Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Start seeing your bedroom as a place of rest and relaxation. Associating it in your brain with a place of rest can have a great impact on getting your body and mind to relax and wind down at the end of the day.
Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important and how can we make it a priority?
In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.
As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Yasmine ElGhamrawy.
Yasmine ElGhamrawy is an aromatherapist and natural skincare formulator. She is the founder and CEO of Yatlina, a company that creates aromatherapy based products for use in everyday life with the aim of supporting and boosting physical and mental wellbeing. She believes that having the knowledge and understanding of the root causes of issues you are facing can help empower you to take control of your own wellness journey.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?
I am an aromatherapist and natural skincare formulator but that was not my first career. For over 20 years I worked in visual effects for films and was lucky enough to do this in some of the major studios around the world. The job, while highly creative, was also very demanding and stressful at times.
Having grown up in Egypt, I was used to the idea of natural body products and oils. It was also part of the culture to take a day to yourself once a month to get your hair and nails done and occasionally get a nice relaxing massage. Even though by that point I had been living in various countries, I still had a love for natural products and essential oils as I found their aromas very comforting. At the time I just chose products and oils intuitively with little understanding of how they worked, I just knew that to me they did wonders and they were very effective in making me feel better.
When I decided at the age of 40 to switch careers it was a very hard decision. I was good at what I did already, and the idea of starting from scratch made me very hesitant. I thought if I am going to seriously do this, I need to do it properly and choose a new line of work that I am deeply passionate about and find the best places to educate myself in that new subject. It took a bit of research, but I found exactly that and I also found a good balance of science based education to support the holistic side of using aromatherapy products. This was important to me as I really enjoy the science behind why things work and how essential oils can affect the body and mind. Arming myself with that education and knowledge helps me to create products that are well researched but also appealing to use daily, which is ultimately what a natural approach to holistic health is all about.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
My upbringing had a lot to do with my current journey. Even though it was not a conscious decision at the time, I found myself always interested in essential oils and how they work. Their scents and aromas would always affect my mood, some would be so uplifting and joyous, others would have a very calming effect on me. To me personally they just worked.
I loved walking around the thousand year old bazaar in Cairo where I grew up and getting introduced to new herbs and oils from the vendors who have been working with these plants for generations. I always came back with some new blend I was eager to try out. Now that I know a lot more about the science behind why certain oils work and how they affect the body, it makes a lot of sense why I was so drawn to them.
I personally understand how stress and burnout can greatly affect every aspect of your health. I went through it myself for years, even if you are aware of it at the time it is hard to stop or you might not have the luxury to even do that. You start to experience various seemingly unrelated symptoms, like sleeplessness, aches and brain fog. It’s your body sending you warning signals but you just keep going until at one point you run out of fuel and you experience burnout and have nothing left to give. I can empathise with this totally and want to help others take control of that wellness journey, not by just following tips and instructions, but by really understanding why it happens to begin with and how to be more in-tune with your own body. Using aromatherapy products directly affects the limbic side of the brain that controls emotions and memories, and if applied topically or even through inhalation it can have a physical effect on the body as well. Knowing how to use that natural arsenal effectively can be very empowering for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
When I create an aromatherapy product, I approach each blend I create with three principles in mind, the chemistry of the oil and how that interacts with the various bodily systems. That means I always have to research each subject thoroughly and understand the mechanics behind a healthy body so that when symptoms appear, it becomes like detective work trying to figure out which area is getting affected and what the best approach to it would be. The second is the traditional use of that plant. For thousands of years different civilisations used natural remedies to great effect. Modern science in a lot of cases is largely based on that traditional use. So I think it is important to always acknowledge it through the modern lens of science and to always give it credit as some of these traditional uses are proving to be very effective even in modern days. Lastly and I think to some extent most importantly, the ingredients I use for each product and blend. Plants have what some would call “energetics” ; they reflect the environment they grew in and how they were treated and harvested. The better and more sustainable a plant is treated, the more it gets reflected to a great extent in the essential oil extracted and the chemistry of it which in turn makes the therapeutic values of each oil. Choosing suppliers who are aware of this link and who go out of their way to maintain good relations with farmers around the world is very important to me. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap but I think it is well worth it at the end when you get to use a product that was created with all these principles in mind.
