One of the bugbears of our life in London right now seems to be that no one sleeps well. We're all too busy, too stressed, or too worried.
And yet, it is one of the things required for a healthy, functional life.
Of course, we know that. We all know we are grumpy when we don’t get enough sleep, and out partners tell us, too. But what do you do? Drink gallons of coffee or take 'other stuff' to wake up and work and then alcohol or 'other stuff' to come back down. Some people have been doing this for years, with the result of not being able to sleep at all, and the expectation of a sleepless night (AGAIN!) sends them into a panic.
In desperation they try yoga or meditation once or twice and find, of course, that this sort of thing just doesn’t suit them. And they soon stop trying to learn these techniques. They are such super-charged people that nothing will help. So medication is the next stop, and they get caught in another vicious cycle, as medication only helps for a little while and often disrupts sleep even further if you don’t up the dose. That you are sleepy in the morning, or irate, or both, isn’t said on the packet. And after all, the whole USA seems to be quite happy on these new slumber/waker pills, and where they go we follow, don’t we? Bestselling books mention the taking of uppers/downers as if that was normal, as if a medicated person is a normal person. (Aldous Huxley comes to my mind; are we already at the Soma-taking stage of history? Are we living in his Brave New World and don’t even know it? I can’t be the only one who finds all this concerning.)
As you can tell, I was very unhappy with this acceptance of general un-wellness around me, so I was very relieved when suddenly, out of nowhere, a counter-model appeared. The Sleep Retreat, a small sanctuary in deepest Hampshire, promises healthy sleep to people willing to engage with their programme. This is the first fully integrated sleep restoring programme I have come across, with a multi-disciplinary approach incorporating cognitive behavioural therapy, nutrition, relaxation, and sleep hygiene strategies. It seemed so well thought out that it was definitely worth exploring.
But as it is quite an expensive five-day programme with prep and follow up, I decided to send them a young friend of mine to test the promise. This young woman in her late 20s has had sleep problems for many years. She is a highly rational, critical academic, now working in business, so I knew she would ask the right questions. I was very interested — if it worked for her, there was hope for the rest of us.
The director of the sleep clinic, Jonathan Grant, was up for the challenge, so Kay went to Hampshire.
Her report was revealing and reassuring.
She appreciated the thorough preparation by two psychologists before the visit, with many forms, as well as a sleep diary. She was reassured by the friendly greeting by Jonathan and Jess when arriving in Hampshire, and by the small group of people with the same dilemma. They hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for years. She felt relief at being amongst people who really knew what it meant, and how awful it feels.
They all felt very well looked after during their stay. The house is in a gorgeous setting, and all of the rooms are lovingly put together, with careful selection of mattresses and pillows. Delicious food, a schedule with lots of information; the tone was set for great change to come. This is no programme for slackers, as the days were packed. From an 8am breakfast until supper at 7pm, there was gym, relaxation, sleep hygiene sessions, group discussion, and individual sessions establishing exactly what each person needed.
Kay wasn’t thrilled with caffeine and sugar detox being part of this plan — she got a fierce headache — and felt she should have been told. But perhaps her clever hosts realised that sort of deprivation would put off some people, when it is one of the things that might help them most.
This is a cosy place, without much room for ambling around, so you need to be willing to interact to get the most benefit. There are many things to enjoy in the week, and maybe make part of your new life, like massage, sauna, gym, art classes, golf, tennis and guided country walks.
And the result? Kay found that the course had put her mind to rest about sleeplessness (could it be said any better?). She felt calmer about sleep, as now has techniques to use. She is getting solid sleep, and she doesn't have to take out the 'big guns', as she says.
I’ll follow her progress with great interest, because it will make such a difference to her life, professional and otherwise. She will have to invest some time and thought in the maintenance of this new way of being, and The Sleep Retreat helps in this with follow-up appointments.
I think they have found the answer to a very widespread modern disease, our inability to rest, sleep, and recuperate. With a bit of effort and support, such as through this programme, we can live fuller and healthier lives.
Jonathan Grant MD