Full text of sleep scientist Tara Youngblood’s talk: How A Sleep Recipe Changed My Life at TEDxCaryWomen conference.
Best quote from this talk:
Deep sleep has been called the fountain of youth, because when we’re in deep sleep, we heal.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Tara Youngblood – Sleep scientist
For over a year, every day, I drove my kids to school drunk.
Now I wasn’t actually drunk. It was the lack of sleep that made it seem that way.
But the CDC has shown that if you get less than six hours of sleep over two weeks, it is the same as being legally drunk. And that was me.
In 2007, we lost our youngest son, Benjamin. Grief, depression virtually eliminated my sleep.
When you go through a traumatic event, you remember every vivid detail. I can tell you how the hospital disinfectant smelled, or about the buzz of the fluorescent lights in the hallway.
My nightmares were not about scary monsters, they’re about reliving the event over and over again, and no different solution.
Lack of sleep destroys your short term memory. And I would end up in the grocery store in brain fog – not sure why I was there or what I needed to get.
And I tried to sleep. I really wanted to sleep… desperately needed it. I would lay on the couch at night, stare at the ceiling.
I’d crawl into my other boys’ rooms and lay on the floor next to them. I’d curl up in my closet because it felt safe. I thought I could sleep there, but it didn’t work. And I couldn’t sleep.
When I’m in trouble, I look to my grandmother for inspiration. As a young German woman in World War 2, she lived alone on a farm in South Africa with her young son, my dad.
There was no one to solve her problems and she would have to put her big-girl boots on and solve them herself.
And sure enough with that inspiration, that’s what I did. Put on my big-girl boots and set about solving this.
I’m a scientist, so I researched over 300 books and thousands and thousands of medical studies and documents. I studied everything from neuroscience to psychology, traditional Chinese medicine or Vedic traditions.
If it had sleep in the context, I studied it. I ended up with an enormous pile of information on sleep, but that didn’t fix it.
My aha moment came when I was at a trade show, ironically selling sleep products I had created. I was surrounded by mattress sales guys, pillow sales guys were all peddling sleep.
And this idea of sleep was great. But mostly what we’re talking about was sleep comfort and it wasn’t fixing my problem.
In my experience, recipes are where the magic happens.
As a little girl, my grandmother taught me how to bake bread: the right ingredients, the right oven, timing and temperature, you bake a perfect loaf of bread.
I had to bake perfect sleep. I had to take this enormous pile of ingredients and turn it into sleep.
I started with timing and chronotype is a fancy way of describing that. You may have heard of it as a body clock or your circadian rhythm. You may consider yourself a morning person or a night-owl; that’s there always is describing chronotype.
I am a morning person. So once I had this sort of timing figured out, I realized that all of our body mechanisms are tied to this body clock, sleep especially.
In general, there’s three different kinds of sleep: deep sleep, light sleep, and REM sleep.
And throughout the night you go through these cycles over and over again where you have all these different kinds of sleep.
But these different types of sleep do like specific ingredients and specific timing. And when you combine those, that’s where the magic happens.
So I created three buckets of sleep. Yes, three buckets. So you’re thinking buckets, what the heck does that have to do with sleep?
Absolutely nothing. I have lots of boys and lots of messes in my house. And so shoes go in buckets and Legos go in buckets and now sleep goes in buckets.
So yes, that’s how I organize the night.
The first bucket of your night is your bedtime bucket.
And as a morning person, this is 9 to 10 for me. It will be a little different, if you’re a night owl.
You can fill this bucket with eating late, binge watching Netflix, staying out late on a Friday night, having drinks. But I think we all know that doesn’t help our sleep.
I, instead, had to find a way to shut my mind off; the spitting that wouldn’t stop, I had to reduce the stress of the day.
So I put meditation and yoga and gratitude in that bucket. I put down my phone and read. Those ingredients settled my mind and allowed my body to work.
I also found the trick to trigger my sleep switch. Yes, there’s actually a sleep switch. You can flip it. It’s magical. Temperature is the key to that. More specifically, a change in temperature.
When you think about our lives today, we wake up at one temperature in our house. It’s about the same temperature in our car. It’s about the same temperature in our office.
It’s also about the same temperature we go back to sleep at night. There is very little environmental change.
But outside where we evolved, that temperature drops as the sun goes down, our bodies are looking for a change in temperature.
For me, this is warming up in a snugly, tight, warm bed. I love a warm bed. For my husband, it’s completely different. He would fall asleep on a slab of ice if he could. So it doesn’t matter what that change is.
But you do want to flip that switch. When you do, you can fall asleep in less than 30 minutes. For me, these days, less than 15, a far cry from the hours and hours of tossing and turning and not falling asleep.
Bedtime bucket checked.
The next bucket of the night is your deep sleep bucket.
