12/16/2012 09:52 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2013

Still Struggling With Insomnia? Consider a Sleep Retreat

Largely as a result of the untenable demands of modern lifestyle, far too many of us continue to struggle with insomnia. Let's face it, those bottomless to-do lists persistently trump our need for rest, recreation and, of course, sleep. Modern lifestyles also make it challenging to eat, exercise and manage stress in healthy ways, all of which further compromises our sleep. Breaking free from these entrenched patterns can be most challenging.

Having developed and provided sleep health services for a number of health resorts, spas and retreat centers over the past two decades, I believe a personal sleep retreat is an excellent though often overlooked option for those with a serious interest in improving their sleep.

A sleep retreat extracts us from the external environment in which our insomnia first developed and continues to flourish, freeing us up to focus more intently on the internal factors sustaining it. It temporarily excuses us from our work, home and community responsibilities and delivers us to a new setting and mindset conducive of healing our disturbed sleep. More specifically, a sleep retreat allows us to step away from the range of cues present in our ordinary, day-to-day lives that are associated with and subtly drive our sleeplessness.

Many health spas, resorts, ashrams and other kinds of retreat centers throughout North America and around the globe offer support for healthy sleep. Some have established formal sleep centers and programs. Others provide sleep education and health services including personal evaluations and interventions. Virtually all provide expert guidance and support for comprehensive lifestyle change. And many offer followup services via telephone or Skype.

Sleep retreats can range from weekend intensives to week-long programs, and from luxurious and pricey to Spartan and affordable for most budgets. In the end, I believe the benefits reaped from the restoration of healthy sleep will be well worth the investment.

Small-group sleep retreats offer a special kind of social support that is not easy for most of us to come by at home. While knowing there are so many others who struggle with insomnia may be reassuring, actually connecting with some of them in a safe and mutually supportive setting can help promote healing.

I have long believed there are critical, though largely overlooked, spiritual dimensions to sleep that must be understood to obtain optimal healing. More specifically, learning to surrender the waking self and let go into sleep is an essential component of healing sleeplessness. Although this may sound like a simple notion, it raises deeply personal spiritual questions about one's sense of self, the meaning of dreaming and the experience of sleep.

In sharp contrast to most hospitals or clinics that treat sleep disorders, resorts and retreat centers typically have explicit or implicit foundations in spiritual principles. While some are founded on specific religious beliefs, most operate in terms of a more secular spirituality. I believe the spiritual dimensions of sleep can be most effectively addressed in such settings.

Spiritual retreats are, in fact, an integral part of many of the world's sacred and religious traditions. There is a shared understanding that reconnection with deeper aspects of oneself calls for a temporary disconnection from the din of ordinary daily life. The recognition that deep sleep resides in these deeper aspects of ourselves is a critical step in healing sleeplessness.

My experience in facilitating sleep retreats over the past two decades has been among the most enjoyable and enriching of my professional life. I have consistently been moved by participants' insights, their commitment to healing, the loving mutual support provided, and, mostly, the transformations that have occurred.

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