• Lisa Sanfilippo is a therapist and sleep expert – she combines her knowledge of yoga, psychotherapy and polyvagal theory in her Sleep Recovery programme

  • We have therapists who work with insomnia available here

So many people struggle with sleep, either not being able to fall asleep even though they are tired, or waking habitually in the early hours, and not being able to fall back asleep again.

Welldoing member Lisa Sanfilippo feels your pain: “I was an insomniac in my 20s and early 30s and I was fortunate to have a doctor who did not give me sleeping pills, because it would encourage a lifetime of dependency.”

Encouraged towards both psychotherapy and the practice of yoga, Sanfilippo found that the combination formed an integral part of her life. “I realised that yoga was helping me manage my nervous system and psychotherapy was helping me manage the things that were coming up in my life.”

She left her job on a think tank in New York and started training to be a yoga teacher, and then signed up for five years’ psychotherapy training. The combination led to the development of her Sleep Recovery programme, which she talked to our therapist members about recently as part of our certificated CPD programme.

Sanfilippo describes a delicate interplay between mind and body, through day and night. “Most approaches to insomnia include pills and CBT, which work for some people but there is a vast number for whom it doesn’t. That’s why we need to look at somatic approaches, and strive to understand our own bodies’ response.”

Sleep Recovery, she explains, is not just mind over matter: “There are five steps of Sleep Recovery  - physical, energetic, mental, emotional and even spiritual - and if they go out of balance, it affects our sleep. If we get them back into balance our sleep tends to improve.”

It may be that we have more difficulty with sleep for various reasons - not just devices but what they do to our attention, the way we expect to go from ‘on’ to ‘off’. Also our perception of what good sleep is has been managed by the wellbeing industry. "Some people are identifying as insomniacs when they don’t reach those definitions. We can still be healthy when we are getting less sleep than we used to when we were younger, for example.”

She has deeply studied polyvagal theory and urges those who have problems with sleep to understand better the difference between being calm and regulated, and being depressed and not able to access sleep readily. 

“There is a big difference between being sedentary and being in dorsal state — which is not having any energy. If you exercise enough you will sleep more deeply. If in a dorsal vagal state you are much less likely have restful sleep.”

Sanfilippo works as a psychotherapist as well as offering the Sleep Recovery programme. There is also her book Sleep Recovery: The Five Step Yoga Solution to Restore your Rest which combines exercises, case studies and a full explanation of the science of sleep, and how better to access it.

Lisa Sanfilippo is a verified Welldoing therapist in London

Further reading

What is the vagus nerve?

How hypnotherapy can improve your sleep

Polyvagal theory, dissociation and yoga: healing trauma through embodiment

4 steps to a good night's sleep with young children

How CBT can help you overcome insomnia