Cheryl McColgan, 48, battled fatigue and brain fog for four years. Then she took matters into her own hands and uncovered the cause — and the simple changes that restored her vitality
“Why don’t you take the weekend to relax, and we’ll regroup on Monday,” Cheryl’s boss said. “I was an executive planning a large, expensive event that would take place in Europe, and I was on the phone with my boss trying to work through some challenges with the event, and I started to cry,” she recalls. “I’m typically not a big crier, and never at work, but I had no control over it at that moment. It was so unlike me, but this was the culmination of months of stress and poor sleep.
Barely Getting By
“That was three years ago, and my breakdown was a wake-up call that I was in an unhealthy situation that I needed to change. On Monday, I quit my job. It was just before the holidays, so I promised myself I’d take a couple of weeks to rest and recharge, then take charge of my health in the new year. It was scary to give up gainful employment, but I knew it was what was best for my health.
“I hadn’t been feeling well for several years at that point. I suffered severe insomnia from 2013 to 2014, and I had weaned off the prescription sleep medication my doctor had prescribed by 2017. While I was sleeping better, it still wasn’t the optimal quality of sleep or hours. Of course, this affected my mood.
“I was irritable, and I wasn’t able to focus as well as I used to. I always felt like I was catching up, and I needed to take a nap most afternoons. I’d even gained weight from the lack of sleep. My social life was affected, too, because I was too exhausted to do anything beyond work. After the new year, I started a business, HealNourishGrow.com, a wellness and nutrition website.
“I’d been interested in health and wellness my whole life: I was a yoga instructor for seven years by then, and I have a degree in psychology, so I decided to put it all together in this new business.
“But I was still having trouble focusing. As a writer, a big part of my job is taking notes and doing research, and I realized that I wasn’t remembering the nuances of the interviews I did: I was relying strictly on the notes I’d taken. While I’d end up with the quality of work I was capable of, it was taking about 30 percent to 50 percent longer to complete projects.
“I knew I could be much better than that. I also knew if I was going to run a health and wellness site, I had to walk the walk; I had to get my own health on track.
Energy, at last!
“I’ve always been interested in brain function, and I have some graduate training in neuropsychology. So I decided to turn to my training and adopt changes that I knew could impact brain function.
“I’d been sleeping poorly for some time and knew that the lack of sleep impacted mental clarity, so I started with activities that could help me sleep better. I did research that led me to put together a new bedtime routine of turning off all electronics two hours before bed. I also decided on a firm bedtime of 10 pm, and I started taking 400 mg. of magnesium before turning in because it improves sleep and helps the brain physically recover from daily stressors.
“And it worked! Within two weeks, my sleep quality improved. I wasn’t waking up as much at night and felt more rested in the morning. After two months, I was sleeping through the night like I hadn’t been for some time. During the day, I was more productive and had an easier time focusing. And my husband noticed that I was happier and less stressed.
“I had about a year to enjoy this before I started experiencing night sweats and new bouts of sleeplessness. I’d had a hysterectomy some years ago and had been warned perimenopause might come at about this age, so I knew that’s what I was experiencing.
“I started researching more strategies for restful sleep. I heard an interview with an expert talking about glasses that filter the blue light emitted by TVs, computers, phones, and tablets. That inspired me to do my own research on blue light–blocking glasses and their effect on sleep. I learned that the light from these sources can impact circadian rhythms, making it hard to fall and stay asleep, but the glasses can help reduce the potential impact of the blue light.
“So, I bought a pair and started putting them on about four hours before bed. After about a week, I woke up less at night. The glasses were the final piece of the puzzle. Once I added those, I was no longer simply surviving, I was at my best!
“Now, nearly three years after starting my new routine, I’m enjoying running my own business. Quitting that high-stress job to concentrate on my health has led me to help others improve theirs. I can focus all day. I’m in control — and I’m no longer crying at the office!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.