Mosaic of China Season 03 Episode 12 — The Sleep Coach (Rumbiey MUCHENJE, Purposely Healthy)
How do we even start to deconstruct the cocktail of behavioral, hormonal, environmental, medical and emotional factors that might lie behind issues with your sleep? Rumbiey Muchenje has some answers.
RM: It could be a boss who's just vile. For Christmas, give them a pillow. You know?
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I’m your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Long-term listeners of the show may have noticed that I don’t have consultants as guests on Mosaic of China. I only really want to speak with practitioners, in one form or another. So no consultants, no strategists, no advisors, no opinion-mongers, no coaches. But today I’ve made an exception to this rule, because my guest Rumbiey is a coach. One in the very specific field of sleep, which I find fascinating, as I’m sure you’ll pick up on in our conversation. And you’ll also pick up on the fact that she speaks not just as a coach, but as someone whose personal background dictates that she is also a practitioner of what she preaches.
One more thing to point out, is that today’s episode is a little longer than usual. Maybe you’re thinking that I just got a bit lazy with the editing this week. But no, I edited it down to the very last pipsqueak! We just had so much ground to cover. In fact, I would recommend stopping right now and downloading the PREMIUM version of today’s show, for the full-length interview which has an extra 30 minutes of content. Head to mosaicofchina.com for instructions on how to download that. But if you can’t be bothered, I suppose it’s OK. I’ll try not to lose sleep over it.
OF: Thank you for coming, Rumbiey.
RM: Thank you for having me.
OF: And your full name is Rumbidzai Muchenje.
RM: You got it so well.
OF: Oh listen, I've had harder names to pronounce. That is an unusual name. So first of all, where are you from originally?
RM: I'm from Zimbabwe.
OF: And I only know two places in Zimbabwe, Harare or Bulawayo.
RM: I'm from Harare.
OF: Phew. OK, good. And very briefly, what is it that you do in China?
RM: I am a health and sleep coach.
OF: A health and sleep coach. Very good. Well, maybe now is the right time for me to say that we are doing this recording in my apartment.
OF: Because the studio wasn't available. And many people have done recordings in this apartment. In fact, I've had the president of Disneyland Shanghai sitting in that very seat.
RM: Oh wow.
OF: And the reason why I'm embarrassed to say that is because we're actually in my bedroom. Because it's the quietest place in my apartment.
RM: And it's a gorgeous bedroom.
OF: I'm revealing the secret because you're a sleep coach.
OF: So for the first time, it's actually quite relevant that we're doing the recording in this environment.
RM: Exactly. True story.
OF: Well, before we go on then, what is the object that you have brought that in some way describes your life in China?
RM: Alright, so the object that I've brought is…
OF: Oh, it's a little package.
RM: It is.
OF: OK. Let me open this.
RM: Go wild.
OF: Here we go. So there's more than one object.
RM: There are three objects in there.
OF: Oh, OK. So why don't I hold this up, and you tell me what this is.
RM: That is a night mist.
OF: Heather, right?
OF: What is this?
RM: So those are shower melts. So, think bath bombs.
RM: But for showers.
OF: Oh, it's minty!
RM: It is. So this one specifically is Cypress. These are perfect to unclog yourself in the morning.
OF: I see. And the final one?
RM: And those ones are foot soaks.
RM: So ordinarily, a lot of soak salts have been used for the bathtub. And the catch is, a lot of people here in Shanghai just don't have the luxury of a bathtub.
OF: You’ve seen my place, I haven't got a bath.
RM: Right. And, you know, it's annoying. Because you want to reduce your core temperature in the evening, so you can actually fall asleep. And those soak salts are amazing for you, if you just soak in your feet.
OF: Well, this is obviously a prelude to our conversation here.
OF: All of these things are to do with sleep. Are these products that you yourself create?
RM: These are my creations. Because we need something physical to hang on to, as we do a routine. It clicks better, because it activates one of your senses.
OF: So basically, it's not the core of what you do. But these are little amulets…
OF: … That help put in your brain the stuff that you're trying to do with your coaching.
