My Story

How I Came to Sleep Coaching

Lucinda Sykes, MD

Hello, thank you for your interest in my work. Here’s an overview of my background and life story. This is how I got to here!

Meditation for Health

Since 1997, I’ve directed Meditation for Health, a community-based clinic in downtown Toronto. We taught medical programs of mindfulness for more than 20 years.

More than 6000 patients attended our group programs of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Our patients were referred to us by their doctor or psychiatrist, for help with problems like anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia, hypertension, heart disease, auto-immune disorders, skin problems, and more.

You may be surprised that we could help such a long list of problems — that’s because the stress reaction is a factor in so many conditions! 

At the clinic, my colleagues were social workers and nurses who brought their own teaching skills and mindfulness to the program. I feel honoured to have worked with them.  

And the heart of our clinic has been Diana Wilson, our program coordinator since 2001. Diana is a massage therapist who is also a multi-talented administrator. I feel very lucky to have worked with such a good friend all these years. Yes, at Meditation for Health, we were a very happy medical clinic, busy serving our patients, teaching our groups, hosting follow-up events, and then suddenly… COVID!


In March 2020, the COVID pandemic ended all our in-person work at Meditation for Health. Public Health authorities required that we close the public clinic and cancel all in-person meetings and events. What a shock!

But, as my grandmother used to say, “If one door closes, another will open”.

And that’s what’s happened for us at Meditation for Health, We closed our medical clinic, but ‘new doors’ have opened — online.

Our clinic’s ‘Mindful Women 50+’ group continued meetings online, Zoom meditations and other events — even the fun of an online Facebook ‘Challenge’!

And our previous ‘Mindful Sleep’ program is now online as ‘Sleep & Be Well’ — a group program of better sleep for Women 50+.

Why Coaching?

COVID also ended my private practice of psychotherapy for women — but a new door has opened here too. My office has moved online. I still work for women, helping them regain sleep and peace of mind.  But now I work for them as a sleep coach.

Coaching came to me unexpectedly. When colleagues first told me about online coaching, I was skeptical. But I investigated in my usual way — by training with experts in the field. I was impressed.

Coaching is a remarkably effective way to help people get the changes they want most. I’ve been inspired to find that my work fits comfortably into this new approach, and I’m already seeing that coaching can empower women to get better sleep. This is exciting!

And now, here below is more of my story — the years before Meditation for Health.

Early Years

I was a ‘baby boomer’, growing up in a working class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Edmonton, Alberta, in western Canada. My father was a working man, trucking supplies for the railroad. He was to leave our family early.

I remember caring about women’s issues even as a child. I saw the unspoken suffering of my mother and grandmother, trapped in unhappy marriages, confined by the social restrictions and limited options faced by women in those days.

I learned early about women’s problems sleeping. For years, my grandmother took sleeping pills every night, so I was often at the drugstore, picking up ‘grandma’s medicine’.

My mother had sleep problems too. She was a divorced mother raising 3 daughters on a hospital clerk’s salary. When her stress was too much, we’d help her by warming milk and arranging pills by her bedside. This was standard treatment for the times. Sleep problems were solved with pills. It was years before I recognized that sometimes men couldn’t sleep either. In our neighbourhood, sleep problems seemed always a woman’s issue, And that’s still true today. Most recent science shows that more women suffer from insomnia.


My mother was thrilled when I won the scholarships that took me to medical school in Toronto. And I was thrilled too. I loved the study of medicine, the science of helping people.

But Toronto was a stressful big city and I stayed up many late nights, studying. When I started experiencing trouble sleeping, I worried that I’d inherited the sleep problems of my mother and grandmother. That’s when I started studying sleep science. I needed to learn how to protect my own sleep!

I looked for help at the University’s Student Health Centre, where I was lucky to find a program of psychotherapy for students. I started weekly meetings with a gifted psychotherapist, Ms. O’Neil.

Ms. O’Neil  spoke very little, but she was a master at listening. She knew how to ask just the right question at just the right time.

After several months, I began sleeping better and feeling much calmer even during exam time. I stayed in psychotherapy with Ms. O’Neil through my 4 years of medical school. In this way, I discovered the power of ‘talk therapy’. I knew it was good medicine. Weekly psychotherapy supported me over my years of study, and at graduation, I received my medical degree with ‘Honours’.

Choosing My Specialty

Naturally, I expected to continue into Psychiatry as my medical specialty —  I did extra training at two psychiatric hospitals in Toronto, and I worked at a clinic of out-patient psychiatry.

