Can A Health Retreat Help Your Sleep?

As a specialist sleep physician, over years of managing people with sleep problems, I feel there are four main components to healthy sleep:
08/08/2016 10:04 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2017

Healthy sleep: What role can health retreats play?

Health retreats are a good place to learn new skills for maintaining health and put new healthy habits in place, and therefore an ideal place to work on sleep. As a sleep physician, I'm expert in diagnosing and managing sleep disorders. Health retreats have expertise in wellness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and habits. These complementary areas of expertise, mean that working together we can help people achieve healthy sleep.

Over the last 5 years, working with health retreats has taught me a lot about integrating health and wellness in to the management of sleep problems. I've been able to focus on promoting healthy sleep in addition to managing sleep disorders. I've also realised the importance of being a strong advocate for healthy sleep in modern society, which has directed my research, teaching and messages about sleep.

What expertise do health retreats have in sleep?

As a specialist sleep physician, over years of managing people with sleep problems, I feel there are four main components to healthy sleep:

  1. Wellness - maintaining optimal well-being
  2. General health - maintaining good physical and mental health
  3. Thinking and behaving appropriately around sleep
  4. Sleep disorders - recognising and managing sleep disorders when present

Arguably, my expertise is with the last 2 points. Retraining people in how they think and behave around sleep, as well as diagnosing and managing sleep disorders. Health retreats have expertise in the first 2 points, helping people maintain optimal wellbeing and good physical and mental health.

So whilst health retreats may not have specific expertise in the diagnosis and management of sleep disorders, the foundations of healthy sleep are in good physical and mental health, including physical fitness, stress management and nutrition. There are all areas where health retreats have considerable experience and expertise.

The Sleep Wellness Quiz measures your performance in each of the 4 components of healthy sleep and will help you prioritise your efforts.

Healthy sleep is much more than just treating sleep disorders

A number of definitions of healthy sleep have been used. Too commonly it is seen as getting adequate amounts of sleep, the opposite of sleep deficiency. However, a broader definition could include healthy sleep as:

"A pattern of sleep and wakefulness that promotes physical and mental well-being."

This definition expresses healthy sleep as something positive to work towards and something that could be measured in people with and without sleep disorders.

In healthcare, too often the focus is on managing disorders when they arise, or cause ill health. As a specialist sleep physician I can certainly identify with this. The field of sleep medicine is largely focussed on diagnosing and managing sleep disorders. My training throughout medical school, then post-graduate and fellowship training was very focussed on managing disorders and treating individual episodes when people were unwell enough to need hospital care. My early years as a specialist, working in hospitals continued this focus, treating ill health.

The focus is beginning to shift, with a recent commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine discussing the importance of looking at what people do at home in their day to day lives, and using this to better understand factors contributing to their health and opportunities for improving health. The shift in focus from managing sleep disorders to optimising healthy sleep reinforces the need for the healthcare industry to think outside the box and move away from the traditional model of just managing problems when they arise.

Health retreats give an you an opportunity to try new things

In taking time out from your day-to-day life to go to a health retreat you are stepping out of your usual routine. This gives you the opportunity to introduce new habits, try new sleep routines and put them in to place without other distractions. There are also opportunities to be exposed to new techniques that you may not have been able to get to in your busy life such as yoga or meditation.

So, if you're having trouble sleeping, and need some time out, maybe a health retreat is what you need.

This post originally appeared in a modified form in the online sleep resource, SleepHub. You can follow David Cunnington on Facebook and Twitter.