OF: Oh, I see.
OF: OK, well what is sleep coaching exactly? What is the purpose of it, why do we need to talk about it?
RM: So, sleep coaching sounds as obvious as it is. But it's so complicated. Because sleep in itself is very complicated. So it's very holistic, because at the end of the day, if you're trying to fix your sleep, and you're not addressing everything else surrounding your sleep, you're likely not going to change it at all.
OF: Yes, when I've encountered this topic, it has been in the context of, let's say, at the gym. Where my trainer will say “Listen, I'll teach you stuff in the gym, but you have to also work on your nutrition…”
OF: “… And work on your sleep, at the same time.” And you're like “Aha, yep, yep, yep. Whatever.’ It's very straightforward and obvious. But then, what does it actually mean? Or let's say you're at a doctor's office, and they give you your treatment, and they say “Make sure you also rest well.”
OF: And it's just a kind of throwaway thing which is like “Well duh, of course.”
OF: But if I'm not resting well, how do I fix that? So what is the basic fundamental science behind sleep?
RM: Oh, there’s quite a bit now. What is fascinating about sleep science is that only 40 years ago did scientists actually start to truly try to figure it out. And I think it's still that element, that it's because it's something that is so obvious, that it didn't really warrant too much attention. And I think a lot of the scientists and doctors out there hadn't really put all the dots together, to see how sleep actually really affects everything. Everything in your life. So let's talk about sleep quality, versus sleep quantity.
RM: You can go on Google, and you can just ask “How many hours should I sleep?
RM: And it'll tell you 7-8 hours. But not everybody actually will get 7-8 hours, it is also very individual. You could do just right with seven hours, and that's not a problem. For another person, it could be nine hours. Also what is your lifestyle like? If you are training - for example, for a marathon, or you're some kind of athlete - you're likely to need a little more sleep, because you're probably using a lot of your energy during the day. Also, your health condition: are you a healthy person, or are you sick? Because that obviously dramatically changes the way you sleep.
OF: So just on the topic of quantity, let me jump in with what that makes me think. In the zeitgeist, there’s almost a badge of honour by saying “Oh, I can get by with just four hours.”
RM: Oh god, yes.
OF: Right? That must be something which you fight against immediately.
RM: All the time. And I think it's also something that we have built up, simply because we want to get more things done. A lot of my clients, for example, are high-performance executives, and these people have to work really hard. For them, the more time they have to work, the better. Even if it means sacrificing their sleep.
OF: Yes. And then if that is the message that they send to the rest of their organisations…
RM: Exactly, exactly.
OF: … It just spreads that culture down.
RM: Right, especially if you look at specific industries, like the tech industry.
RM: Unfortunately if you are sleeping anything less than six hours, you are drastically reducing your productivity.
OF: And there's no way around that?
RM: There's no way around it. Because sleep deprivation is a little bit like alcohol. It changes the way you perceive things. So if somebody is drunk, they can say “Oh, of course I can drive.”Sleep does the exact same thing. It makes you think and believe that you can function. And so you don't notice the little mistakes that you do, how clumsy you become, how fatigued you actually are, and that your focus and concentration is like “Poof!”
OF: I feel what you're saying. The way that I like to visualise that is where you have your line of equilibrium. And then if you're slightly sleep deprived, your line veers slightly, but it's so small that you don't really notice it.
OF: And then before long, you are so off your equilibrium.
OF: But you don’t realise it.
RM: There’s actually a new term now, which is ‘sleep drunk’.
RM: And they've been doing studies in the U.S. - and I think a few in the UK as well - where they've been looking at the number of car accidents that were happening over a certain period of time. And the automatic reaction to that was like “Oh, people are drinking again.” But actually, when these people were given breathalysers, they had zero alcohol content in their system.
OF: Right, right.
RM: Which was absolutely wild. Because then everybody was like "Why are they being involved in such clumsy - sometimes, unfortunately, catastrophic - accidents?”
