We decided to have a conversation with one of our favourite Canadian wellness leaders, Jillian Mariani, founder, and general manager of Niyama Wellness, to gain insight into how she prioritizes sleep wellness while balancing life, work and parenting. Jillian holds a BA from U of T, a diploma in Nutritional Management from GBC, an MBA from Schulich School of Business, and a YTT-200H from Downward Dog Yoga Centre. Oh, she also happens to also hold the roles of wife/soulmate, mom, bonus-mom, and dog & cat mom- talk about balancing act!
Jillian spent 20+ years on the corporate side of the natural wellness and supplements industry. Despite having access to limitless industry-leading products and ingredients, she still found herself combining ingredients and mixing up her own elixirs to achieve her personal wellness goals- including elimination of artificial sweeteners, flavours, preservatives, and less ideal forms of nutrients. With this, Niyama Wellness was born.
In Sanskrit, Niyama loosely translates to “good habits”. Niyama is the embodiment of Jillian’s desire to create a wellness & self-care line of products that meet her own exceptionally picky standards and to make sustainable good habits for a healthy, happier life, easier and more enjoyable for all.
Let’s dive in!
How important is sleep to your overall wellness?
For me, quality sleep, and enough of it, is the foundation of self-care and wellness. Without enough good sleep, nothing else you do really works. Sleep must be a priority for everything else to contribute to living your best life.
If it’s one night of poor sleep, try not to get too stressed about it! Our bodies will bounce back, and most of us can get though one day not feeling great. But if this happens regularly, and my tips & tricks haven’t worked for you, seek advice from a health care practitioner.
Have you noticed any changes in your sleep patterns since becoming a parent?
Ironically, some of the best sleep of my life was when my daughter was an infant. I had struggled with insomnia since my early teens, and during my mat-leave my daughter co-slept, which I understand is not for everyone, but it worked beautifully for us. So, I was not sleep deprived initially, but when I returned to work when she was 9 months old, everything fell apart. It was like getting hit by a truck. There were many times in my corporate life after having kids (I have one biological daughter with my husband, and he came with 3 from his first marriage) where trying to balance career, kids and household left me very burnt out and sleeping became so difficult to do well, and I was only sleeping a few hours per night. It’s the “busy brain” that gets us - it was impossible to turn off, and would prevent me from falling asleep, and staying asleep. It leaves you feeling terrible during the day, and so anxious at night, and nothing is in perspective. And then you can’t be your best self for anyone - for your kids, your partner, your boss and team, and yourself. Which was even more ironic since I spent my whole corporate career in natural wellness.
Did your sleep pattern change when you launched Niyama Wellness?
I left corporate in 2017, and then launched Niyama in 2019. Owning and running a start-up is stressful, but the ability to manage your own schedule does help. My sleep is generally very good now, but not because running Niyama is less stressful than a corporate role, but because I’ve finally figured out how to hack my sleep routine and make it a top priority. I call myself a recovered insomniac, as I now sleep 7 hours per night 98% of the time, with the odd night here and there where I have difficulty.
How do you prioritize self-care, including getting enough sleep?
It took me a long time to really get that I had to make it a priority - we tend as mums to put ourselves last, but it goes back to the airline oxygen mask analogy; you must put your own life mask on first, or you will perish trying to help someone else. I did a lot of reading on sleep and took a Sleep Coach course. I now prioritize the activities during the day and at night to ensure I get good sleep - which makes everything else in my wellness/self-care routine work that much better.
How has your experience as a parent influenced your approach to managing your own wellness and self-care?
That’s an interesting one, and for me it has been an evolution. Initially when I became a bonus (step!) mum, and then a mum, I prioritized everyone over myself. Family and work were everything - there was no room for me, which I think happens a lot. But after hitting a wall and suffering severe burn-out, it became so clear that what I was doing was unsustainable; and I felt like I had this great life that I could not enjoy. I wish I’d prioritized my self-care sooner; it took full on burnout when our youngest was about 7 years old for me to see the light.
Now I do what I need to keep myself at my best, so I can be there for my kids. I work a lot, which is natural when you are passionate about what you do. It doesn’t feel like work, so sometimes you just keep going. But I’m getting better at boundaries and limits and saying ‘No’ to things. I try to be all-in with what I’m doing - if I’m with my kids or my husband or working. It’s a work in progress, and with your own business and a family, the to do list never ends. Knowing it never ends can create anxiety, but it’s so important to distinguish between what must happen right away, what can wait, and what someone else can do.
Making time for the things that make you your best is crucial. I need to exercise daily, even if it’s only 30 minutes. My husband and I like to cook, and we are huge on family dinner 5 nights per week. We do roses and thorns with our two daughters that are still at home with us, to connect and get the dinner conversation going. No phones at the table. I will also say that this whole balancing work and parenting and life does get easier as your kids get older, it’s extra tricky with toddlers, and having a hands-on partner helps tremendously.
How has your experience as a founder/CEO influenced your approach to managing your own wellness and self-care?
