235: How Sleep Impacts Your Skin (Tips + Strategies) PT 2 w/ Michelle Nilan, MS, CNS

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THIS IS PART 2 OF A 3-PART INTERVIEW. Check out part 1 by clicking HERE! Click here for part 3!

Did you know that strenuous exercise, big meals, and even certain supplements can affect sleep quality? In part 2 of this sleep and skin series, my guest and I will discuss ways to improve your sleep quality, as well as things to avoid. (Spoiler alert: Staring at your phone before bed is doing you no favors!)

Or, listen on your favorite app: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | Subscribe on Android


My guest today is my colleague, Michelle Nilan, CNS. Michelle is a clinical nutritionist, yoga teacher, and ACSM-certified personal trainer. She is the associate clinical nutritionist in my private practice and has been working with me since June 2020!

She has a master's in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and a bachelor's in philosophy from Humboldt State University.

Through her work with me, Michelle has developed an extensive understanding of the complex relationship between the skin, gut, and overall health, and values being able to turn this into practical, actionable guidance to help others become well. She is additionally well-versed in metabolic conditions, insulin resistance and diabetes, and nutrition for high-risk pregnancies.

Michelle also has a history of her own skin struggles with severe cystic acne, fungal acne, and tinea versicolor, as well as with managing thyroid, hormone, and autoimmunity issues, and knows all too well what it feels like to have significant life-impacting symptoms completely dismissed and be told by doctors that she’d “just have to live with it.”

She is grateful for the opportunity to help others avoid the years of suffering she had to endure while trying to find and address the root causes on her own. Due to her work in philosophy, as well as her personal history of childhood trauma, she has a deep appreciation for the invisible mental and emotional suffering of skin and health issues that aren't obvious from the outside, and allows this to guide her approach of seeing a whole person rather than merely a collection of symptoms or a problem to fix.

When she’s not working with clients, Michelle enjoys staying updated with the latest nutrition research, lifting weights, reading, going to museums, spending time in nature, drinking coffee while people-watching, and playing with her cat Daoshi.

Join us for part 2 of a 3-part interview all about sleep and the skin. In this series, we'll be discussing circadian rhythm, sleep hygiene, why sleep is important, and so much more! You can find PART 1 HERE and Part 3 HERE!

Today, we'll focus on how to improve sleep hygiene and your sleep routine.

Do you have any tips to help you fall asleep? Let me know in the comments!

CHECK OUT PART 1 of this conversation HERE

GO HERE FOR PART 3 of this conversation

In this episode:

  • How to protect circadian rhythm
  • How routines can be incredibly beneficial for restful sleep
  • Simple tips for improving sleep hygiene
  • What to do about blue-light emitting devices
  • Liquid melatonin vs. capsules
  • How many sleep medications is Michelle currently on?


“See sunlight in the morning or in the first half of the day. That tells your body physically it's morning, we should be awake now. This is the wake up time. And then it sets up all of your hormones to then follow an appropriate pattern so that you get tired at the right time of evening.” [28:11]

“Have an explicit, relaxing bedtime routine. Allow yourself to wind down at night so that you're not amped up and stressed out going to sleep. Whether that's meditation, reading, breathing exercises, stretching, sitting and staring at the wall, it does not matter.” [36:47]


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235: How Sleep Impacts Your Skin (Tips + Strategies) PT 2 w/ Michelle Nilan, MS, CNS FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: So with that said about circadian rhythm, how do we protect that?

Michelle: Yes. And this ties very deeply into the sleep hygiene, because this is essentially how to have of good sleep hygiene. So be like a guard dog for your circadian rhythm. This is vital to wellbeing, to functioning well throughout the day. So basically to run through another quick list of this, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends. That's core, that's foundational of the circadian rhythm. If you don't teach your body that there's a rhythm, that's it. There's no rhythm. You throw a wrench into the whole thing, and you're going to have a lot of trouble with getting good sleep from there, no matter what else you do.