RM: And they only realised after doing tests - and asking them more questions, and things like that - it turns out either they will completely sleep deprived, or they were on sleep medication.
OF: Oh, and sleep medication makes you drunk as well?
RM: Absolutely. Unfortunately, what sleep medication does - especially if it's used over a long period of time - it actually starts to inhibit your senses. So just like alcohol. So while it can get you to sleep, it sedates you, it doesn't necessarily give you quality sleep. Because when you look at the stages of sleep, you go through 4-5 stages. Actually, every night you go through that cycle three or four times. But each cycle is about 4-5 stages. That's where scientists have come up with 7-8 hours, because each cycle - going through the five stages - is roughly 90 minutes to 110 minutes. People that aren't sleeping very well are not having quality sleep. And quality sleep means it hasn't been induced by something external. Because we work with a circadian clock, like an internal clock. Think of opening up a Swiss watch, and it's got all of these little parts all turning…
OF: Ah yes.
RM: … At different times, different lengths. When all of that is happening correctly, you have perfect time.
RM: So that's exactly how our bodies work. Our heart has its own cycle, our kidneys have their own cycles, our liver, everything has its own cycle. Even our brain has cycles. So if you are overstimulating your brain past bedtime, then you're not allowing it to fully do its job, which is not just thinking. From the minute you wake up, your brain starts to produce a waste product called adenosine.
RM: As you go through the day, the more adenosine is accumulating. Now, why is this important? Adenosine is called a sleep pressure, it makes you want to sleep, it gets you tired.
RM: If you are not sleeping well, either you're going to have too much adenosine - so you're going to be so sleepy during the day - or you're going to have no adenosine.
OF: To make you feel sleepy again.
RM: To make you feel sleepy again.
OF: Hmm. When you talked originally about how it's all holistic…
OF: … We’ve gone full-circle, right?
OF: Because there was this thought that “Oh, that's so basic. We're now so much more sophisticated.”
OF: And then you kind of forget the fundamentals.
OF: And then now we're kind of like “Oh, wait a minute…”
RM: We need the fundamentals.
RM: We are going backwards. And it's not necessarily a bad thing.
OF: Because this is the thing, right? I mean, when I think about the complexity that we’ve built into our lives. Compared to just waking up in a cave, bashing a small mammal, eating it…
RM: Exactly. And eating just enough.
RM: We were not even keeping anything.
OF: Well let's talk about diet, then. What is the connection between diet and sleep?
RM: So, diet is directly connected to your gut, obviously. And apart from your brain and your heart, the gut is king. If your gut is not OK, nothing is OK.
RM: Three quarters of our hormones are actually manufactured - or at least the process begins - in the gut.
OF: Oh, really.
RM: So even your immune system, we used to think 100% of your immune system is made in your bone marrow and in your spinal cord, that's not actually true.
OF: It starts in your gut.
RM: It starts in your gut.
RM: So if your diet is terrible, any of the hormones that are being manufactured are not going to be good quality. Your nutrition is key to maintain, obviously, good health. But in this aspect - because we're speaking about sleep - you must have a good diet. And a good diet isn't a keto diet, an alkaline diet, it doesn't have a name. A good diet just means you know exactly what works for your body, and you're eating enough for your body, and you're eating at the right time for your body.
OF: Yes, the time thing is interesting, because then this links back to what we were talking about with cycles.
RM: Right, exactly. You have to be consistent. Our bodies are very good at keeping patterns. So if you are messing around with your diet - on Monday you have breakfast at 8, on Tuesday you have breakfast at 11 - not only are you potentially confusing your stomach in terms of the enzymic releases, you are really confusing your brain to understand “When am I expecting to eat?” So this is where people are overeating. Your brain now doesn't even know when it should tell you that “We're hungry” or "We're full”. And because you're overeating, you're likely having too much sugar. Because usually when we're overeating rarely - very rarely - are we eating…
RM: No. That is not what we are doing.
OF: “Oh you know what, today I had so much cucumber.” Yeah, I've never heard that.
