Traditionally speaking, Antonella Zompa, 52, is an engineer—”but I haven’t used that part of the brain for a long time,” she says, laughing. After holding various leadership positions at the US Navy Base (in Naples, Italy), Svedala Industries, and General Electric, she went back to school for a masters in Project Management at Boston University. She then worked at Philips Lighting for almost five years before leaving to work independently. These days, you can find her teaching as a Professor of Practice at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, running her consulting business, or writing (she is the author of A Lean Six Sigma Recipe, published this past April 2020).
We caught up with Antonella to hear more about how her sleep health began deteriorating during COVID and the steps she’s taken to prioritize it in order to remain energized and focused during the day.
History with sleep
I used to always be on the road traveling for work. And when you’re on the road, you’re with people. Maybe you’re having a couple of drinks, going out to eat, and then going to bed late. Because I would sleep four or five hours, I never had an issue where I’d wake up in the middle of the night. But when COVID came, I no longer had outings. And because I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s, I was too afraid to go out until I was vaccinated. And that changed a lot because I live alone, and so I was stuck in a house and began having fluctuations in my sleep patterns. Either I wasn’t sleeping or I was waking up in the middle of the night, then coming to work in front of my computer. I’d get up around 2:30 or 3, work until 6:30 or 7, then sleep for a couple hours. I was all over the map. I’m not kidding, I’ve vacuumed at 2:30 in the morning.
And I think COVID was one of the main reasons because, in my world, I’m always working in front of the computer or writing, so I was working even on the weekends. Every day was the same, but I felt like my energy was just going away.
How restless nights began affecting Antonella’s days
I gained weight because I was eating more when I wasn’t sleeping. I felt hazy. It was harder to focus. And I got into the rhythm of drinking way more espresso than I should to get going. So it became like a vicious circle because when I drank a lot of espresso, I would have a harder time sleeping at night. And then I would CRASH. On average, I would have three to four sleepless nights, then in the middle of the afternoon, need to lie down. The next thing you know, it’s 10pm. That was my body saying, enough is enough.
The solution? Part-behavioral change...
I selected Kelly as my sleep coach since I have Hashimoto’s and her bio stated that she has treated people with special conditions. And our sessions were great. I had stopped going to the gym because of COVID, but Kelly got me back on a rhythm with exercises. Just going for a walk to change your head space, which is easier said than done. You get in front of the computer, and time flies, and oh, I didn’t exercise today. I’ll do it tomorrow. And then tomorrow ends up being five months later.
When I wake up in the middle of the night, Kelly suggested a change of venue, so I’m not just tossing and turning but rather getting out of bed and sitting on a chair to read for a little while. And that started working so well for me. She also told me … “if you wake up in the middle of the night, the last thing you want to do is get in front of blue light.” And I didn’t think of that, because I just didn’t know.
They say journals work, and I get it. But I usually hate writing in them because, especially if you’re doing a diet journal, it takes forever and I never remember to do it. But the sleep journal took less than two minutes to do, and I was able to see my sleep patterns over time. And I found it to be a proactive way of using data. And my coach, Kelly, actually read them.
READ MORE: 4 Ways A Sleep Coach Can Help You
I love Sleep + Restore because when I get up in the morning, I really do feel restored, like I can just go and work. I don’t feel like I need to stay in bed. I can start my day. And at night, usually I’ll have things running through my head that prevent me from falling asleep. So I end up thinking… What am I doing tomorrow? What do I have to write on my blog? And blah, blah, blah. And it keeps me more awake when I’m thinking. So the pills, which I take around 9pm at night, get me drowsy in an hour, hour and a half. And then when I sleep, I actually wake up refreshed.
Prioritizing the art AND science of sleep
I think we take it for granted that sleep is just...close your eyes and you’re done. It’s not. And while we may hope that supplements are a “magic pill” that will make you fall asleep, you still have to work on it. And I don’t think people know what to do—at least I didn’t. That’s why the coach is there. They come up with things that I never would have thought of.