My mission is singular: to help people uncover and recover from hidden sleep problems so they can optimize their health and wellbeing.
Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Clancy.
Tara A. Clancy, M.A., is THE ESSENTIAL SLEEP STRATEGIST™. She helps people UNcover and REcover from hidden sleep problems so they can reclaim their energy, focus and calm — naturally. She is passionate about helping people solve hidden sleep problems because that is how Tara transformed her own life!
Tara is also a certified Buteyko breathing specialist affectionately known as O2 TARA, the creator of the O2 TARA GUIDES health series, and the host of the popular 1 THING YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW health and wellness video series.
When she’s not writing and speaking, Tara loves kayaking, rock climbing and getting deliciously healthy sleep!https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/014010d50aa83288d8286a67cc967a65
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My parents were from the country, but they came to New York City and raised a big family! All seemed good at the time, but when I look back at it now, one thing is clear: I was not a healthy kid. I was always the kid with the runny nose, I was always the one with the sore throat, and more times than not, I was the one throwing up! I can still remember the feeling of my father’s warm hand of support on my forehead as I retched into a cold toilet. Gross, I know. But in hindsight, the really terrible part was none of us ever thought to ask WHY I had all these “little” problems. It took me four decades — and an ever-growing list of ailments — to recognize that even though having these “little” problems was my “norm,” it was not normal. Thankfully, I finally did ask WHY…and the rest is history, as they say — and so are the problems!
What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.
I always think of that joke line from the Academy Awards winners — the one about thanking all the “little people” — because really it was the little kids that inspired me. For example, I had a neighbor who had kids my age. I would go to play with them, but I would spend all my time playing with their little brother! I delighted in his delight at, say, watching an ant crawl along on the concrete or figuring out how to teach him to get on and off his tricycle by himself. I was completely immersed when I was helping him…what today we call a “flow” state. I loved the feeling! Then years as a babysitter and ultimately a masters degree in educational psychology gave me what I needed professionally to help children and their families. Really, I love helping people of all ages uncover and recover from hidden sleep problems, but I do get an extra boost from helping “the little people!”
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
You are so right! So many people have helped me along the way. The one that stands out to me most at this moment is my Aunt Mary who lived abroad. I first met her one fall afternoon when I was 13. I was riding high that afternoon because I had just found out I had made the cut for the girls’ basketball team at school. I walked into the kitchen, and there sat Aunt Mary, having a cup of tea. She greeted me with her lovely British accent and told me she wanted to hear all about my accomplishment. And she really did listen as she sipped her tea. Coming from a big family, I’m not sure I ever had someone’s undivided attention for that long before! And I loved the feeling! She inspired me to give that kind of attention to the people in my life.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Well, my passion is to help people uncover and recover from hidden sleep problems so they can reclaim their energy, focus and calm — naturally! It’s how I transformed my life, so of course I want to share it with the world, right? How could I go wrong?? Well, I made the mistake of thinking that the body of research I had pored through would be just as compelling for everyone else! WRONG! Case in point: I was invited to do a talk in Scotland for the UKLA about the huge effects of hidden sleep problems on literacy achievement. I actually used “Pediatric Sleep-disordered Breathing” — a term straight out of the literature — in the title of my talk. On the day of the talk, I had a only small crowd compared to some of the other presenters. I was surprised, and then it hit me: no one knew what I was talking about with that term! So that experience opened my eyes to how much work I had to do to make that expansive body of research compelling to people who were busy living their lives!
Fortunately, there was one real positive from that talk that propelled me. After I wrapped things up, one of the attendees came up to me. She gave me a huge thank you and said I had helped her finally figure out why her granddaughter was struggling at home and at school. And I like I said before, I love helping “the little people,” so that my trip across “The Pond” worthwhile right there!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“He who laughs, lasts.”
When I first heard this quote, well, it made me laugh! I love any kind of clever play on words. More than that, though, this quote resonated with me as a breathing specialist: laughter plays a role in good respiratory health. Laughter makes you move more oxygen and distribute it better throughout your body. Plus, laughter makes you release “feel good” chemicals like endorphins. With all those benefits, you might say laughing is nothing to laugh at.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My mission is singular: to help people uncover and recover from hidden sleep problems so they can optimize their health and wellbeing. So I have two projects in the works for 2021.
One is my podcast! It’s THE COUNTERFEIT SLEEP® PODCAST: THE STORIES. THE SCIENCE. THE SOLUTIONS. The goal is to turn people’s thinking upside down by asking the paradoxical question IS YOUR SLEEP MAKING YOU TIRED?®. We take our listeners beyond the familiar concept of sleep hygiene and into the critical realm of sleep integrity©.
The second project is my book, IS YOUR SLEEP MAKING YOU TIRED?®. Using my story and the insights of today’s most innovative doctors and practitioners, readers first learn what habits and lifestyle choices put them on the dreaded path to COUNTERFEIT SLEEP® and second determine which innovative treatment plan will get them back to healthy, restorative sleep.