Michelle: See sunlight in the morning or in the first half of the day. That tells your body physically it's morning, we should be awake now. This is the wake up time. And then it sets up all of your hormone to then follow an appropriate pattern so that you get tired at the right time of evening. Even something as simple as opening up the windows in the morning, stepping outside. See sun. Get sunlight in your eyes, and not through glass. So driving to work. Sorry, that is not doing the job because the glass physically prevents all of the appropriate rays from reaching your body. So take a minute.

Jennifer: I'm like, “Listen, if it's really cold and you can't do it, seeing sun even through the glass I think though is better than not seeing it at all.”

Michelle: Yes, definitely.

Jennifer: I just want people to think in baby steps here. If you legit because of your shift work or whatever it is that you do, that you can't control and have a routine bedtime, don't sit here listening to this and go, “Oh well, I'm doomed. I can't do anything.” Don't think like that. Like you said Michelle, let's do the things that we can do. Let's try and do all the things that we can do. And it all does matter. I think that's the point. As many that you can control, if you can implement them as you're going through this list, that's what you focus on. What's doable for you.

Michelle: Right. Absolutely. And this is, it's a long list of things to do for sleep hygiene. But instead of having that be a burden and feel overwhelming, what a blessing. Because it means that most likely, there's something thing you can pick that's doable for you. It just means you have a lot of options. And if there's one you can't do, fine. There's a lot of other things that maybe work for you. If you can't see sunlight first thing in the morning, don't worry about to go through a few more things. You can probably try.

Jennifer: All right. Let's continue on the list.

Michelle: All right. And to stick to kind of the morning thing, if you take vitamin D or B vitamins, take those in the morning. Vitamin D, our body produces that from sunlight. So taking the vitamin D earlier in the day is kind of like telling yourselves like, “Here's a big burst of sunlight.” So it's not exactly the same as physically seeing the sun. But it can disrupt sleep if it's taken later in the day, and B vitamins in general can be stimulating for some people. So you want to keep that stimulation to the earlier, appropriate part of the day when you're trying to be awake. So then in the evening, so we talked a little bit about circadian rhythm impacting temperature, regulation, and a hot, warm room disrupting your sleep. So you can bring your body temperature down at night by keeping your room cool. The ideal is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 20 degrees Celsius for anyone not in the U.S. For me personally, that is way too cold. So keep in mind also, just because that's the recommendation, if that doesn't work for you personally, then don't force yourself to freeze at night.

Jennifer: I'm going to say that that doesn't work for me because we put the house at 65, and even that is still too warm for me.

Michelle: There you go.

Jennifer: Like Michelle, you would freeze if you came to my house. But I also get really warm at night. And other thing that I had to figure out was, and this is another tip or trick for people is I used to have a really thick, heavy comforter. And I realized that I can't do that anymore. So I actually use bamboo sheets, which I find are better for temperature regulation as opposed to cotton. Especially some weaves of cotton are a lot warmer than others are. So we use bamboo sheets, and then we have a cotton woven light blanket on top, and then a light kind of comforter over top of that. That way, if I do still even get too warm, I can just throw off this light comforter as opposed to then being super freezing cold. I just have more layers that give me some flexibility. But yes, I'm a 65. I might even be a 64 degree gal.

Michelle: Yeah, so everyone has their own temperature that feels comfortable. So just because there's a specific number, don't kill yourself trying to hit it, whether it's too hot or too cold for you. And then taking a bath or a shower before bed also can help to bring that evening body temperature down.

Michelle: And then we talked about eating around bedtime. Avoid really large or really heavy meals within a couple hours of bed. But also, don't go to bed hungry. It's not a big deal to eat right before bed. But keep it light, something with fat and protein in it. If nuts, if you could eat those are pretty ideal because it's small, it's not that heavy. And they're pretty filling. Obviously, don't look at screens within an hour or two of going to bed. And then if you do need to, you can either use blue light-blocking glasses, which you can find pretty easily online. Or a blue light filter on your screen, which I know a lot of iPhones, the new ones have that setting. It's called night shift.