RM: No. So unfortunately if somebody is overeating, it’s going to directly affect your sleep cycle. Because sugar on its own is actually a stimulant.
RM: So your diet plays an immense role.
OF: Yup. OK. So, you know… As we're talking about this, you’ll hear the way that I'm reacting is like “Yep. Yep, yep, yep.” It’s because none of this is rocket science. But you have to kind of be a superhero to actually manage all of these things together. This is my experience of finding out about sleep. It’s that I do the research, I found out all this stuff already on Google, but it's such a cascade of information.
OF: It’s presented in all this way that no-one can possibly do it all.
OF: And this is why I think you'd need a coach to manifest these different things.
RM: Right. Precisely, precisely.
OF: So let's keep on going through this impossible list of things that affects sleep. We’re sitting in my bedroom, what is it in terms of a bedroom that can either help or hinder your sleep?
RM: OK. So for your bedroom, number one is light.
OF: Because our body is set to wake up with light.
OF: Go to bed in the dark.
RM: Right, right. So unfortunately, if you're living in a city like Shanghai - that is this big, this loud, this bright - then the chances are, your sleep cycle is going to be quite warped. So make sure you've got dark curtains. Because even at night some light is going to seep in through, because there's some person who's up at 1am and they've switched on their light right next door. Or maybe you live right next to some kind of street lamp or something like that.
OF: Yeah, absolutely.
RM: So the darker and heavier your curtains, the better. And again, with the light, you want to make sure that the lamps in your bedroom, they are more of an orange hue…
RM: … Than they are of a white/bluish hue. When they discovered fluorescent light, their idea was to make electricity affordable to a broader range of people.
RM: Noble idea. Terrible terrible thing for sleep.
OF: OK, yeah.
RM: Because unfortunately, fluorescent light mimics the sun in terms of blue light, which is like essentially what you get from the sun when you wake up in the morning. It immediately increases your serotonin and reduces your melatonin.
OF: At a time when you should be winding down.
RM: At a time when you should be winding down.
OF: Yeah, yeah. What else do we look at?
RM: So then we look at the sound.
RM: How quiet is your bedroom. Because we are actually way more attentive when we are sleeping - in terms of sound - than we are actually when we're awake.
OF: Oh I see. Yes, because there's no other stimulus…
OF: … And your ears are tweaking like radars.
RM: Righto, righto.
OF: Here's where I think I fail. Because sometimes I will fall asleep with a podcast in my ears. Not my own, because mine is so interesting. I would never ever possibly fall asleep to something so interesting as this. But I've got into the habit sometimes of just having that quieten the voices in my head. And that gives me that sense of calming and helps me sleep. But that's not good, you’re saying.
OF: OK, and is that common?
RM: Very. Extremely, actually. Because it does give you that calming feeling. Like, I love to listen to rain sounds, for example.
OF: OK yeah, well that's better, I would say.
RM: Right, but you have to put a timer on it, between 10-15 minutes. Because if it goes longer than that, now you're getting into proper sleep. Because 20 minutes is ‘nap sleep’: first and second stage. That's pretty OK. But it is a stimulus. So it will still do something, because it's not like your ears are dead when you're asleep. So now it is no longer meeting the purpose anymore.
OF: And yet it is still trying to mess up with your natural rhythms.
RM: Yes, right. Because now it's not doing what it's supposed to do.
OF: Yeah, I sort of now feel like it's become a crutch.
OF: And that's something which is bad, right?
OF: Is it the same with reading a book? It’s not, right?
OF: It’s the same?
OF: Because it could be an exciting book, is what you mean.
RM: Yeah. So with books, the number one thing to do is to make sure you're not reading in bed.
OF: That's such a trope that you should read in bed!
RM: No, not in bed.
OF: OK, interesting.
RM: You can read if you must, but maybe on a sofa. Just try not to do it on the bed. It just goes back to pattern creations. If you are creating a pattern that you're doing every other day, that's what your brain now knows. And moving away from that, it will fight you hard.
OF: This is the thing, right?