And for me, this is from when I fall asleep to the middle of the night or from 10 to 3. Deep sleep has been called the fountain of youth, because when we’re in deep sleep, we heal.
Shortly after falling into deep sleep, your spinal fluid comes up over your brain and washes the toxins away. Your DNA is healed. Your memories are filed.
Yes, they’re filed during deep sleep. You don’t file your memories during the day. They pile up.
So if you can imagine your office desk and all day, as you did stuff, you put files on that desk. If over time, every day, you did not get rid of those files and that enormous pile of memories piles up, you would not be able to find those memories.
That’s what happens when we don’t have deep sleep.
Deep sleep is unfortunately the most elusive kind of sleep. And as we age it declines.
So when you’re 20, it’s pretty easy to get that two hours of sleep, about 20% of that eight hour window. But by the time we’re 80, it’s about seven minutes or less.
This is why every single disease of the elderly is attached to lack of deep sleep. Not one gets by, every single one.
But we’re asleep during deep sleep.
So how was I going to fix a bucket of sleep that I’m not conscious for?
So I turned back to temperature. Our bodies, our circadian rhythm during this time is dropping to its lowest point of the day. Just like I described it dropping to the lowest point outside. So deep sleep likes it cold.
So the question became, how do I figure out how cold, how do I figure out how much?
And this is where my kids will tell you, I went a little mad scientist and I turned our bedroom into a sleep lab. I put my bed up on risers because I needed to put lots of crap underneath it.
And I put sensors in the bed, next to the bed on me, on my husband, all my children. I skipped the dog, but otherwise all of those sensors led to this great equation.
I did contract with labs as far away as Boston and Finland on how to do this simulation and really get this screwed down.
But it turns out our modern day mattresses kind of sabotage us in this equation. Those comfortable foams absorb our heat as we’re sleeping and then reflect it back to us right about the middle of the night. Not awesome.
The other thing that happens is we got great blankets. Everyone’s got fabulous comforters that go on top, but they insulate us from our environment.
So even if we’re following our instructions that we get on the internet that says sleep between 60 and 68, that room temperature isn’t hitting our bodies.
Our bodies are like race cars, they’r engines, they’re putting off heat. And just like you wouldn’t drive your Ferrari without a radiator, you shouldn’t sleep with one during deep sleep either.
So I put cooling underneath my body in that cave. And magic happened – two hours of deep sleep, any age and when I wanted it.
Deep sleep bucket checked.
The last bucket of the night is REM sleep.
And again, like I said before, all these different kinds of sleep are happening, but this is the window for REM.
During this time, your body clock is warming your body up those two degrees. Just like the sun is coming up over the planet, warming it up, you want to warm up too.
And you need to remember that you turn on that sleep switch. This is the time to turn it off. Heat turns it off.
When you do, your body’s ready to wake up because you’ve actually said I’m done sleeping and it’s magical.
This recipe has changed my life.
This is my sleep before my recipe, nine and a half hours in bed, less than five hours of sleep, very little quality sleep. This is what I look like tired. This is an exhausted sleep.
This is nine hours of not being productive, tossing and turning and feeling like I’m not good at sleep.
This is my sleep today. And the first thing you’re going to notice is it’s six hours. And everything you read is saying, you need eight.
But I’m here to tell you it’s about quality, not quantity. You can still get two hours of deep sleep, two hours of REM, you can still feel great and rested in the morning.
If you put the right ingredients in your bucket, if you follow your recipe, if you manage your sleep… you wouldn’t do a diet without a plan, you wouldn’t do an exercise program without a plan…This is your plan for sleep.
This is possible for anyone.
In January of last year, I met Susan. When I met her, she hadn’t slept through the night in 10 years, not since the birth of her second child.
She’s smart, capable, a business woman. She tried to solve this problem. She talked to her doctor, her gynecologists, they test her hormones. They looked at her. No problem.
It’s a problem to wake up in the middle of the night.
So we talked about it and very shortly, we were able to fix her deep sleep bucket. It doesn’t even matter which bucket you fix first.
Within days, she was sleeping through the night. But the magic is not in fixing only one part of the bucket. Because when you are confident about your sleep, you will want to fix the rest.
We all put off things we’re not good at, sleep included. So if you’re not good at it, you’re going to put that off.
Today, Susan goes to bed between 9 and 10, because she’s a morning person. Previous to using the recipe, she would go to sleep after the late late show… wake up, exhausted, tired, hugging a cup of coffee, procrastinating her day, unable to get motivated for that first hour.
Today, that hour is spent being productive and organized and helping her kids get out the door. Susan has found her sleep super powers.
The CDC has declared sleep deprivation, lack of sleep as an epidemic. We are not taking care of our sleep and it’s preventing us from being the people we really can be.
We have got to settle down and give sleep its recipe. When you do, you can be anything you want, and you can find your sleep super powers.