I am excited about these two projects! Together, they represent the first large-scale effort to directly educate the general public about the hidden sleep problem epidemic that even most doctors do not know about. So these two projects will help build awareness and offer innovative solutions to help people uncover and recover from hidden sleep problems so they get the healthy, restorative sleep that gives them the energy, focus and calm that optimizes wellbeing.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
First, I love the imagery in the way you’ve described your vision. And before I jump into some specific habits, I’d like to offer a general point: The best thing we can do to get to a state of wellbeing like you’ve described is to know how to uncover and recover from the hidden sleep problems that cause COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®. And when I say hidden, I do mean hidden. Research shows us that 50% of men, 25% of women, and 11% of children get COUNTERFEIT SLEEP® — and the vast majority of them have no idea. If that sounds hard to believe, please believe me when I tell you I was a victim of COUNTERFEIT SLEEP® for four decades and had no clue! But once we uncover these hidden sleep problems and recover from them, we can cultivate that inner state of wellbeing. With that in mind, I’d like to some specific habits for sleep.
First and foremost, respect yourself enough to get sufficient sleep each night. What is the right number of hours of sleep? For most people adults, that number is between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. Getting less is a problem. And believe it our not, needing more is a sign of a problem, too.
Secondly, when you’re getting the right number of hours of sleep, ask yourself “How do I feel?” If you’re getting healthy, restorative sleep, you should have the mental energy to stay focused and productive throughout your day. I was not getting healthy sleep, and my “battery” ran low every day. Without fail, I needed a power nap after lunch!
And this third one is the most important of all: If you’re getting sufficient sleep but still need to rely on compensations like power naps, caffeine or even adrenaline to power yourself up, STOP. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting the common belief that feeling tired is an unavoidable part of our busy modern lives. Instead, be open-minded and ask WHY you feel tired. Ask yourself this question: “Is your sleep making you tired?®” It may feel like a daunting mental drain to consider that you might have a hidden sleep problem — I remember feeling overwhelmed at the prospect myself!
But here’s the good news: For many people, opening your mind to the very real possibility that your sleep is making you tired is the first step to healthy, restorative sleep that gives you the mental energy to feel strong, vibrant and powerful!
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Yes, I do, and I have a funny story about it. Several years ago, I recognized that I needed something to combat the stress of modern life. I decided to take a 6-week class on mindfulness meditation. The instructor was great, and I worked hard outside of class each week to practice the techniques I learned. Believe me, it was work, especially each afternoon as I sat in my office trying to get to “that place.”
The course ended six weeks later, just in time for my week’s vacation in the beautiful Adirondacks in upstate NY. I was out kayaking one morning as the sun rose over the open lake. It was so beautiful, I stopped paddling. My next conscious thought came when I realized my kayak was surrounded by a patch of greenery with the the most delicate white flowers. I couldn’t believe I had drifted to that place without realizing. And then I laughed thinking how being in the natural beauty had helped me get to “that place” with no work at all.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
When I think of our physical well being, my mind goes to one place: our brains. They are the command center for our bodies, right? How well our brains function determines how well every single process in the body is carried out! So taking care of the brain is the core habit to develop for optimal physical wellbeing. Now, what’s the #1 thing we can do to take care of our brains? Get healthy, restorative sleep!
But far too many of us do NOT get healthy, restorative sleep, so that leads us to habit #2: pay attention to how you feel when you wake up. If you’re waking up tired — even though you’re getting 7–8 hours of sleep each night — ask WHY! Because if you’ve nailed down your sleep hygiene and you’re still not waking up refreshed, it’s time to look at the next level: sleep integrity©. You may have a hidden sleep problem that causes COUNTERFEIT SLEEP® and prevents your brain from doing its essential repair and recharge functions.
Habit #3 is tactical: Make a habit of maintaining a healthy vitamin D level. Far too many people are walking around with levels that are too low to allow healthy, restorative sleep. Of course, that begs the question of what is the right level. Some labs use 25 ng/ml as a reference point, but we know that many people need levels between 60 and 80 ng/ml for sleep integrity©.
It’s important to note that Vitamin D supplementation can be tricky. There are different forms of it, and it needs to be taken with Vitamin K in the right ratio in order to be absorbed effectively. So the best bet is to talk to your natural health doctor about supplementation. Get a baseline, monitor your levels and pay attention to how you feel! When I tested, I was at 30. When I hit 50, I experienced dramatic improvement in my sleep integrity©!
And as an added bonus, maintaining your optimal Vitamin D level is a real boon for your immune system functioning — so important now!
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?
I agree healthy eating is critical. The point I’d like to share is one that comes up often with my clients. When it comes to food, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure…and vice versa.
Take broccoli for example. By all accounts, it is a treasured healthy food. But if you’re like me and happen to have a sensitivity to broccoli, it quickly turns to trash for you. That’s because food sensitivities lead to inflammation, and inflammation leads to COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®.