OF: Because we all want the easy fix.
RM: Of course.
OF: And none of us are going to say “Right, I need to completely change all of my patterns in life.”
RM: Yeah, yeah.
RM: Yeah. See, the thing is, I feel like today's society is a microwave society. We are so used to just having things at our fingertips.
RM: So putting in the work is not something that we want to do at all.
OF: Yes. And as you say that, it makes me think about how often on this podcast people talk about China in the sense of convenience.
OF: It's become the baseline.
OF: There's a problem, diagnose it, fix it.
RM: Exactly. Everything is at our fingertips.
OF: Which you could say about modern society everywhere in the world…
OF: … I just think it's heightened in China, right?
RM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't think there's anywhere else like China. Oh god.
RM: But because of that concept, even with health coaching it's exactly the same thing. Because you're saying to somebody “You want to be better. But this is the price to pay. Are you willing to pay it?” And usually it's “No.”
OF: Yeah because this is it, right? If you want to have a lifestyle that is regular, it’s kind of formulaic, it's kind of boring. Like, you are espousing a boring life.
RM: Maybe. Usually the resistance just comes from the fact that I'm now doing something different, something that I'm not used to.
RM: Not necessarily that it's boring, but it's just “Ach.” You know, the mental challenge of just now saying “I have to wake up in the morning and go to the gym, instead of laying in bed until eight o’clock."
OF: Yes, any kind of change to a routine that you are settled in.
OF: And even though I'm coming to you complaining about my sleep, I don't want to actually do the work, yeah.
RM: Exactly. Oh, gosh, I can't tell you. I've had to fire clients. Really.
RM: Because you realise that they are in love with the idea of having a sleep coach and fixing their sleep. They're absolutely in love with it. But they have not committed to actually making the changes.
RM: And I mean, it's not necessarily their fault. It just could be that they’re just genuinely not ready.
RM: And so for me in that situation, I'm like…
OF: “There’s not much I can do,” yeah.
RM: There's not a lot I can do.
OF: We've talked about noise, we’ve talked about light, is there anything else we can lump on top of this?
RM: Well there's always a lot more.
OF: Oh my god.
RM: Cleanliness. And this is not about the dust element. But how clean are you? If your surroundings are ‘clutter, clutter, clutter’, the chances of you being calm are totally slimmer.
OF: When you have a decluttered place, when your inbox is decluttered, that stuff definitely calms me down.
RM: And I think that's the thing, right? Like, we don't necessarily put those two together: clutter with sleep. Because they seem so far from each other.
RM: But actually, it is about our five senses. They are constantly feeding our brains.
OF: Oh, even subconsciously, right?
RM: Even subconsciously.
RM: They’re constantly feeding our brains with some form of information. Also, if you are not bothered by clutter, we probably need to talk about a few things. Because that on its own is an indication that you might have some mental health challenge.
OF: So this is where we go into the whole emotional and mental side of sleep.
RM: Yeah, yeah.
OF: Because it's not just the physical side.
OF: And it's not even just the chemical side.
OF: We’re talking now about our mental wellbeing. Another topic we all know about, right? I'm stressed out about something. And of course, I can't sleep properly.
OF: And so this is why you call yourself a sleep ‘coach’.
OF: So let's start to talk about this then. So how the hell do you diagnose which of these million things…
RM: … Is the problem.
OF: … Is causing bad sleep? Because it must be everything at once. I'm sure that people come in and just say “Help.” And then how do you figure out what's going on?
RM: The first thing that we do is, we do a discovery session. And the discovery session is anywhere between an hour to two hours. I've actually had longer than that, because they had a lot to unpack.
OF: I can imagine. Because, you know, this conversation is going to be probably two hours.
RM: Yeah. And in the discovery session, I have a set of questions. And a lot of them help me to understand if you have more of a pathological situation going on, or it's really a lifestyle situation. Are you working out? If you are, what time are you working out? What time are you having your dinner? What do your weekends look like? But really, it's when you're having a conversation that you actually start to go deeper. I had a client tell me that they did not realise that they had a horrible sleep culture until I asked them about their sleep culture.
