‘Mom, you missed the turn!‘
“Hearing those words from my second-grader jolted me as I gripped the steering wheel and glanced at my kids in the back seat,” recalls Tara Youngblood. “I’d been so tired and foggy that it felt like I was drunk while driving them to school each morning. I flipped on my turn signal to head back in the right direction, but deep down I worried, What is happening to me? I’m falling apart.
Scattered and Spent
“Sleep problems seemed normal to me since childhood. I just told myself, I’m bad at sleep. But over the years, my sleep challenges worsened. Even though I tried to make my bed cozy, I’d spend nine hours a night struggling to fall asleep or tossing and turning, getting only four hours of sleep — not enough to manage my life.
“My short-term memory suffered too. I’d always had stellar recall, but suddenly, I felt like a forgetful grandmother. I locked keys in my car and blanked on what I needed at the market. My desk at work was littered with ‘cheat sheets’ to help keep me on-task. It was a tense, tiring time. My husband I were short with each other, and my kids needed their mom to be at her best, but I was too scattered.
“Desperate for sleep, I tried acupuncture, yoga, melatonin and herbal supplements, but nothing helped. So I lived on energy drinks and sugary smoothies — a never-ending parade of the beverages tired women reach for from drive-thru windows.
“Without a way to rest, my immune system deteriorated. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and put on medication. My sleep problems persisted. I saw four doctors, but my search for answers felt like chasing a rabbit down a hole. They mentioned anxiety and prescribed sleeping pills, which I tried, but I worried about becoming addicted. Staring at the pill bottle one day I thought, I don’t need more drugs. I need to understand why I’m so crummy at sleep!
An Answer at Last
“I’d studied science in school, so I began researching. My kids joked that I was a ‘mad scientist’ as I turned my room into a sleep lab. I used gadgets like my Fitbit to track my sleep patterns. I read medical studies and was fascinated to learn that body temperature plays a key role in quality sleep. Harvard University research told me that body heat had to be ‘unloaded’ to achieve deep sleep.
“I never suspected that temperature might be the broken part of my sleep routine. I hadn’t felt sweaty or uncomfortable. But according to the science, I was missing that important cooling cue. My life — living in a temperature-controlled home, buried under blankets — was far from how our bodies are wired to fall asleep outside when the air temperature drops after sunset. Willing to try anything, I started experimenting with hacking my internal thermostat to cure my insomnia. I climbed into my cozy bed and got comfortable, then added soft gel ice packs under my sheets to cool my body down. It was a struggle to figure out the perfect approach — I didn’t want to freeze, but I also didn’t want the ice packs to lose their power too quickly. After a bit of trial and error, I started noticing that I was falling asleep effortlessly within just 15 minutes!
“I took my research further and made cooling pads I could put under my sheets that I rigged to a timer, helping my body reach its coolest temperature in the middle of the night, when I wouldn’t consciously notice the change. The results were amazing. According to my Fitbit, my nightly sleep time rose by 50 percent, and my deep sleep skyrocketed by more than 1,000 percent! I finally found my sleep superpowers!
“People call deep sleep the fountain of youth, and now I knew why. After six months, my health transformed. My energy, mood, and memory improved, and after also making healthy dietary tweaks, I even got off my thyroid medications. And because I could finally focus, my career grew. I developed a special temperature-controlled mattress cover called the chiliPAD to help others sleep.
“Today I feel healthier at 47 than I did at 37. Feeling fully rested helped me achieve bucket-list goals, like writing my book, Reprogram Your Sleep, creating an app, running a business, and giving a TED Talk. Now nothing prevents me from being the best wife and mom I can be!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.