So food is an important part of the puzzle, and I ask my clients to pay careful attention to what their bodies are telling them after eating. Reactions like heartburn, gas, or post-nasal drip are important information. Strive to uncover WHY those things are happening — you will reap the benefits!
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
For optimal emotional wellbeing, the first good habit is to take care of the brain. After all, the brain includes the amygdala, which serves a primary role in our emotional responses. So when we get healthy, restorative sleep during which the brain can complete its repair and recharge functions, we can function as our optimal emotional selves.
But as I’ve said before, far too many of us are unwitting victims of COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®. So it’s great to develop the habit of doing an emotional check in. Are you feeling stressed? Anxious? Irritable? Sad? Let’s say you find yourself worrying about an upcoming meeting with a colleague. Try to step into “fly on the wall” mode and take a neutral look. Ask “How am I doing here emotionally?” The reality is that all those feelings of stress, anxiety and irritability are part of our emotional functioning,
So that brings us to the third habit. If your emotional check in reveals that the emotional distress is coming from inside of you, then it’s time to explore WHY you’re feeling those feelings.
I tell my clients this: Look at your sleep as the smoking gun! Before I uncovered my sleep integrity© problem, the world was filled with annoying people, wink wink! But once I was able to get sleep that allowed my brain to recharge, it was amazing how people got to be so much more fun!
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellbeing? We’d love to hear it.
I do! And it’s like you said earlier…it’s a reflection of how we’re thinking and feeling. And to me, a smile acts like a boomerang: Send that visible energy out…and it will come back to you!
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
I think we can all agree that spirituality means different things to different people, right? So I’ll share what it means to me. I like to think of it as our “self” that transcends our physical bodies. I see it as a light, and light needs energy. So first and foremost, if one’s spirit is “pained”, to me that means the inner light has gone out. So the top habit to develop is the one that will get the energy to power your light. And that is to get healthy restorative sleep!
If you’re not sure about your sleep, develop the habit of sitting still and quiet and see where your thoughts go. Are they sad? Are they angry? Or do you get very tired — or maybe even fall sleep? If you experience the latter, be sure to ask WHY and look into the signs of COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®. (You can take the quiz on my website!)
A third habit to reignite your light is this simple one: Check in one someone you’re concerned about. Tell them you’ve been thinking about them. Ask how they’re doing. You can even share this “check in” idea with them. And definitely tell them what you’ve learned about COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®! I believe sending this kind of positive, helping energy out to others in need acts just like a smile…it brings positive energy right back to you!
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate overall wellbeing?
Well, that mindfulness while kayaking experience I shared earlier sums it up for me! When we find our element — and water is definitely mine — then spending time in that element is the key to cultivating overall wellbeing. I can give you an example. I remember afternoon, after a particularly stressful work day, I trekked down the hill to go out for paddle. I didn’t really have “time to spare” but I knew I needed to make time for myself. I climbed into the kayak and pushed off with the paddle. Instead of paddling, I let the paddle rest on the kayak as I slowly drifted away from shore. I could feel my shoulders relax as I coursed gently across the water — a perfect “ah” moment. I looked back and even though I was just feet from the shore, I felt like I was miles away from the stressors of the workday!
Also, as a breathing specialist, there’s more to being in nature. When we are in nature, we are away from the environments we have created, particularly the air inside our homes and offices that is either heated or cooled. When we are in natural environments, we are going to breathe better. And the better you breathe, the better you sleep. Period.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I love this question! There are so many people today who feel physically zapped, mentally tapped, emotionally drained, or spiritually pained. They accept it as a normal part of modern life and never question that there could be a reason.
So I would love to inspire a movement to ask WHY in order to help us UNcover hidden sleep problems!
So as I’ve said a bunch of times, the key to finding hidden sleep problems is to be open minded and ask WHY you’re dealing with a particular health and wellness problem.
Here’s how I explain it when I speak to a group. It’s my XYZ FORMULA:
If you have problem X…
Don’t just accept it — ask Y!
And make the primary suspect your Zzzzs!
Because when we ask WHY, we dig deeper. That gives us the chance to see that those health and wellness “problems” may not be true problems — they may be symptoms! And when that’s the case — like it was for me — we go from having lots of problems to having ONE problem with lots of symptoms. And then we’re in a much better position to solve it. After all, it’s easier to muster the energy to solve ONE problem! And with that, we have taken the first critical step to getting the healthy, restorative sleep that engenders a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, and we can become strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Ariana Huffington! She put sleep on the map with her excellent book, THE SLEEP REVOLUTION. Now we’re ready to take the next step! We can help people develop an awareness of sleep integrity© using the THE XYZ FORMULA and then help everyone recognize the signs of COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®! So I say, come on, Ariana — let’s join forces to end our global burnout crisis!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am @o2TaraClancy on social media. And I invite everyone to go to www.o2tara.org/quiz/ to take the quiz to see if you — or someone you love — is showing the signs of COUNTERFEIT SLEEP®.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.