This last year has always made everyone a lot more aware of how interconnected everything is and how a tiny and what seems like an irrelevant action taken thousands of miles away in a different part of the world can affect everyone. If anything we should be more conscious of how our own individual actions really can make a difference.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I can empathise with sleep issues as I personally suffered with it for years. Stress from work, burnout from not following the signs your body gives you and just general lack of opportunity and luxury to take time off from work or a stressful situation. All of these are contributing factors that affect sleep which in turn affects all aspects of your health. In simple terms, if you do not sleep well, you are not well.
My approach to any health issue, and that includes sleep disruptions, is always very holistic. While the reasons might vary from person to person, the result from lack of sleep is universal. As an aromatherapist, I get to research what a healthy sleep pattern is and how your body functions during that time. This enables me to understand when something is not working and try to dig deeper into it. Finding the natural remedy and essential oil that is best suited as part of a good sleep hygiene routine. Aromatherapy is not a single solution or a magic potion, it is best seen as an aid that can take the load of your system as part of a healthy lifestyle enabling your body to focus on getting back on track. My tips will include things you can do without spending any money on products plus a few that can really help with achieving a good night sleep and waking up more refreshed.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love reading, so choosing one book is like choosing a favourite child! There are so many I can think of in various subjects and some that are not even aromatherapy related but fiction.
In terms of sleep, the book that opened up my eyes to how much it can affect so many aspects of health was Mathew Walker’s “Why we sleep”. His lifelong research into the subject comes out in the book and breaks down all the different functions of sleep and how they regulate your body. I also attended a masterclass with him that goes further into the research of sleep and it was fascinating. This has helped me a lot when creating aromatherapy blends as I know what body system to target and how to approach sleep as a holistic issue.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Contentment is an inexhaustible treasure” this is a direct translation from an Egyptian saying both my grandparents would always say. Another is “Health is an invisible crown, only the sick can see”.
Being healthy and content in what you do is really the cornerstone of a happy life. It has nothing to do with material possessions, which don’t get me wrong, are always a nice bonus to have! But true contentment is something that is elusive to a lot of people and they spend a lifetime chasing it in all the wrong places only to find it in the simplest of things.
I thought about these quotes a lot when I was changing careers and doubting my decisions and I also think about them every time I experience an Aromatherapy product and get to wonder at how each drop is a combination of so much in nature distilled in a tiny little bottle that is full of healthy benefits. I try to achieve contentment in every part of my life now and not to chase what I thought would bring me happiness but ultimately cost my health a great deal.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?
Sleep like patterns are universal to any living organism. While the chronotype of a person is genetic and that determines if you are a night owl or an early bird, it is generally advised to get between 6–8 hours of sleep for optimum health. Anything less than that and you can start to see a decline in cognitive and physical abilities over time.
Age plays a big part in sleep quality and quantity. The very young and the old tend to go to bed early and get up early, while during the teenage years your circadian rhythms (your internal body clock that exists in every body cell) shift significantly and you tend to need a lot of sleep during the day. This all balances out during your 20’s and all the way to middle age, when it starts to shift again.
These are all normal sleeping patterns that the body goes through as part of growing up. When reaching older age, we tend to revert back to childlike patterns of sleep, not because we actually need less rest, but because the brain, like the rest of the body organs, starts to decline and affects our sleep patterns. All of this is normal and expected, just being aware of it is a good first step in addressing any issues that might come up. It is particularly important for healthy brain activity in later life to start having good night as part a healthy lifestyle.
Is the amount of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10PM and getting up at 4AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2AM and getting up at 10AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?
This is a great question that is precisely why I love researching subjects like this. While the amount of hours needed for optimal body function is pretty much known, there is a lot of debate about the consistency and the pattern that is best to achieve this. It is generally known that consistently sleeping with disrupted patterns (like shift work for long periods of time) is unhealthy and can lead to shorter life spans and higher risk of health issues.
In my opinion you should go with your own body’s signals. You are born with a certain genetic makeup that includes up to 9 identified markers that control your chronotype. These are the genes that will determine if you function optimally during the morning hours, or you are one of those people who thrive during late night work sessions. There is very little you can do to change how your body is made up, however there is a lot you can do to work with it and stop working against it. If you are a night owl, then you tend to have a shifted circadian rhythm clock that means you are more alert during the later part of the morning and into the night. The opposite is true if you are a morning person.
