Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan
We give ourselves more of a chance to live our lives with purpose, meaning, passion and creativity when we sleep well.
To sleep well is to live well. Often sleep problems are symptomatic of other problems like work-related stress, anxiety and depression. From the moment we wake to the moment our head hits the pillow, the choices we make affect the way we sleep. It is for this reason that superficial sleep hygiene methods and props fail to solve sleeplessness.
Instead, the solution can be found through exploring the pattern of our days and exploring our relationship with ourselves. In conversation with Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep energy expert and neurophysiologist, we discuss the concept of clean sleep and the practices that serve to restore equilibrium in both body and mind.
Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan
When we get this clean sleep it heals the body mentally, physically and emotionally. We feel well, we feel vital and our minds feel sharp.
Clean sleep is characterised by an optimal balance within our ninety minute sleep cycles. All stages of sleep are important and it is the balance of time spent in each that is essential to feeling fully rested.
At each stage of sleep, our bodies are engaged in physical and mental restorative process including cell repair and hormone regulation.
By getting the right amount of deep, dreamless delta sleep and REM sleep, by the time we wake up our thoughts are ordered and our bodies rested. Dr. Nerina calls this Sattvic sleep.
Sattvic sleep is based on the principles of wholeness, purity and equilibrium. Rooted in the concept of sattva (सत्त्व), developed by the Sāmkhya school of Hindu philosophy, this kind of sleep has the potential to restore, heal and realign the systems of our bodies. By cultivating balance in our sleep, we will start to see positive changes in our waking life.
Living in an age defined by what Robert Colville calls ‘the great acceleration’, we are moving at double speed. Quickened by the pace of urban living, we prioritise our waking hours, cut down on sleep, and set less time aside to rest our bodies and minds.
In contrast to the concept of clean sleep, the symptoms of disturbed or ‘muddy sleep’, commonly include waking in the early hours, bouts of insomnia or nightmares. Dr Nerina states that in these cases, our sleeping hours become a time to ruminate in unresolved problems of the day. This is why superficial sleep hygiene methods and props fail to solve sleeplessness.
Our external choices and attitudes towards ourselves are often expressed through discordant sleeping patterns. Whether positive or negative, what we choose to hold onto and let go of during the day often comes to light at night.
To prevent the day’s anxieties from breaking our sleeping patterns, we need to learn to be more mindful of the choices we make during the day. The choices we make during the day, can effect the way we feel and carry with us into the night.
By recognising our emotions, no matter how uncomfortable, we can start to build a relationship of trust with ourselves and start making sleep a safe space.
Sleep Measurement Apps
In a culture driven by technological advancement, our latest obsession has manifest in the measuring of our sleep using apps. In many cases, Dr. Nerina’s clients’ sleep problems are rooted in their relationship with control and perfectionism. Aside from their clear inaccuracies, to a sensitive sleeper focussing on counting hours can be unproductive and often reinforce nervous behaviours. It is important to understand that whilst a certain amount of sleep is necessary, it is the quality of the sleep we should focus on. This is the fundamental principle of clean sleep.
DR. NERINA RAMLAKHAN
All the choices we make during the day, will prepare you for how you are going to sleep.
Discussing the recent popularity of the ‘clean’ movements Dr Nerina explains ‘I think one of the problems is that there is so much noise now- the noise of choice. That’s why the clean eating movement came along because we are so confused about what we should be doing. With sleep we have become so confused with something that should be so innate, so natural.’ In order to wake filled with energy, we must learn to control our sleeping hours.
Achieving Sattvic Sleep
Engineering Sattvic sleep involves building understanding of the factors that affect our sleeping patterns and learning how to ‘clean up’ our habits. Following the ‘outward-in’ method we can start to predetermine the quality of our sleep by first focussing on the external choices we make.
In what she calls her Non-Negotiables, she draws the blueprint for achieving clean sleep using five practical tenets. These five points outline the absolute basics of clean sleep, including staying hydrated, sleeping before midnight and taking a step back from backlit screens before bed. Outlined in the guide below, simple actions like these can have profound effect on the purity of our sleep.
NN#1: Eat breakfast every day within 30–45 minutes of rising.
Eating a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates in the morning helps to regulate blood sugars and prevents the body from running off adrenaline or other stress hormones. From a psychological perspective, hunger puts incredible strain on us. Therefore eating first thing in the morning helps to boost energy and put you in the right frame of mind for the day ahead. If you find yourself short on time, try grazing on a handful of almonds and dates on your commute.
NN#2: Drink 2 litres (3½ pints) of water (preferably alkalised) every day.
Dehydration is a common side-effect of modern living. When our bodies experience dehydration, they revert into survival mode. This disturbs the regulatory systems in the brain that control sleep. Aim to increase your water and make it a priority. Drinking more herbal teas and infusions, particularly in the colder months, can also replenish your body’s water levels. In her book ‘Fast Asleep, Wide Awake’ Dr. Nerina suggests alkalising the water with a ‘squeeze of lemon and a tiny pinch of sea salt’ to help neutralise acid in the bloodstream and increase the metabolism.
NN#3: Reduce your caffeine intake or abolish completely.
Although most of us rely on caffeine for the initial jolt of energy in the morning, it is notoriously harmful to our sleeping patterns. Caffeine stays in our blood for a long time, preventing us from accessing deep, clean sleep thus keeping us awake for longer. It also affects the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin and prevents the breakdown of adrenalin. These two biological shifts switch the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, making restful sleep difficult. If cutting caffiene out isn’t possible, try to avoid any caffeinated drinks after 3pm.
NN#4: Start an electronic sundown 1 hour before getting into bed.
This is probably the most difficult non-negotiable to follow, particularly if you use your phone as an alarm clock or like to watch television before bed. The illumination of a backlit screen confuses our sleep-regulating hormones, increasing dopamine levels and waking us up. Having the wealth of information, unanswered emails and social media close to hand when we are trying to slow our brains and bodies down has the opposite effect both psychologically and biologically. We recommend cutting down on screen-time and spending the last hour of the day reading or journaling. If the phone on your bedside table proves too tempting, try investing in an alarm clock.
NN#5: Aim to get at least four pre-midnight sleeps per week.
In her book, Dr. Nerina explains that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the pre-midnight hours are ‘the phase when levels of stress hormones start to drop off and we get a substantial hit of deep sleep’. Going to sleep before midnight helps to realign our bodies with their natural rhythms and sets us up for efficient sleep. Try to start winding down at around 10pm by reading, meditating or practicing a short relaxing yoga routine. Acts that bring your concentration inwards will help the body to notice feelings of relaxation and lethargy.
Sleep energy expert for Silentnight, Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan’s work is dedicated to helping people find energy, balance and equilibrium in the fast-pace of modern life. She is also the author of ‘Tired But Wired: How to Overcome Your Sleep Problems: The Essential Toolkit’ and ‘Fast Asleep, Wide Awake: Discover the Secrets of Restorative Sleep and Vibrant Energy”. By raising awareness of the physiological aspects of sleep, she works with clients to adjust their thought patterns and behaviours to ultimately achieve a healthier and better sleep.