Health and Wellbeing
An Interview with Sleep Expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into becoming a Sleep Expert?
I never set out to become a Sleep Expert. It seemed to happen somewhat organically. I studied sleep for my degree and doctorate and then left the academic world after a series of post-doctoral posts. It was while working in a health screening clinic in London’s Square Mile that I discovered that I had a knack for solving people’s sleep problems. Maybe I was especially empathetic as I had my own sleep issues which had been going on for decades which, thankfully, I have solved. So I made a name for myself in the corporate world but it was when I was headhunted by the Capio Nightingale Clinic psychiatric clinic in London, where I worked for over a decade, that my reputation as a sleep expert really took off. It was here that I realised that if I could help people with severe mental health problems to sleep, I had developed a methodology worth sharing. I wrote my first book Tired but Wired while working at the clinic, and ended up on Breakfast TV on ITV and it all took off from there.
What are the top three tips to give someone for getting a good night’s sleep?
Based on my unique sleep methodology and what I call my 5 Non-Negotiables:
1. Eat breakfast within an hour of rising to optimise serotonin and melatonin levels later in the day.
2. Minimise caffeine - Don’t use caffeine as a substitute for food, avoid caffeine after 3pm and don’t have more than 2 caffeinated drinks a day.
3. Cultivate a healthier relationship with technology (electronic devices) throughout the day and especially in the hours before bedtime. Don’t have your phone in your bedroom at night if you can avoid it.
What are some common sleep problems people face?
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Non-restorative sleep
- Nightmares, night terrors, restlessness
Do you feel like screen use is impacting the way we sleep?
Absolutely without a doubt. It was back in the 90’s when email, world wide web, mobile phones landed on the scene that sleep (and stress) problems started to increase.
How does stress impact sleep?
Stress impacts the nervous system. It activates the sympathetic nervous system -fight or flight - and dampens down the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest and sleep. When we are stressed we find it hard to let go of the day - we take our problems to bed with us. Our sleep is then fitful and less restorative.
If someone is having trouble sleeping tonight, what's one thing they can do right now for immediate improvement?
Place one hand over the heart, and one on the belly. Focus on breathing in and out - saying to yourself “iiiiiiiiiiiiin and oooooooout” to feel the full breath cycle. If you can, focus on prolonging the exhalations trying to make them longer and more belly-based. While doing this, tell yourself
I’m just going to rest’. Avoid trying to sleep as this just creates more anxiety.
In what ways do you think Oak Tree Mobility products support great sleep?
It is absolutely vital that as we get older, we can access good quality rest. Doing so will help to optimise physical, emotional and mental health. It is important for longevity. However, for many people, ageing can bring health and physical challenges which compromise sleep. The Oak Tree Mobility products are geared to enable ease and comfort and to open up choice and possibilities - whether through allowing someone to sink safely and easily into a nourishing, sleep-inducing bath or minimise pain and optimise rest at night and during the day.
What has been your biggest takeaway from your journey as a Sleep Expert?
Great question! That sleep isn’t just about what happens when you place your head on the pillow. It’s about the choices you make from the time you get up until the time you get into bed - how you move, eat and drink, breathe, the quality of your thoughts and relationships, the number of times you hug someone or feel grateful. All of these choices impact your nervous system enabling you to either sleep restoratively or struggle to rest. Sleeping well is about living well.