Hit reset on your sleep with The Good Sleep Retreat

Recently, I was bestowed a great gift, and each evening my partner grows more covetous as its use becomes routine. I speak with friends, and they too desire to know how they might enhance their morning with such an advantage. What is this gift, you ask? Something that should be so simple, yet for many remains just out of reach. 

A good night’s sleep.

It hasn’t always been this way. The only routine aspect of my day-to-day across my many years as a makeup artist has been the lack of it, with early starts after late evenings, regularly waking before dawn and spending my days in controlled artificially-lit environments. And yet, a three-day trip to Ockenden Manor & Spa in the rolling South Downs to attend The Good Sleep Retreat was the reset button I needed for sublime restfulness.

Ockenden Manor & Spa, The Manor House

After an early start and a long drive, ironically feeling very under-rested, I arrived in the quiet village of Cuckfield near Haywards Heath. We are welcomed to Ockenden’s Burrell suite, a regal room in the perfectly presented Elizabethan manor house, full of period character and laid out for us in a studious form with a conference table and notepads for our thoughts.

As the newest addition to Ockenden’s repertoire of healing retreats, our dreamy journey has been crafted in collaboration with Clinical Psychologist Dr Maya Schaedel of the Good Sleep Clinic. With 20 years of experience in the field of sleep in association with mental health, I was excited to immerse myself in what she proudly shared to be the first retreat that incorporates everything she wants to include in her client treatment.

Ockenden Manor & Spa, The Spa Complex

Our first session introduces Maja and her work, and she takes us through what might be best described as ‘Sleep 101’. Firstly, we look at why we sleep and what can go wrong (which as it turns out, is a hell of a lot), from psychological disorders like insomnia, physiological disorders such as sleep apnoea and parasomnias like sleep-walking or sleep paralysis. Moreover, poor sleep can have huge implications, with links to and impact upon just about every illness imaginable, from Alzheimer’s to diabetes and everything in between.

With this perspective, I feel quite lucky with my own experience of unexplained waking throughout the night and the odd bit of, albeit frustrating, delayed sleep onset. Feeling blessedly meagre in comparison, we look too at how we might address these issues. We cover an introduction to contemplative techniques, including my favourite, tactile relaxation, whereby you focus on the sensation of each object around you to interrupt negative thought patterns. We round up the session with a guided meditation, concentrating on worrisome thoughts floating away downstream as leaves on a serene river.

Ockenden Manor & Spa, Dining

Later, we take lunch overlooking Cuckfield Park in the restaurant, a calming space with a fine dining menu led by former Michelin-star chef Stephen Crane. Expect beautifully presented plates, like their pickled and home-smoked Sussex beetroot served with tangy chicory, apple, rich hazelnut and whipped feta, or the local Grange Farm pheasant breast – honey roasted and presented on butter-baked mashed potato – alongside Sussex greens with a piquant caramelised apple sauce.

Blessed by the weather, we enjoy a postprandial walk through the local countryside in the crisp winter air. Our guide, Ockenden’s personal trainer, shows us a brisk stroll across the downs and through quiet local woodland and over babbling streams, all whilst sharing her fascinating insights into holistic wellness. It’s a wonderful precursor to our group exercise class the next morning, which focuses on directed movement whilst encouraging us to tune in to our body’s needs.

Ockenden Manor & Spa, Junior Spa Suite

My one-to-one session with Dr Maja that afternoon was as helpful as it was eye-opening. It included an in-depth conversation delving into my sleep quality and habits, my health and life events, from which I received personal plans for adjustment and further treatment options. For that experience alone, it would have made my trip worthwhile.

That evening, a busy day of movement and introspection is rounded off with a cleansing yoga session. Meg, Ockenden’s resident yoga teacher, gently guides us through a smooth Vinyasa flow, ending with a restful body scan reminiscent of the Nidra technique.

Already feeling heartily replete with information, we are joined at dinner by Dr Maja, where we can digest the day’s noteworthy conversations and techniques in a more informal setting. 

Ockenden Manor & Spa, Yoga Studio

I was astounded to find that she is one of around ten registered sleep Clinical Psychologists in the UK, meaning that my late-night reading on the blue-lit screen of my phone of restorative techniques by ‘sleep specialists’ may have done more harm than good. “We often think about sleep as this problem to solve. How do we get the sleep we want? But it doesn’t necessarily have to be something on the agenda of our day as this thing to protect.” 

I was relieved to know that Dr Maja’s recommendations were prescriptive but not wholly prohibitive, her main message being that we should take the pressure off ourselves to get the perfect sleep. “80% of the clients I see with insomnia have cut so many things out of their lives. Alcohol, caffeine, screen time… they are so conscientious and that itself can become an issue, as you inadvertently put all this pressure on to sleep.” 

Ockenden Manor & Spa, The Spa Complex

So what are the take-homes? Watching TV in bed? Well if it helps you wind down with some passive viewing, well that’s much better than being on your phone, working late, or dozing off on the sofa and having to relocate. A glass of wine with dinner? Not the enemy I find, gratefully, as I peruse the exceptional list at dinner and order a glass of the excitingly local Gusbourne 2019 Sparkling Rośe.

The next day over breakfast I compared notes upon my sleeping hours with my retreat cohort, all agreeing that we slept uncannily well.

Enjoying the irony of the situation, Dr Maja shares, “The funny thing is, a lot of people might say they sleep worse away from home, and yet we host this retreat in a hotel!”. Admittedly, our location is pretty special. My home-from-home is one of Ockenden’s junior spa suites, situated a moment’s walk from the spa, yet serenely quiet, with access to a semi-private terrace garden. Spacious and tranquil, the open-plan room offers an inviting king-size Vispring bed and a free-standing Lusso tub, with dramatic views of the sprawling countryside and also to the sky above via a flawlessly placed skylight.

Ockenden Manor & Spa, Junior Spa Suite

Our second day gently totters by, with an exercise class and a divinely settling Iso Flotation pod session. A guided breathwork session with Dr Maja marks our precious last moments with our sleep guru, who instils active techniques to control rushing thoughts and calm the nervous system. Later, at dinner, my cohort and I discuss our favourite techniques from our visit as we round up our stay.

Whilst the schedule keeps us active, which Dr Maja believes to be a key element for good sleep, each day has plenty of free moments, with full access to all the spa facilities throughout our stay and until 2 pm on the day of checkout. There are many options to fill our time and ample spaces to unwind away from our rooms, with an indoor/outdoor swim-through pool, two hot tubs, a sauna, a steam room, ice therapy and multiple relaxation rooms.

As I leave, garnered with information and bolstered by two very solid nights of sleep, I wonder just how I got by without a retreat like this sooner. 

Future retreat dates include: 4-6th March; 23-25th October; and 27-29th November 2024.
Naomi Lake

Lake is a Makeup Artist, Hair Stylist, Model and Creative Director. As the Beauty & Wellness Editor, she comes to the table with over a decade of knowledge in the industry. When she's not on set or writing, she's in a yoga class, checking out a new restaurant or exploring the menu of a cocktail bar, in the pursuit of the perfect Negroni.

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