Sleep School For Insomniacs

Mimi ON May 16, 2012 AT 10:34 am

by Nicole Gehl

As an existential psychotherapist, I’m visited by clients struggling with a wide variety of life-challenges. Difficulty sleeping seems as common a complaint as the London weather, but with potentially dire psychological and physical implications. In addition to the typical symptoms of low mood, agitation and impaired levels of concentration, research studies show that a lack of sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of developing certain diseases including obesity, hyptertension and diabetes. Promised cures for insomnia are aplenty, and range from consumption of prescription drugs and behavioural rituals, to hypnotic soundtracks and self-medication. Yet, for 30% of Britain’s adult population, the battle against sleepless nights rages on.


Sleep School - LaSource resort hotel

When I learned that celebrated sleep physiologist, Dr. Guy Meadows was hosting a week-long retreat for insomniacs on the island of Grenada, at the all-inclusive LaSource resort hotel, I was there. Dr. Meadows utilises a therapeutic approach based around the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) which is parallel to my own manner of working with a wide range of conditions. ACT (pronounced ‘act’, rather than A.C.T.) is a variation of cognitive behavioural therapy, which in addition to traditionally addressing problematic thoughts and behaviours, emphasises the development of acceptance and mindfulness skills.

At ACT’s core is an existential foundation, that is to say the therapy is an inquiry into one’s primary values. Once identified, these values are then highlighted as incentive for behavioural change while at the same time, efforts are made towards tolerance of life’s challenges as a process to accept and work through. Dr. Meadows highlights that this acceptance is not a fatalistic resignation as some might assume, but rather a means of expansion, allowing permission to give up the struggle with our experiences, so that we can return attention to acting on our truest values.

The use of mindfulness skills to cope with painful thoughts and feelings is something recently adopted by western psychology, however mindfulness as a process has been present in various religious and spiritual traditions across thousands of years. In the context of working with psychological pain, it leans towards awareness rather than analysis, open-mindedness rather than preconception, and flexibility of attention rather than rigid focus.


Sleep School - LaSource resort hotel

The luxurious LaSource resort was an idyllic setting for the Caribbean’s first ever Sleep School. Perched on the southern tip of Grenada’s Pink Gin Beach, the property boasts an abundance of amenities and services. All 100 guest rooms have magnificent ocean views, and the Oasis Spa offers guests an assortment of daily complimentary spa treatments. The more active traveler can choose from a selection of watersports, tennis, volleyball or even take up boxing with Andy the resident Grenadian National boxing champion. Those who come to the island for a proper wind-down can do so with classes in tai chi and yoga, or sunset meditation on the white powdery beach. There is also satisfaction to be had for those wishing for something in-between: a fitness centre, 9 hole golf course, billiard tables, a choice of three pools and a whirlpool. Wifi can be found in the resorts public areas and the business centre, equipped with a 60-inch television, protects the techie from withdrawal symptoms of the modern world.

The sleep school itself is structured to take place over the course of a week. Rather than intensive seminars, learning is paced evenly across two hours a day allowing attendees to reflect and test out their new sleep strategies. The final two days, the doctor has drop-in clinic hours for those with further questions or needing a bit more one on one support in coping with their sleep difficulties.

Most of the patients who come to see Dr. Meadows do so only after years of suffering with insomnia, and attempting other treatments focused on symptom relief. His approach challenges the conventional perception of sleep as ‘a problem to be fixed,’ and instead directs attention to values guided action, ‘values-congruent living’. In the process, symptoms are naturally reduced, but the focus of the work is primarily to shift one’s relationship with sleep. Although it is impossible to get him to boast, Dr. Meadows in his efforts to assist insomniacs learn to sleep as natural sleepers do – without medication – has an 83% success rate. He emphasises that the right amount of sleep varies from person to person and across the lifespan. Dr. Meadows seeks to liberate insomniacs from rigid sleep routines full of rules to observe, that people who sleep well do not. He gives input as to what is typically effective sleep hygiene, but emphasies the need to hold such ideas only with an open palm.

Across the week in Grenada I had the opportunity to get to know Dr. Meadows, and observe his interactions with his family and clients beyond the classroom. This is someone who clearly embodies the principles of mindfulness, acceptance and committed action, and his enthusiasm for the process is contagious. It is only now, having returned to back to my own work at the Priory in London, I realize how much I’ve taken with me. The more I practice ACT in my own life, the better I am able to facilitate this work with clients.

See the website to attend the next intake of sleep school at LaSource which takes place June 3-6 2012

Read more about Dr. Meadows and Dr. Nicole Gehl at

Kuoni (01306 747008 or offers 7 nights on all inclusive basis at La Source, Grenada in a luxury room, including flights with British Airways from Gatwick with transfers in resort from £1689 per person, based on two sharing

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