Sleep is within reach. You just need this woman.

Sleep is big business.

But how big? According to Inc. magazine’s August article, the sleep health industry estimated to be worth 30–40 billion dollars.

From sound apps and temperature controls, to sleep aids and consultants, we are finally taking shut-eye seriously.

This is in part because we are cottoning on to the fact that everything from productivity to mental health are majorly impacted by a good night’s sleep.

There are also more discussions taking place in the mainstream, from the overwhelming success of neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep to the proliferation of sleep professionals working one-on-one with clients to personalise the insomnia “cure”.

We like to think of our homes as havens, but when it’s two in the morning and you’re still counting sheep, they become more like well-decorated prison cells.

So with that in mind, this week we interviewed sleep specialist Dr Katharina Lederle about the fascinating business she’s in — and what we could be doing better at home.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got into the sleep business and what you’re up to now?

My PHD is in sleep and chronobiology, looking at things like circadian rhythms. I started my career with light therapy and then started working with shift workers. This meant travelling around the world to work on sleep issues for people working in situations where sleep disturbance and issues with performance can pose a real risk to life. For example, pilots people working in mines, oil and gas operatives — essentially jobs where staying awake and alert is pretty crucial. I then decided to go it alone and set up Somnia to work directly with individuals to help them sleep better, offering something a bit more personalised. I really enjoy the direct impact I have on my clients. The process involves really getting to know them, listening to what’s going on for that person and then finding ways to help them with their sleep issues. I enjoy knowing that I’ve done my best to give them the right advice for their situation and as a vocation I derive a real sense of purpose from it.

What sort of sleep issues do you encounter with clients?

A lot of people with insomnia focus on “How do I get this fixed? The focus on that word “fixed” adds to the pressure they put on getting to sleep. So a lot of what I do is try to get them out of their heads. Insomnia impacts their lives in a really all-encompassing way. They stop seeing their friends and some start to restrict their lives to the house. I even have people who won’t go on holiday because of jetlag and not being able to sleep in a hotel room, away from home. Or needing to book two rooms as a couple to make sure they can just sleep. There’s a desperation of “I want to sleep, I want to be well the next day.’’ So I try to help people by shifting their attention into their wider lives and what actually brings them joy.

We heard more women suffer from insomnia than men. Can you expand on that?

That’s correct. The statistics show that it’s a 2:1 ratio of women to men who experience insomnia. This is partly biological (periods, pregnancy, hormones) and partly the fact that more women suffer from depression. There’s also the concept of the “Second Shift”, domestic work that women do after work to sort out their homes, on top of their day jobs. Having lots to do at home can often be a big factor that weighs on their minds and has an impact on sleep. By the time they go to bed, it may be the first moment they’ve had to themselves all day- away from work and home chores — so there’s no time to process the day and decompress for sleep.

What can you recommend as a fix when you’re in bed but unable to sleep?

Often it’s about a busy mind getting in the way so my approach is more of a mindful one, using Acceptance Commitment Therapy as an open and meditative approach to it. This means getting to a mental place where you can allow yourself to just lie there in bed and just let your body be awake if it insists. As soon as you stop fighting you become calmer.

What elements in the home do we need to focus on to make it a more restful place?

Outside noise can really disrupt sleep so ideally put your bedroom in the quietest part of the flat.

Light. Even before going to bed start dimming the lights you have on. You don’t need to be as extreme as just living by candlelight but do dim to warmer colours and be conscious about removing blue lights and screens from rest areas.

Also think about what you look at and read before bed? It’s not just light from devices like phones that can stimulate you late at night, but stressors like an email late at night that upsets or excites. You go to bed still processing what you just read and the effect that has on heart rate variability keeps you awake.

You also just need to slow down at home. Allow your body and mind to calm down and change gears. Slow winding down is important so I recommend not exercising too close to bedtime.

Finally, eating earlier in the evening is better for sleep and health.

Do you set any house rules for clients?

I’m careful about setting rules and giving instructions because people are different and also how do you think that makes you feel when you break the rules? You feel tense.

So I speak about healthy sleep habits and not hard rules. For example, in the hour before bed, put your phone or tablet away.

It’s also hard to tell people when they need to go to bed. Our body clock sets the time we want to sleep. Listen to your body to sense out your preferred bedtime (sadly I can’t do that for you). The same goes for what you have in the bedroom — which mattress, which pillows. I invite clients to be more conscious about what feels right for them and take some ownership on that.

Can you share one exercise you might use with your clients to break an insomnia pattern?

Meditation in the morning or evening. I’d be careful not to do this in bed as mindfulness should not be practiced with an expectation of falling asleep immediately. It’s like waiting for Santa to come — the anticipation creates tension in the body that stops you from dozing off. 10 minutes of a breathing exercise before heading to bed is ideal.

Can you recommend any digital resources (like podcasts or audio files or apps) that we could download at home to help drift off?

I have clients who are very specific about the apps they use based on preferences about the voices. Some recommendations are CalmHeadspace and InsightTimer — a free tool where different teachers upload meditations and different talks. What I like is that you can pick a voice or music that you like, and play around with it. Hiring a mindfulness teacher could be an option. Many of us have PTs we check in with, why not do the same with a teacher to share what you’re doing and to keep on track with your mediation? I have a video call once a month with a teacher in Athens to keep on top of my practice and continue to build on it.

You can get in touch with Dr Lederle by heading to
And find her o
n LinkedIn.

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