But I was disappointed. Modern psychiatry seemed to be abandoning the type of traditional psychotherapy that had so helped me.

Psychiatric training was emphasizing diagnosis and treatment oriented more toward medication. Even patients who were in psychotherapy were usually being prescribed medication too. I wasn’t interested in this type of medical practice. 

Fortunately, I had another option. The province of Ontario recognized a special role for family doctors as ‘GP psychotherapists’. I could switch my career path to family medicine with a special focus on psychotherapy.

And, in Family Medicine, I continued my interest in sleep science too. Often, people think that Psychiatry is the medical specialty for sleep, but sleep is even more important in Family Medicine. After all, most people first visit their family doctor when they have sleep problems. I took up elective work in sleep science as well as psychotherapy. I even worked an all-night shift at an early sleep lab!

Family Medicine Clinic

When I finally completed all my training and qualified  as a new doctor, I was excited to begin my new position at a community clinic in Toronto.

I practiced family medicine with a special focus on psychotherapy for women. Many of my patients were living with insomnia and other sleep problems, as well as chronic pain, and work and family stress. I loved this clinic and I knew I’d made the right career choice.

As a family doctor, I did prescribe medications as necessary — including prescriptions for sleeping pills. This was the standard medical treatment of the time. But often my patients found that psychotherapy was enough to improve their sleep. I wasn’t surprised. That’s what I had found too. Better sleep was possible without medication.

Analytical Psychology

While on staff at the clinic, I began studying analytical psychology at Toronto’s CG Jung Society.

Soon I was working closely with noted Jungian analysts, Marion Woodman and Fraser Boa. I was fortunate to mentor with Marion Woodman for more than a decade.

Eventually I continued my psychotherapy training in Switzerland with 6 semesters of analytical psychology at the CG Jung Institute in Zurich. When teaching at the Institute, I presented on topics of therapeutic imagery and dream analysis — imaginative ways that help people find meaning and relief for their symptoms.  When people gain insight into how they feel about things, their symptoms often improve.

Yoga & Mindfulness

When Marion Woodman encouraged me to try yoga, I was doubtful.

I assumed I was the unlikeliest yoga student! Since I’d been crippled with polio as a child, I’d been left with a lasting disability. Often my grade school teachers would excuse me from gym class. There was a lot I couldn’t do.

But Marion was absolutely right. Yoga helped me enormously.  I began to feel comfortable in my own body, and through the years,  yoga has definitely strengthened my own sleep health. I continue to practice yoga to this day.

And yoga introduced me to other practices of body awareness, meditation, massage, and mindfulness. I started attending yoga conferences and going to silent meditation retreats. And I studied qigong (meditative movement) with a Chinese doctor, Peiying Shen.

I learned that these practices of meditative awareness are good medicine, included in the new field of ‘integrative’ medicine. I was inspired to follow the work of Drs. Andrew Weil and Larry Dossey. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

I still remember my reaction when I first heard about Jon Kabat-Zinn’s revolutionary program of ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction’ (MBSR) — the program that brought mindfulness practice into the medical mainstream.

I was tremendously excited at the idea that physicians would soon be prescribing mindfulness, yoga, and meditation as part of medical practice. I just knew I had to be involved.

Over the years, I attended more than 20 different training and educational events sponsored by Dr. Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues — many were held at what became the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. As well, I attended numerous residential silent retreats in the United States and Canada.

In this way, I eventually established my own clinic, Meditation for Health, in 1997. I’m still grateful for Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s remarkable work. He contributed greatly, not only to medical science, but to my own life’s path too!

Looking Back

Looking back, I see how much my personal life has guided my professional path. 

My childhood motivated me to study medicine, and then my experience of psychotherapy, yoga, and mindfulness inspired me to study and bring these practices to my patients.

Even my ongoing interest in sleep began with my family’s sleep problems, and my own insomnia during medical school.

These days, I feel a special mission to help women 50+ get better sleep naturally. In this, I’ve been inspired by the research that shows dementia is linked to poor sleep and dependence on sleeping pills.

My own grandmother took prescribed sleeping pills every night, for all the years I knew her. Her slide into Alzheimer’s disease began before she was 60. She was lost to us far too soon. In her honour, I speak now, warning women of these risks. Sleeping pills do not bring natural sleep. They are not the answer.

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So now, thank you again for your interest in my story. You’ve seen how I continue to walk this path — and I’m wishing you well on your path too. Greetings!