You also need to understand the reason why we fall asleep to begin with, it’s a complex cascade of tiny events that take place over the whole day, from brain signals taking cues from the outside environment all the way to hormones being released at different parts of the day. This all results in that “I need to sleep” signal you get when you can’t keep your eyes open anymore and head off to bed. Ignoring that will only cause sleep deprivation issues that affect every organ in your body for it is now known that sleep is actually a very busy activity where parts of your brain are more alert than during the day. This is very different from the original long held belief that you just shut off during sleep and do nothing but dream!
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35 year old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for 6 months he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?
When you sleep well, you are well. In all aspects of the word and in every way. Sleeping is a very active process that your body needs to be able to function properly.
Every organ in your body including the skin gets to be optimised and looked after during your sleep cycles. You will notice that your cognitive abilities are better after a good night’s sleep, you are able to retain more information and crucially remember it better later on. Your skin cells will regenerate and result in a better overall condition while also boosting your immune system. Minor repairs and overall maintenance of the body happens during sleep cycles. Even pain perception is altered with a good night sleep.
Another thing you will notice is better digestion, as you body is not re-prioritising its vital functions to accommodate lack of sleep, your digestive system will be able to work better which can have a direct effect on the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Many things provide benefits but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?
When you realise how crucial sleep is to a healthy body, you start to understand why making it a priority is very important for general good health. I understand that it is sometimes seen as a luxury to sleep long uninterrupted hours, or to take naps throughout the day, but you should really shift that way of thinking and look at it as a normal cost effective way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle that can greatly impact the quality of it. So yes I would say aiming for a good night’s sleep should be a major priority.
The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles?
1- Seeing wellness as a luxury
Viewing certain wellness aspects as a luxury can often make us think that we are being selfish or too self centred when pursuing it. This way of thinking can shift our priorities and make us ignore certain areas of our health until they accumulate over time and start to cause issues we can no longer ignore.
2- Not getting the right advice and thinking you don’t have time
Sometimes it seems that there are too many steps to overcome to reach a healthy lifestyle, or the advice being given is not relevant to your situation. Perceived lack of time can also become an issue and even with the best of intentions you just don’t see yourself able to take 5 minutes to do a mindful meditation that everyone is telling you can help calm you down. That is perfectly fine. Find what works for you, while certain issues are universal, the symptoms and how your body reacts to it is personal. If movement works better for you than stillness and meditation, then do that instead.
3- Not seeing the link between symptoms
In approaching health issues holistically you get to see a link and thread between the body and the mind. What can sometimes seem like unrelated things like back pain, migraines or digestive problems, can all usually be traced back to stress and lack of sleep (after excluding any medical conditions of course) When you are constantly treating just one issue at a time and not finding out the source of it, this can become a losing battle and can be very disheartening. It sometimes takes an outside person to look at things from a different angle to get you to see the common thread between everything.
Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?
Achieving a good night’s sleep has and will always be a universal pursuit. This has not changed throughout history. There might be certain things we deal with in the modern world that were not present several decades ago like blue light from electronic devices or constant bright lights from street lamps pouring into our bedrooms at night, but I am sure if we look back there would be other issues that would similarly disrupt sleep patterns just as much. The only thing I would say is that we probably have to deal with several at the same time and add to that the idea of seeing wellness as a luxury and it can lead to more issues in general.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.
1- Make your bedroom a sanctuary
Start seeing your bedroom as a place of rest and relaxation. Associating it in your brain with a place of rest can have a great impact on getting your body and mind to relax and wind down at the end of the day.
2- Change light settings
External signals have a great effect on how the brain perceives things and turns them into actions. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) gets released in the body around dusk and the levels of it build up in the body to help with sleep and then start declining around dawn to signal the body to wake up again. This pattern is greatly influenced by light. So starting to change the light settings in the home and bedroom to a more relaxing and soothing colour temperature will have a great effect on this cycle.
3- Regulate temperature
Taking a warm shower or bath before bedtime can drop the body temperature and aid in a better night sleep. This also goes to the general temperature of your bedroom, you need to have a comfortable setting that is not too warm or else your body will work over time to cool off and you will not be getting a restful sleep.
