The idea of a "sleep workshop" sounds a little ridiculous. Teaching someone how to sleep? Shouldn't we all know how to do that by now? Sleep expert Robert de Stefano, who's bringing his "The Sweet Art of Sleep Seduction" workshop to Spa Avania at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch, doesn't see things as being quite so simple.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, at least 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, and another 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems. Much of this, de Stefano says, stems from people not properly preparing themselves for a good night's sleep.
"One of the pillars of what I'm teaching is the concept of being able to transition out of your day body and mind into a body and mind more positively prepared for a night of deep sleep," he says. "We're throwing ourselves into bed and hoping that we'll relax and get to sleep."
Eschewing pills like Ambien or Rozerem, de Stefano pushes natural methods like breathing techniques, massage therapy and audio and visual aids (he's produced a line of CDs called "zMusic") in his workshops.
"The strongest propaganda that insomnia has going for it is that a lot of people think it's a disease or an illness," says de Stefano, 52. "Our answer has been to take a pill, but you can't force or will sleep; you have to lure it. As the title (of the workshop) goes, you seduce it."
De Stefano says that most insomniacs don't even realize the severity of their condition, thinking that only extreme conditions qualify as "insomnia," an attitude that could lead to serious long-term health problems.
"The good thing about us humans is that we adapt; the bad thing is that we adapt," he says. "If we get six hours or so and our venti latte, then we're kind of good, but we're not as good as we could be.
"Those people are at risk. And they're not moderately at risk, because it's associated with all kinds of nasty things like heart disease and stroke, and high blood pressure, and the ability to maintain a normal weight."
The conventional wisdom has long been that eight hours of sleep a night is ideal, an assertion that de Stefano stands by.
Additionally, he says that going to bed between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. is the optimal time for sleep.
"Sleep gives us a chance to repair and replenish, everything from our intellect to our hair, our skin, our joints," he says. "Everything takes that time of shutdown. It's a very active period. You just need that eight hours."
Much in the way many fitness gurus were overweight before radically changing their lifestyle, de Stefano was an insomniac for years before changing his ways. Working in advertising, de Stefano says he only slept between four or five hours a night.
"I was a major chronic insomniac," he says. "It never bothered me."
Gradually, de Stefano began to realize his lack of sleep was a problem and turned to medication.
"I had really negative experiences with them, everything from Tylenol PM to Ambien," he says. "Now a kind of whole new brand of anxiety started to hit me."
De Stefano sold his advertising agency in 2000 and educated himself on a number of sleep studies to help understand his problem. These experiences led to his current status as a "natural sleep therapist" and co-founding of Sleep Garden sleep aids. Along with his workshops, he also does corporate engagements on the subject and advises hotels on how to improve the sleep experience of their guests.
"I never set out to do this," de Stefano says. "You hear those things you read on posters, like 'find your passion and you'll find your career.' Yeah, they're corny, but some of them are right on. I filled a void that has been really missing here."