I Hired a Sleep Coach to Manage Hollywood Stress (Guest Column)

Illustration: Carole Henaff; Inset: Greg Doherty/Getty Images
Inset: Deborah McIntosh

To combat the "epidemic" of insufficient slumber — which can lead to weight gain and heart disease — UCLA and Equinox designed a research-based training program, tested for The Hollywood Reporter by new mom and Endeavor content partner Deborah  McIntosh.

In ancient times, "humans were sleep-deprived because they weren't safe or there wasn't enough food — now our bodies hold on to extra calories and increased stress," says UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine professor Jennifer Martin. In fact, more than one-third of Americans don't get enough z's and can suffer ill health effects, from weight gain to heart disease. "And there was no Netflix 1,000 years ago," adds Martin, referencing Ted Sarandos' 2017 boast that his streamer was competing with sleep — and winning.

Add Twitter and Instagram to the mix ("The more you use social media, the less you sleep," warns Martin), and a sleep-training program — like the one developed by UCLA in partnership with Equinox — starts to look like a smart investment. "If we think that just the medical community is going to solve the epidemic of insufficient sleep, we're wrong," says Martin, who, with UCLA Exercise Physiology Research Lab's Christopher Cooper, conducted a 12-week study this summer using Equinox's Tier X elite training clientele. The study took place over 12 weeks, with fitness training three times a week and sleep coaching once a week for one group, and the same fitness training but no sleep coaching for the other. The results were off the charts, with the coached group doing twice as well in aerobic performance, high- intensity exercise and body composition. "I don't know of any diet, supplement or workout that can double benefits like sleep training," says Martin, who speculates that such benefits can extend to activities like driving and deal-making. Among those who signed up in September: Endeavor Content partner and vp Deborah McIntosh, 34, new mother of daughter Lily. Her account follows. 

For the past 10 years, I've been an agent who has packaged films, raised financing for advisory clients and sold distribution rights. After a long, tense day of calls and meetings, I didn't go to bed before midnight. I also started really suffering from jet lag: In 2017, I went to Sundance in January, Berlin in February, SXSW in March and Cannes in May, with trips to Tribeca and Australia in between — that's six different time zones right there. So January to June really fucked up my sleep. And my company promoted me to partner last year when I — with my husband, Dave Tamaroff, a WME music partner — was six months pregnant.

I wanted to see a sleep coach to help me get on a better sleep schedule so that I could actually feel rested. After the baby was born, she was going down by 7, and we should have been able to do the same by 10, but we never did. Then I'd wake up at 4:30 a.m., worried about something, and 90 minutes would pass before I would fall back asleep.

At first, I expected that I'd be all plugged into lab tests, but it was more like a talking session with my coach, Larry Brun. For 12 weeks, I went to Equinox Beverly Hills for an hour, and we discussed how much sleep I really need; how the brain has to detox at night; jet lag (tip: keep regular meal times); stress management; and types of light (no surprise: screens' "blue" light is not good).

We reviewed my daily sleep diary, a one-sheet on which I logged sleep times; food, caffeine and alcohol consumption; exercise, activities and work hours. I also rated my sleep quality on a scale of zero to 10. Larry would ask, "What did you do that worked? What can we work on?"

It was important to get my husband on board: While it turns out I don't suffer from some undiagnosable sleep problem, Dave actually does have insomnia. So I became militant about removing the TV from the bedroom and dragging us out of the living room by 11:15 p.m. Getting us into the bedroom earlier rather than sitting exhausted and crabby on the couch has been a huge benefit, and Dave has been saying that he subscribes to the happy wife/happy life slogan.

My big "aha" was setting a permanent bedtime. When we become adults, we don't try to have a set schedule like kids; we rely on (and ignore) our bodies telling us to get to bed. So I'm definitely glad that I got coaching because talking through sleep habits helps me stay accountable — and is much better than reading an article that you barely absorb. Seeing Larry weekly helps me keep tabs on the glass of red wine before bed and needing to eat more protein-rich food so I don't feel the dragon when my blood sugar drops and then have to feed it with coffee.

After several weeks of trying different things, I learned that if I set my alarm for 10:30 p.m., I would begin my bedtime ritual and climb in bed by 11. (Lily's starting to wake up earlier, at 6, so now I need to back up my bedtime a little bit or I'm going to be tired again.) I did tell Larry that it was unrealistic to expect me not to look at my phone after 11. But once in bed, I can set it down by 11:30, which is lights-off time — and I've been able to really stick to that, for the most part. Dave is another story, but we'll see!

This story first appeared in the 2018 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.