4- Use scent as a brain trigger
Essential oils directly affect the emotional and memory part of the brain, when applied topically or through inhalation they can enter the bloodstream and have a physical effect on the body as well. Using that knowledge to associate certain aromas with relaxing can be very effective and it can also work great when your sleep is disrupted in the middle of the night, reaching for the same “night time” blend can trigger signals in your brain that it is safe to go back to sleep again.
5- Minimise noise
Like light, noise is an external stimulant to the brain signalling alarm when you are trying to sleep. Working on minimising noise disruption can help a great deal in getting a good night’s sleep, Sometimes all it takes is to close a window, other times investing in good quality ear plugs can be well worth it.
Putting all of these tips together you get a good sleep hygiene routine, where you use natural material for your bed to regulate temperature and promote better sleep and use natural scent to help you relax. Minimising light and noise then become an extra step that can help you achieve a better night rest and to wake up feeling refreshed
What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?
When you wake up in the middle of the night it can be caused by several factors, knowing the reason can change your actions to remedy it.
Sometimes it’s physical and you need to use the loo in which case try to minimise food and drink intake a couple of hours before bedtime. Other times it’s more physiological and a result of stress signals not getting resolved in the body during the day.
Your stress response is there to protect you and while it is activated, it will re-prioritise certain functions of the body depending on what it sees as more important to the situation it is trying to handle. This usually means sleep hormones are suppressed and alertness hormones flood the system. To the brain, if you are in danger, the last thing you want is to be caught unconscious and defenceless. The problem is the brain does not differentiate between a physical threat or a perceived one, so that same response will be activated if you are stepping out of the way of a speeding car but equally if you are upset about something at work or had an argument with someone and did not resolve it.
The trick is to convince your brain that it is safe to go back to sleep again and that there are no lurking threats that require you to stay awake. Scent is a great one for this step in my opinion, if you have a “night time” or “relaxing” blend you use before bedtime, reach for it when you wake up in the middle of the night, that scent memory should trigger the safely part of your brain and make it think that you are ok to go back to sleep again. Taking deep breaths while doing so will also activate the parasympathetic system and signal the body it is safe. This is done by taking in 4 counts to inhale and 6–8 counts to exhale.
Another trick is “paradoxical sleep” where you lie in bed and open your eyes wide, in doing so you exhaust your muscles and you actually end up feeling tired and going back to sleep again.
If all else fails, get out of bed and go into another room, that way you are not associating the bedroom with restlessness, and head back again after a while when you are ready to try going back to sleep.
As you can see it is not one thing or the other, you need to understand why you are waking up in the middle of the night and then see what you can do to work around it, ideally handling the stressful situations before they become an issue, sometimes using a journal to write down all the days events and thoughts can help too, bit that is something you ideally do before going to sleep.
What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?
Naps are a great idea for those that do not get enough sleep during the night, especially night owls who, for one reason or another, can not start work later during the day and have to function at a time they are not at their best yet. They should last for 15–20 mins as they stop you from going into the heavy dream cycle of sleep (REM, rapid eye movement). The best time would be before 3pm, as the sleep hormone melatonin will not be in your system yet so this will not disrupt the natural cycle and should not affect your night’s sleep.
If you are taking naps to make up for lack of sleep they are “reactive”, however you can also do “proactive” naps, if you know that you are working a late shift or need to function later than you normally would, then taking a nap before that time can help with clearing your head and retaining more information when needed.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
What a surprising question! Why not go big and dream wild! I would say Oprah, as a person who did not grow up in the United States and rarely seen her show, I am fascinated by her as a public figure and business woman who has achieved so much and has the respect of so many. The things she accomplished and the obstacles she overcame seem insane, yet you see her thriving and I am curious about that secret sauce 🙂
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website www.yatlina.com
I am present on social media as @yatlina. I am most active on instagram and you can occasionally catch me popping in and out of Clubhouse rooms as @yasmine el Ghamrawy
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you I really enjoyed going through these questions and appreciate this opportunity to share the knowledge I have with your readers, hopefully someone will find some good tips in there and please feel free to get in touch if you need any more information or advise, I am always happy to help when I can.