Jennifer: Yeah. And Androids do as well now. I know that my, yes everyone who's listening to this. I do not have an iPhone. I have a Google phone, and it does have the setting to make the screen more orange at night. And then I also have another feature where it goes gray, which is also nice as well. Once it gets after 10:00. And I decided what times it does that. So you can do that.

Jennifer: And then on the computer, I use that f.lux. It's f.lux desktop. Yeah. So that way as the, right. So that's another thing. If you're at the computer and you're working late because you have to, you can do that. And it'll just slowly shift the colors to a warmer, orange-y tone the later it gets. You don't notice it so much, which is nice. And it decreases that blue light.

Michelle: Yeah. And on that, you can actually also set it so that it starts to shift to the blue light at a certain time of evening, depending on when you want your bedtime to be, and then will actually shift back to regular at a certain time of the morning, depending on when you set your wake up time. So I love that one. Definitely I've used that for a long time.

Michelle: Also sleep in as close to pitch blackness as you possibly can, including those tiny LEDs, whether you have to put tape over them. When I had a digital alarm clock in the past, I literally would just put a shirt over it at night so I didn't see the light. And blackout curtains are really great if you have an issue with blinds or if you have a streetlight right outside your window. Or a sleep mask also. Just bring the blackness straight to your face. I definitely do that one. I love my sleep mask.

Michelle: Sleep in a quiet room. Earplugs, another thing I do. I do all of the things for sleep you guys. Use earplugs. I have very loud neighbors and a very loud environment outside of my apartment. So I need earplugs. Some people prefer a white noise machine. Even running a fan, that can help with the temperature thing too, but just that white noise from the fan can help a lot of people get to sleep.

Michelle: And another really vital is to have an explicit, relaxing bedtime routine. Allow yourself to wind down at night so that you're not amped up and stressed out going to sleep. Whether that's meditation, reading, breathing exercises, stretching, sitting and staring at the wall, it does not matter. As long as it's relaxing or you're not staring at a screen where you feel like it calms you down, then that's the perfect thing to do.

Jennifer: Yeah. And I would also add to this to. This goes back to your point about the liver piece of this is that we want to make sure that we're supporting our liver when we go to bed. And the way that we do that is avoiding alcohol, which most people think is a depressant, but it's actually a stimulant. And then also avoiding caffeine. So look at too, be careful with some of the beverages that you choose. Be careful with the teas that you consume. Sometimes even chocolate can be too stimulating for certain individuals too late in the day. So take a look at caffeine sources. And maybe for you, doing your vegan hot cocoa at night, even though it feels really nice and soothing and we imagine drinking that in the evening, that might not be the best thing. That may be actually too stimulating. And you could do a golden latte or something at night with some other really warming and settling herbs that might be a better fit for your body.

Jennifer: It's tough because sometimes, it's nice to have a glass of wine or a little bit of wine with dinner. But I do recall, and I'm just going to throw this idea out there is that my great aunts who were the first generation born here in the United States from Italy, when they had wine at dinnertime, it was in these tiny glasses. They might have been a four-ounce glass and they only filled it up halfway. So they were literally only having two ounces of wine. It was a number of sips, not a large wine glass.

Jennifer: So that might be the first step. If that's part of your ritual in the evening, maybe saying, “Okay, you know what? Maybe I need to do A, a smaller glass.” And then do half of the smaller glass, and see if that's a sufficient way to help. And if obviously you're dealing with something where your liver is compromised, then alcohol really might not be your front, unfortunately at all.

Michelle: Yeah. And you're also giving your liver a little extra to clean up. So if you're already not getting good sleep and you're giving it that extra work that it needs to do, it's not the best for having good sleep quality and feeling your best during the day.

Michelle: And just in general, avoiding stimulating activities within two to three hours of bedtime. Including strenuous exercise, stressful conversations, working. I'm definitely guilty of this. Working until the last minute until I'm like, “I really need to go to bed.” Close my laptop, head down, head on the pillow. Okay. Is it surprising that I can't sleep through the night? So just that stress in general.

