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In bed with Lily Canetty-Clarke

What do you wish you had learnt more about in school? For Lily, the answer is that she wished that she had been taught more holistically about human health. With seven years of experience in studying the mind, nutrition and herbal medicine, Lily loves sharing her wealth of knowledge on how we can all live our most comfortable lives. A medical herbalist (sounds magical doesn't it?), avid wild swimmer and general sleep lover, Lily and her wisdom on the body and mind, offers the perfect antidote to the oppressive bleeping phone alarm, and subsequent snooze button.

I came across Lily because of her delicious teas, I can recommend no better sleep tea! I am delighted to share with you Lily’s insights on the importance of sleep hygiene and her expert advice on achieving an undisturbed nights rest. With everything from bedroom temperature to story topics to avoid before drifting off, Lily’s advice is truly holistic and powerful. I hope that you enjoy this interview and learn, or remind yourself, of the importance of rest and relaxation.

Hi Lily, you have just gotten back from a wild swimming tour of Scotland, how was it?!

Scotland was incredible. I was feeling a little nervous about the trip as everyone I spoke to had made some negative remark about either the weather or the midges but we were so lucky. The midges weren’t a problem at all really and the weather was completely on our side. We spent a week in a beautifully renovated van driving around the north west coast and it is just such a beautiful spot. As a keen wild swimmer my aim was to swim everyday and that was not a hard challenge as the beaches were pure white and empty and the sea was crystal clear. I won’t lie and say it was warm but I prefer cold water anyway and it was nothing a good quality wetsuit could put off. I hope with everything going on in the world and the state of climate emergency we are in, people in the UK start looking inwardly at our own island for future holidays as there are some real gems right under our nose when you go looking.

You are a Medical Herbalist, can you tell us a little about how you help people and what drew you to this in the first place?

I have always wanted to work in a profession that helps people with their health. After 7 years learning about the mind, nutrition and then herbal medicine I have so much information to share and that is my favourite part of my job. I got asked the other day what I wish I had learnt at school and it is definitely more about human health. I know we learnt scientific facts about human biology but little was taught about nutritional health, mental health and the importance of sleep! These are things that make such a huge daily impact in our lives yet so many people either know nothing about or have been wildly misinformed by pop psychology or unqualified influencers on social media. As a medical herbalist I am a general practitioner and so deal with a wide variety of illnesses and problems. I do have a special interest in women’s health which I think comes from being surrounded by women in my life who have or currently suffer with period problems like PMS, endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, period pain or no periods at all. Medical herbalists work holistically not only as they look at a person as a whole and will gather information about every system in your body regardless of your complaint but they also treat holistically using a range of diet, lifestyle and herbal treatments. Herbal treatments in my practice generally include herbal tinctures (alcohol based plant extracts) and herbal teas which I make from my herbal dispensary, my most prized possession!

You also curate teas and currently have three, all of which I have tried and love! Of course, my favourite was the sleep tea, how exactly do you go about creating these?

Ah thank you- I am glad you have been enjoying them (Sleep tea is also my favourite at the moment as I am obsessed with lavender!) I choose the three teas, ‘sleep’, ‘tummy’ and ‘calm’ after I sent out a survey to a wide range of friends and family to determine what support was most needed in everybody daily lives. These three came out as the most popular and so I went about choosing about 10 herbs for each tea that support each body system . From there I did a lot of playing around with quantities and different combinations to make sure the tea was both functional but also delicious and each tea has a stand out flavour for me. The sleep tea is rich in smells and the taste of lavender, which the smell alone instantly relaxes me and primes me for sleep. The packaging is all carefully thought through to have as little environmental impact as possible. The labels and packaging are biodegradable and the postal envelope is reusable. The hope it that, with the Bristol community at least, I can offer re-fill options in the future, to reduce the need for packaging even more. I love my tea labels, they are designed by house mate Hannah who is a very talented botanical illustrator (@hgraceoc) and each tea has a print of the herbs inside.

I do worry that people don’t understand how vital sleep is for our mental and physical health and I was wondering what role sleeps play in your personal life and in your work with clients?

