in those shoulders and things like that.
Susie: And are those available at…
Erin: Health food stores or online usually.
Susie: Okay. Fantastic. What about eating before you sleep?
Erin: That varies for people. It can vary quite a bit of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. You don’t wanna go to bed hungry. But you don’t also want to go to bed stuffed and still digesting. I think that’s one of those things I would tell somebody to experiment with and then pay attention to your body.
Susie: I like to have a little snack before bed and I’ve actually found that depending on what kind of a snack I have, it can actually impact my sleep especially if it’s got sugar and that generally isn’t as good. Nut butters and things like that I found to be really good.
Erin: A little bit of protein. Yeah one of my heroes, Dave Asprey on the Bulletproof podcast, he always talks about experimenting with either protein or with honey and people have different effects. One thing might work great for somebody and it might not work for other things. But those are good things to at least try if you’re trying to improve your sleep.
Susie: So quickly what are some other things that people can do?
Erin: Well, we talked about those phones. So I can elaborate on that a little bit more. I put mine on airplane mode I don’t know about you.
Susie: So if you are needing to have your phone there maybe what put it across the room or something?
Erin: Yeah, put it a little bit further away. People have different opinions. I don’t know if the jury is in, the jury is in for me about EMFs but not for everybody. So I don’t wanna be…
Susie: And EMFs could you just elaborate?
Erin: I don’t want to be controversial about that. But the electromagnetic field some people will be sensitive to that and that can impact the quality of sleep and you don’t know that until you try it. But the other, I turn it off so I don’t get pinged in the middle of the night. I was studying up on how sleep impacted teenagers and they said teenagers are routinely being woken up by messages from their friends all night. That’s the reason they wake up I’m sure it’s very important. “Wear those purple jeans tomorrow for school.”
Susie: Actually teenagers and kids are really a huge group. I was reading earlier that they are one of the fastest growing groups of sleep deprived people out there. They are on average getting two hours a night less sleep then they used to, which is huge because their bodies are growing and this is really the time when they’re building their foundation for their health and future.
Erin: I was a worst case example. Nobody would do what I did in high school. I do not value sleep and I think that’s a big reason of why I suffered so much with headaches and migraines, because when I corrected that as an adult working, and started sleeping regularly, I noticed a really dramatic reduction in how often and how sensitive I was to migraines just from improving my sleep. And that’s really why I’m so passionate about starting people off on the sleep topic and getting that in line first ’cause I saw what a big difference it made in my own migraine journey.
Susie: Okay, so for people who want to download your Supercharged Sleep book, how can they get that?
Erin: Okay. Please go to engineeringradiance.com/sleep. You can download it for free.
Susie: How long will it take people to reset their sleep? So if you start doing these sleep hacks, how long will it take for them start feeling like this is the new normal?
Erin: There are eight tips in there, and I don’t expect somebody to implement them all overnight. They should pick one that stands out to them, that speaks to them and start working on that. It took me months to start making all of these a routine and a habit. So just pick the one that seems like it’ll be most dramatic for you and then you should start feeling a difference in days.
Susie: Perfect. Thank you Erin so much for sharing your tips on sleeping well through the night, hacking your sleep, there’s definitely some tips I’m going to take note of myself and they are so easy.[Listen to the archived show]