The news anchor breaks down how she overcame two sleep disorders and the practices that she still relies on today.
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Diane Macedo at ABC overlaid with an alarm clock and sleeping mask on a blue and purple background
Credit: ABC

Diane Macedo has long described herself as an innately "bad sleeper." For years, the ABC News anchor says she struggled to drift off and had trouble staying asleep. Every sleep hack and trick she tried didn't work — if anything, they made matters worse, Macedo tells Shape. "There was a lot of advice that just seemed unrealistic and impractical," she adds.

Eventually, Macedo started taking a prescription sleep medication (specifically, it was a sedative that slows brain activity to allow sleep) to help her score shut-eye, as recommended by her doctor, she says. "For a while, [the drug] was like magic to me," she shares. "I would take this tiny, little pill — half of this tiny, little pill — and in 30 minutes, I was out no matter what." As Macedo grew increasingly worried about the health effects of her poor sleep schedule, she also became more reliant on the snooze-inducing medication, she says.

"Then one day, the [medication] stopped working," she says. "I took it, went to bed, and nothing happened. I waited two weeks to give it a good chance of flushing out of my system. And I tried taking it again and again, but nothing happened. When I called my doctor, her advice to me was to just take more, and I decided right then and there that was not going to be the way forward for me."

Rather than continuing to use medication as a temporary solution, Macedo set out to pinpoint the root of her sleep struggles. Soon enough, the journalist discovered she was dealing with a "double whammy" of delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (a circadian rhythm disorder in which a person's biologically preferred bedtime is two or more hours later than a "conventional" bedtime) and insomnia, she says. "As a biological night owl, once I started working on-air in news, I suddenly went from working an evening shift to working an early-morning shift, going in at three o'clock in the morning," says Macedo. "That was very difficult because I was waking up hours and hours before my body was getting those wake signals. And I was trying to go to bed at a time that my body was still getting wake signals, so that made it really hard for me to fall asleep."

By regularly forcing herself to hit the hay hours earlier than her body wanted — which, in turn, left her feeling stressed and frustrated while lying in bed — Macedo came to develop insomnia, she says. "Not only did I have an issue with my body clock keeping me awake, but the stress induced by my sleep concerns then became a source of insomnia in and of itself, so I ended up with two issues."

It wasn't until Macedo read research-driven books written by sleep clinicians that she finally figured out how to regain control of her zzz's. "Once I started implementing these techniques with some practical tweaks of my own mixed in, I started getting a 'full night's sleep,' getting six and a half hours of high-quality sleep," she says. "And I managed to do it in something like three and a half weeks, so I was floored by it." This newfound knowledge and the breakthrough that came with it sparked the idea to write her new book, The Sleep Fix, which Macedo says she wished had existed when she was struggling with her sleep. 

Of course, sleep-restoration tricks aren't one-size-fits-all, says Macedo. But there are a few practices that have helped her develop a healthy shut-eye schedule and may prove beneficial to others suffering from sleepless nights. Below, Macedo spills the three daily practices she relies on to score a good night's sleep, even when she's stressed to the max.

3 Tips for How to Sleep Better

Stick to a Regular Wake-Up Time

As a natural night owl who works early hours, Macedo tries to stay consistent with her wake-up time throughout the week and on the weekends. "That's one area where my kids help me because they won't let me sleep in anyway, but I know that if left to its own devices, my body clock will want to shift later," she explains. "By waking up at the same time every day, I'm allowing my body to stay on that schedule."

That said, Macedo takes a more lax approach to her bedtime. Forcing yourself to start counting sheep at precisely 10 p.m., even when you're not feeling sleepy, can cause you to lie awake in bed, feeling frustrated that you haven't drifted off, she explains. In the long run, this rigid, stress-inducing practice can potentially increase your risk of insomnia or make it worse, she adds.

"It's often much more helpful for people who are struggling with falling asleep or staying asleep at night to actually go to sleep a little bit later than usual and just focus on keeping that same wake-up time," says Macedo. "Then your body can sync to that schedule and you can build up your sleep drive by spending a nice, healthy amount of time awake during the day. That will help you sleep again the following night, even if you have a bad night tonight." (Related: How to Wake Up Early for a Morning Workout, According to Women Who Do It at 4 A.M.)

Use a Bright Light Therapy Lamp In the Morning

"Humans are essentially solar-powered…and often, you will hear that people should get 30 minutes of bright sunlight first thing in the morning, but that's not realistic for a lot of us," says Macedo. To score that beneficial a.m. light  — which research suggests may improve sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep — without leaving home, Macedo powers on a bright light therapy lamp. "It's one of my favorite 'sleep hacks' because it doesn't involve a whole lot of effort, time, or expense," she explains. "...It sits in my bathroom while I'm brushing my teeth, washing my face, and doing my hair and makeup."

Bright light therapy lamps are also an effective treatment for folks with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, as the lamps help gradually shift their sleep schedule to what's generally considered "normal," according to information published by Stanford Health Care. "All it's doing is it's sending bright light that mimics sunlight into your eyes, and that communicates to your brain that it's morning, it's time to wake up now," says Macedo. "...[This] not only helps you start getting wake signals at the right time, but then it also starts helping you get sleep signals at the right time because it shifts your whole body clock."

Create a 'Brain Dump List' Before Bed

When Macedo first began taking steps to improve her sleep schedule, she'd create a "brain dump" or "worry" list, a technique involved in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, an hour or two before bed each night. On one side of a piece of paper, she'd write down every single thing she had on her mind, and on the other, she'd write the next step she'd take to resolve the issue, whether it be calling a friend, googling the topic, or simply accepting the problem at hand and moving on, she says. "This is really helpful for anyone who, when they go to bed, suddenly their mind just starts racing a mile a minute," says Macedo. "You just start…worrying about that conversation you had today or five years ago that didn't go so well and you wish you had said something different. It's really great to lower the volume." 

The tool also encourages you to focus on solutions, rather than ruminating on the problems, and it ultimately prevents your mind from spiraling the second your head hits the pillow, says Macedo. And it's so effective, that Macedo says she no longer broods in bed and stopped writing these worry lists altogether after just two weeks. "It was like my brain was doing this automatically," she says. Though creating a brain dump list isn't a daily habit anymore, Macedo still keeps a notebook on her nightstand to use when she's feeling particularly stressed. "I'll go outside into the living room," she says, "I'll jot down my list of worries and my list of next steps, and most of the time after doing that, I feel much calmer and I can go back to bed and drift back off to sleep."