What really happens in a sleep retreat

You can learn to perfect the art of snoozing on a Bali wellness holiday dedicated to the science of slumber. It’s just one of a growing number of sleep therapy retreats.

A woman lying in a hammock in the forest
  • Alison Bone
  • March 2020

I am snuggled into plump cushions on a daybed canopied in cascading white bougainvillea, dozing. Sunlight sparkles on the clear water of the swimming pool before me and the surrounding teak forest hums with cicadas and birdsong. Am I in a dream?

Not really – I’m at a sleep retreat. But for an insomniac such as myself, it is like a dream come true.

My friends had all laughed, “What – you’re going to sleep for three days?” Hardly! Apart from the sneaky post-lunch nap I just awoke from, sleep retreats at Revivo Wellness Resort, in Nusa Dua, Bali, are more like a sleep boot camp.

Revivo’s approach to slumber goes beyond me getting a good night’s rest; it’s about understanding the nature of my sleep problems and arming me with techniques to overcome them once and for all.

With 40 per cent of Australians suffering the effects of sleeplessness, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, I am clearly not alone.

A swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers and flowers
Revivo's sleep retreats include a range of wellness and fitness therapies including hydrotherapy.

We are all “wired and tired” says Revivo founder and CEO Laurie Mias, who reports that the number of people using their holiday time to work on their physical and mental wellbeing has doubled over the last five years. No surprises then that the demand for sleep retreats is also on the rise.

“A sleep retreat allows people the space to unplug, reconnect with themselves and their environment and most importantly, helps them adjust their lifestyle to get optimal sleep,” Laurie explains.

My arrival consultation with wellness coach, Dr Sudhin, reveals that I try too hard to sleep, which triggers a stress response that zooms me straight into high gear at 3am. The key to switching off lies in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to forge new neural pathways. That means changing my approach to sleep, and my lifestyle, to break this cycle.

And for three days, a team of wellness coaches, therapists and attentive staff are on hand to help me do just that with my personalised schedule packed with daily yoga, hydrotherapy, fitness training, meditation sessions and spa treatments. (The package also includes three days and night’s full board accommodation and airport transfers).

A woman having a facial
Bespoke schedules include everything from yoga sessions to relaxing spa treatments.

The first morning I wake up at 4am. “I can’t even sleep on a sleep retreat!” my mind screams. It gets better though.

My days are filled with gentle yin yoga and hatha yoga classes to stretch out and relax my body and mindfulness breathing techniques to encourage deeper sleep. Hydrotherapy sessions – to ease tension in my muscles – take place alone in the steam room overlooking a forest.

Late-afternoon spa sessions, including an Ayurvedic shirodhara massage where warm coconut oil is poured on my forehead to calm my mind and aromatherapy massages are perfect for inducing sleep at night.

I also find myself in a gym for the first time in my life and my fitness plan is complemented by customised meals consisting of delicious, nutritious food and drinks with evocative names such as “Heal Me Sleepy”. Ingredients include leafy green vegetables, tofu, nuts and seeds – which contain sleep-promoting magnesium, melatonin and tryptophan. I start the morning with a trio of wellness shots, including kombucha, and each day ends with soothing chamomile tea and a 20-minute mindfulness meditation alone in my suite followed by a relaxing salt bath ritual.

A woman carrying a tray with a tea pot and glasses
The perfect way to wind down before bed is with meditation and chamomile tea.

Careful scheduling means that I barely see other guests, even in the brief interludes between activities when I lounge by the pool.

On my last morning I sit in the resort’s small temple with a Balinese priest, making flower offerings to the Bali gods. He blesses me with holy water and I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

In the following weeks I become calmer, less attached to my devices, more mindful, and yes I do sleep better and for longer. It’s the holiday that just keeps on giving.