Chronic bad-sleeper Marie-Louise Pumfrey visited Ibiza’s 7 Pines Resort and learned an ultra-simple trick that eased her sleep woes
Ibiza, the notorious party island, is better known for being a place where you don’t sleep, but it was a trip to the white isle that taught me a failsafe tool to help soothe my nighttime anxiety and send me back to sleep when I wake in the wee hours.
Post-Covid there’s a new clean and serene movement sweeping across the island and the 7 Pines Resort Ibiza in San Josep on the east of the island, is leading the way, with its white-washed villas and zen itinerary of moonlit yoga, luxury spa treatments and wellness programmes to help with physical, mental and emotional health. Nestled on the edge of a tranquil pine forest, it sounded just the ticket to sort out my long-term stress and sleep issues. I sampled three days of the resort's seven-day package.
I’ve never been a great sleeper; I wake at least three times a night and recently the dark rabbit hole of 3 am fear has returned, with anxiety in the pit of my stomach rousing me from sleep. My nightly stress headaches, which regularly wake me up, are back with a vengeance too.
I flew into Eivissa Airport, 22 kilometres away from 7 Pines, and made the 25-minute transfer by car, hoping to have my anxiety soothed and my sleep restored when I arrived at the cliffside resort.
What's included in your stay at 7 Pines Resort Ibiza?
As part of the seven-day package at the resort, you receive two individual wellness consultations, as well as access to the spa facilities, three lifestyle coaching sessions, two fitness and two mindfulness activities, as well as eight spa treatments. It’s safe to say you feel extremely blissed out, but despite all of this, on the first night I was still afflicted by my 3 am stress headache and the pain and anxiety kept me up for a couple of hours.
Determined to sort out my sleep deficit, the following morning I signed up to hatha yoga with teacher Dunia Rida. I must first mention the space yoga takes places in – the dome-like building is bathed in light and has a round window set in the ceiling for sky gazing during the day and magical moon bathing during the nighttime yoga sessions.
My morning class started with a ten-minute breathing meditation using nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. This practice, which is exactly what it sounds like – breathing through your nostrils alternately – helps soothe the mind and nervous system. I immediately felt more grounded and pledged to put yoga back into my life when I returned to London.
Impressed with how quickly the breathing technique made me feel calmer, I chatted with Dunia after the session for some sleep and anxiety guidance and this is where the magic happened.
Breathwork for better sleep
Dunia recommended nightly breathing exercises to help with the 3 am anxiety waking. She taught me her 11-minute ‘stair step’ breath exercise. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which automatically makes you relax. It's a three-part progressive breath, breathing into the belly, then belly and chest, and lastly belly chest and collar bones.
How to do the Stair Step Breathing Exercise
1. Lie on your back.
2. Focus your attention on where the breath starts, a few inches down from the belly button.
3. Inhale and expand your belly like a balloon and count for four. Hold for four seconds and release for four seconds. Do this four times then relax for ten seconds
4. Breath into your stomach again for four seconds, hold for a second and then breathe into your chest for four seconds and hold for four seconds. Exhale completely and then relax for ten seconds. Repeat four times
5. Breathe normally for ten seconds.
6. Repeat again but after breathing into your chest and holding, expand your breath further, breathing right into your collar bone and hold for a further four seconds. Exhale completely. Relax for ten seconds and then repeat.
I was keen to put my new technique into practice and sure enough, that night I woke up in the early hours again. As usual, my heart was pounding with anxiety lurking in the pit of my stomach. Armed with my new breathing technique, I lay on my back, put one hand on my stomach and the other on my heart and started the meditation, counting each breath. The counting kept my mind on track, away from worrying thoughts and after a while, I felt my body tingle and relax. It worked and I drifted off. The next morning I sprang out of bed feeling revived and headache-free, able to make the most of the aromatherapeutic massages, water sports (both included in my stay) and delicious Mediterranean food and fresh sushi by the pool. The massage was a particular highlight; you can choose from a range of essential oils – I went for Sweet Orange which lifts the mood and reduces stress. I was treated to a firm yet gentle massage from the feet to the scalp and as the warm oil was worked into my tense shoulders, followed by hot stones to quieten my mind, I couldn't have felt more zen.
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As my break drew to a close, it's not an exaggeration to say I felt reborn. But would I feel the same when I got back to reality?
What happened after the trip?
I slept well my first night home and every night subsequently; the stair breathing exercise really works and it knocks me out fairly quickly. As promised, on my first morning home I did a restorative yoga class hosted by Victoria, Get The Gloss’ editorial director via Zoom. I also took a mindful walk with my dog and booked a weekly massage through the Urban app, (who come to your home). All of which contributed to a calmer me, but it’s really the breathing exercise I learned on the retreat that made all of the difference.
The bottom line
The stair breathing exercise was the real game-changer I took away from the retreat. Breath is everything; it helps you take control of your anxiety and insomnia, but you do need to do it daily. Now when I wake up in the night, which I still do, instead of panicking, I perform the breathing exercises I learnt and drift off back into a peaceful sleep.