Michelle: And not napping after 2:00 PM. Or if you nap earlier than that, napping longer than 20 to 30 minutes. You want to keep your sleep during sleep time, or else you're just throwing a wrench again in that circadian rhythm because confusing your body about when is it time to go to sleep, when is it time to be awake. There is something to be said for a quick 15, 20 minute power nap. There is research behind that. But be honest with yourself whether it's really a power nap, or whether it's just a powerful nap.

Jennifer: I will admit I don't nap. I feel awful after naps, so I don't do it. Whereas some people, my dad was one of those people. He could lay down for 10 minutes and wake up, and he felt very invigorated. So again, this is another instance of how it's personalized. You personalize your experience, but you can test out some of these different things and see how you feel.

Jennifer: And I know for myself personally over the last I would say six to eight months, I've played around with using some CBD in the evening time before bed. I find that it helps me fall back asleep sometimes. Especially if I'm in a period of great rest, I'll do some CBD drops before bed. I usually tend or err on the low end of things. And then also adding in a little bit of melatonin. I know that there's a lot of, I would say there's a lot of scary information out there about, “Don't do melatonin. Your body's not going to know how to make it on its own.” And I'm like, “Well, if you did a microdose, if you did a little bit and that helped you actually get to sleep, isn't that better than not doing it and not sleeping?”

Jennifer: And I've talked also to the doctors at DUTCH Labs, because we do run DUTCH panels here in our clinic. And I had asked them, especially the one doctor there that I talk to a lot, because he has a lot of experience and knowledge around steroid use for topical steroids, and inhaled steroids, and oral and injected steroids. So I had asked him that and he actually said that it's better to focus on getting the good sleep than to sit here and nitpick your body will figure out its way back to producing some of its own melatonin. And I know you probably can share a little bit more about that yourself, Michelle. But I don't need to take it every single night. I just find that it helps my sleep quality. And I just use a little bit, and we talk to a lot of our clients about using the liquid melatonin as opposed to a capsule. So that way, you can really use very tiny doses of it as opposed to three or five milligrams, which frankly our body doesn't produce nor need. It usually is too much.

Michelle: Right. And with the liquid too, it makes it a lot easier to taper down and experiment with whether you actually still need the melatonin. And I do have actually recent experience with that. Within the last couple weeks, I've been able to completely stop taking melatonin to get to sleep, and that just happened naturally. Because something happens. When you take too much melatonin, you'll feel groggy in the morning. And I started to notice that I started to feel groggy in the morning. My dose of melatonin had been consistent, and I thought maybe it was the melatonin. So I took a little bit less, wasn't groggy. And then suddenly I started to get groggy again. And this trend kind of continued as I decreased. I thought maybe I can just stop the melatonin. And I did. And it's just worked out, and that happened naturally by itself over I think about six months, maybe six or seven months where I worked on all of the other aspects while I used the melatonin to actually be able to sleep. Because that's the thing too. It's going to be hard to try and use your willpower to do these new habits and routines if you're not sleeping. And we will be speaking about different supplements and external ways to help your sleep.

Jennifer: Yes. In a moment, but I do want to say this and I think this is an important point. Because you mentioned in the beginning, you had said that you were on three medications, right? To help you sleep.

Michelle: Yeah.

Jennifer: How many are you on now?

Michelle: I am on zero.

Jennifer: So there you go. There you go folks.

Michelle: I am on zero. Like I said, I was on a mission. I said I will do all of the things for sleep. I will try the weird things, the not weird things. The things that I heard walking by someone on the street. If I didn't care, if it was not a medication, I was willing to try it. And some of those weirder things like mouth taping which I will discuss, really were incredible immediately.

Click HERE for Part 1 of this conversation!

Click HERE for Part 3 of this conversation!


See sunlight in the morning or in the first half of the day. That tells your body physically it's morning, we should be awake now. This is the wake up time. And then it sets up all of your hormones to then follow an appropriate pattern so that you get tired at the right time of evening.