Ask the Expert: Dr. Colleen Carney on overcoming sleep problems

Getting adequate rest every night is crucial to our overall health, but so many of us struggle not only to fall asleep, but also to stay asleep. Dr. Colleen Carney, associate professor in the psychology department at Ryerson University and Director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory, joined our Ask the Expert webchat today to share tips on how we can improve our sleep routines. She is one of the leading experts in the treatment of insomnia, particularly in the context of co-occurring illness. Dr. Carney has over 100 publications on the topic of insomnia, and is a passionate advocate for improving access to effective treatment. Her books include Treatment Plans and Interventions for Insomnia: A Case Formulation Approach, Goodnight Mind, and Quiet Your Mind and Get to Sleep: Solutions to Insomnia for Those with Depression, Anxiety or Chronic Pain.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Dr. Carney. For our French users, we ran a similar webchat with psychology professor Charles Morin, which you can access here. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous and confidential.

Eating before bed (or not)

QUESTION — “Is it better to go to sleep on an empty stomach or a full stomach? What are some good ways to trick yourself into being more tired before bed?”

Dr. Carney — “You should not be hungry and you should not be stuffed. Eat normally a few hours before bed.  🙂 The best way to feel sleepy before bed is: 1)  to limit your time in bed to about the amount of sleep you produce (for example if you tend to sleep about 7 hours most nights, only spend about 7 and a half hours in bed); 2) be active throughout the day; and 3) don’t nap and eliminate dozing off.”

Napping in the evening

QUESTION — “Some nights I am so tired that I end up taking a nap around 8PM and then have a hard time falling asleep at bedtime. Any suggestions for how to avoid that nap?”

Dr. Carney — “This can be a common problem. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I would schedule something during this time to keep you awake until your bedtime. Napping during this time eliminates the drive for deep sleep at night, and even if you don’t have a hard time falling asleep, we would expect your sleep quality to be poor. Protect this time with socialization, a fun activity, or enlist someone to keep you up at this time, and you will have a deeper sleep with an easier time to fall asleep.”

Managing screen time

QUESTION — “How long before bed should you shut down screen time?”

Dr. Carney — “You can adjust screens to a nighttime setting so that you can continue using them if you like. It is important to engage in activities you find enjoyable and help you to wind-down. If screen time helps you to do that and you can adjust the settings so that you are not being blasted by blue light, go ahead and enjoy it.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Dr. Colleen Carney, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in November 15 at 12PM EST to chat with registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon, who will explain how what we eat can boost our immunity. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a walk-through.


Also published on Medium.