I love sleep so I have to be fairly disciplined with myself otherwise I would never get out. In the last year or so I invested in 100% linen (and managed to persuade my boyfriend too!) for my bed and now its become a true oasis of comfort for me. I am definitely a morning lark rather than a night owl and most people are surprised to hear that I am normally asleep by 22:00. I find it hilarious that I used to fight with my mum and dad to let me stay up later and now I am asleep before they have finished dinner! I use a lumie light to wake up, which for those that do not know, slowly wakes you up with a gradually brightening light to mimic the sunrise. It is completely genius and has been a game changer for my mornings as by 6am my room is flooded with gorgeous light which helps in the production of hormones that help us get up and go, like cortisol, while suppressing those that bring on sleep, like melatonin . When I think back to the days where an oppressive beeping used to wake me up in a pitch black room, I’m not surprised I had to snooze my alarm about 5 times before I got up! I never neglect the topic of sleep with my patients as their sleep patterns are very informative for me to understand the state of their central nervous system and it always makes up part of the herbal report I write each patient which includes information on the importance of sleep and tips to induce a more restful nights sleep. Where appropriate I dispense specific herbal treatment if insomnia is present.

What is your advice to people when they are trying to create a good sleeping environment and do you have any tips on how to prevent sleep disturbance?

Herbal medicine is really helpful for sleep as something not many people realize about pharmaceutical sleeping pills is they completely knock you out, a bit like an anesthetic and therefore prevent your body from entering a natural state of sleep where you body dreams and repairs and restores itself. That is why when you wake from a sleeping pill sleep you don’t feel refreshed or restored at all. They are very addictive! And that’s why herbal medicine sleep remedies are amazing as not only are they not addictive but they also just prepare your body and urge it towards a natural sleep state- thus allowing it to enter into the sleep cycles that restore and repair you and make you awake feeling refreshed and ready for the day!​

I talk to my patients about sleep hygiene which is an odd phrase really but a way of talking about your sleep habits really- so the important things I highlight are reducing screens before bed but also reducing drama before bed, and by that I mean scary/dramatic stories even if you are just listening to them on a podcast or reading a book. The stress this can provoke in your body, even in a fictional tale, can spike cortisol levels and again interrupt natural sleep cycle rhythms. The temperature of your room is also important and much colder than most people realise at 16-18 degrees. Reducing alcohol and caffeinated items in the afternoon and evening which includes coffee, and even dark chocolate if you are sensitive as well is key for a restful nights sleep.

Then your activity levels are important too- so both being highly sedentary during the day and doing high intensity exercise in the late evening are bad for sleep as the latter will fire up your cortisol which is naturally on a decline in the final hours of the day. Consistency is the final thing I talk about, so whether you go to bed and wake up at the same time every night- and trying to encourage this- even on the weekend wherever possible.

What would be some of your favourite night time rituals?

I think sleep rituals are so important. I often think that as children we have such a set night time routine that we follow- dinner, bath, teeth, book and bed (well that was mine anyway!). This routine overtime conditions children into associating it with going to sleep and therefore these activities are so important for the child to get a successful nights sleep. This is often why children have such trouble getting to sleep when they sleep somewhere different or during the holidays when this routine often gets uprooted. I love to mimic this childlike routine and try, as much as possible, to do the same sort of thing for the last hour before I go to sleep and my bath, face and teeth washing rituals are definitely the most consistent of these. Recently I have been really enjoying doing breathwork classes with James Dowler (@breathewithjames) before bed too as that truly sets me up for a deep nights sleep.

Do you have a favourite herb which helps to calm your mind as you settle down, preparing to go to bed?

Lavender for sure. Not only can you smell it to help sleep, by using the plant or a lavender bag, lavender oil in your bath or candle but you can also drink lavender tea (or my sleep tea!). It is the very best sleep companion.

If someone was looking to find more balance in their life what would be your first piece of advice to them?

Routine. It is the very first step I would advise someone, sometimes before I would prescribe any medicine at all. Bringing consistency to the time you wake up, the times you eat and the times you go to bed can really calm the mind and bring your body back to a state of ‘balance’. Whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed, routine is what brings me back down to earth and feeling calm again.

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