For me, it has helped. Having the flexibility to manage my schedule and work when I am most productive, but also not miss important things with my kids has been a blessing. I’m accountable to me - and while I’m not easy on myself, I also understand myself! As the founder and CEO, I must embody the brand - it would be so inauthentic to not walk the talk. But the brand and products would not exist if I hadn’t had the journey I’ve had. All the formulas are VERY personal and contain the combinations of ingredients that are supported by science, but also are the ones that have worked for me personally.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to balance their work, parenting, and self-care?
You cannot pour from an empty cup. Nourishing your own wellness and taking time to do that things that help you be your best self is NOT selfish. It’s the best thing you can do for everyone else, and for you. Self-care is essential.
How do you communicate your wellness needs to others, including your need for rest and sleep?
I communicate in the same way they communicate their needs to me. Which sounds simple, but for so long I think I just didn’t. Kids are great at communicating their needs and wants. And my husband plays soccer - it’s like a balm for his soul. He just joins and makes it happen. I just didn’t do that before. I schedule what I need to now, and there is no pushback - sometimes it’s in our head - we think we have to make everything perfect for everyone else before it’s our turn, but my family never questioned it. They may not have offered it or suggested it, but that really isn't their job. They support me doing what makes me happy and whole because they know its what I need. Self-care is like an important meeting with yourself - you can’t let yourself down any more than you do everyone else.
What are your thoughts on sleep apps?
Although it’s best to stay off screen, a sleep app can be a solid exception. Most have free trial plans so you can see if they work for you. My youngest went through some sleep issues a few years ago and loved the guided sleep meditations on Headspace. Calm, Aura and Slumber are all highly rated. Use headphones if you don’t sleep alone so you don’t disrupt your partner’s sleep too.
Jillian’s techniques to improve quality of sleep:
- Consistent bedtimes and wake times – even on weekends. Sorry/Not sorry! (But you can relax this a bit once your sleep is where you need it). I’m in bed by 10:30pm, asleep by 11pm and wake by 6:45am.
- No caffeine after noon. Caffeine has an average half-life of 6 hours, meaning half of what you consumed is still with you after 6 hours. It can take up to 10 hours to completely clear it from your bloodstream. So, your 3pm coffee could still be with you at bedtime.
- No alcohol before bed. It may seem like it helps you fall asleep, but it can cause night waking in the second half of your sleep cycle. If you are imbibing, do so 3-4 hours before bed.
- Sleep in a cool, dark room, on an excellent quality mattress, with the right pillow for you. If you can’t darken your room enough, use a sleep mask. I use one even though our bedroom is very dark; the feel of wearing it acts as a cue now for me that it is time to shut down.The Haven silk one is a dream!
- No screens 1 hour before bed (you may be able to relax this to 30 minutes down the road but start with an hour). This relates to both the sleep cycle disrupting blue and white light that is emitted by screens, and the content, which make our brains busier than we want at bedtime, especially with messaging, social media, or emails.
- Use that no-screen time window to wind down. Pick something that you enjoy and that you can be consistent with as your wind down activity because consistency is key to creating that sleepy time signal to your body and mind. Reading in bed, meditation, journaling, maybe a reciprocal massage if you have significant other, or a relaxing, warm bath. Niyama’s Sleep Like Buddha Bedtime Bath Soak is an amazing spa-like addition to your bath water. And keep your phone out of your bedroom while you sleep, or if you absolutely can’t, then put it on airplane mode.
I do all these things, every night along with supportive sleep with supplements:
- I drink Niyama's Hey Relax Magnesium in hot or cold water in the evening, usually around 8 or 9pm.
- I take 1 capsule of Sleep Like Buddha religiously 30 minutes before bed, and a second capsule if I wake at 2 am with a busy brain.
As with any supplement, read & follow full directions and check with your health practitioner if you have questions. For many, they help on the first night, but for others it may take more time. Our brains and sleep issues differ, so while these nutrients work for about 95% of those that try, it may take longer for some.
Many of us are now struggling with night waking – here’s is what I recommend for getting back to sleep:
- Take a second capsule of Sleep Like Buddha, which is melatonin-free.
- Take 10 long, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Make the inhales to a count of 4 and the exhales to a count of 7. Then count backwards from a high number, like 750. If you get to 600 and you are still awake, move to step 3.
- Get out of bed and go to a different room. Your bed is for sleeping; when you toss and turn and “try” to sleep it becomes a stressful place, not a restful one. Do something relaxing like reading a dull book with a small reading light, knitting or meditating. No screens please and keep lights dim! Don’t return to bed until you feel sleepy.
- Avoid looking at your phone or the clock. Checking your phone exposes you to blue light which messes with your melatonin levels. Clock-watching is just stressful and makes getting to sleep harder. It does you no good to “count down” the hours left to sleep.
- When you get back in bed, do a muscle relaxing body-scan. This is where you lay in bed with eyes closed and progressively tense and relax each muscle in your body from head to toe, one muscle group after another. You can go back up from toes to head too.
- Start counting from 750 backwards again. Repeat as needed, and do not just stay in bed tossing and turning.