OF: What do you mean by the culture?
RM: So in my region - where I grew up - what do people believe about sleep? What do people actually do? Take for example people from Spain, they have siestas. That is an absolutely normal thing. In my country, not normal.
OF: But you're not saying “Good” or “Bad” here.
RM: No, no, no, no. I’m just trying to understand how you conceptualise sleep.
RM: Because that will also allow me to understand how best to even approach sleep with you.
OF: And what is the general concept of sleep in China, since we're here?
RM: That's actually very interesting, because I've seen a few variations.
RM: So the first one is, if I am dealing with somebody who is a high-earning individual, then it is the typical ‘Work, work, work, work, work. Rest when I die. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah’. Then you've got the mums. And the mums here are burnt out, they are just as affected as their kids are ,when it comes to the schoolwork and all of that stuff.
OF: And they’re worried about their kids so much.
RM: And they're very worried about their kids as well. So there’s that.
OF: Right, because of the competitive nature of getting into the right school, blah blah blah.
RM: Absolutely. So often in my coaching, I do a lot more stress coaching than I do sleep coaching. That has been something that has almost evolved on its own, because I did not necessarily target stressed people.
OF: But that's just coming out in the questionnaires.
RM: It’s coming up in the questionnaires, it's coming up in the direct relatedness of sleep and stress.
OF: Which then goes into the whole family situation.
OF: And then suddenly you’re a marriage guidance counsellor.
RM: And I'm just like “Well, I need to send you to a good friend of mine. She's a relationship coach.”
OF: Because it's so broad…
OF: … This must happen quite a lot. Like you go through a kind of funnel. And then at the end you’re like “Right, I've done all that I can do…”
OF: “… Now you have to go to a hospital…”
OF: “… Now you have to go to a different coach.…”
OF: “… Now you have to go to a dietician.”
RM: Exactly. So I work with 嘉會 [Jiāhuì] Hospital at the moment with their sleep department.
OF: Oh, I see. So there are sleep departments in hospitals?
RM: They are, which is wild, because most of us don't know that.
OF: And are they doing the same thing you're doing?
OF: So there is a pathology, and there is a treatment, and that's it.
RM: And that’s it.
OF: OK, yeah.
RM: And it's fantastic. But what I have noticed, because of working in hospitals most of my career, the doctor can tell you “A, B, C, D, this is what you need to go and do at home.” If you don't know how to take those things that the doctor has said and make it actually apply to your lifestyle…
RM: … The chances of you actually doing this thing are going to be slim.
OF: No it’s zero!
OF: No it’s zero. I mean, I've had advice just in general been given to me, “You have to do this, and eat better, and sleep better.” It's like “Where do I even start?”
RM: And that's what makes me very different. I focus on how to get whatever they've said, and actually make it apply to your real everyday life. And not make you feel like you have to uproot your whole system that you love.
OF: Or if you do, at least you do it incrementally.
OF: And you coach them through it.
RM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
RM: We use a term called ‘crowding out’.
OF: ‘Crowding out’.
RM: Yeah. So instead of just going cold turkey on something, we start flooding you with the good things that you need to be doing. So that you don't have enough time for the bad things that you were doing before.
OF: Right. If my tummy is full of cucumbers, I can't put any more potato chips in there.
RM: Drink more water, less time to stress about stuff.
OF: It's almost like distraction, isn't it?
RM: It is.
OF: Distract your brain, distract your gut.
RM: It really is.
OF: Yes, crowding out.
RM: Because you have to do that.
RM: You absolutely have to do that.
OF: We were talking about cultures…
OF: … And specifically Chinese culture. Was there anything we haven't touched upon? You talked about mothers and high-performers.
RM: Yeah. And then you've got folks that have nothing going on.
OF: Oh, this sounds familiar to me.
RM: Where their schedules are very 随便 [suíbiàn]. They don't necessarily have to be waking up to do something specific, unless they make the option…
OF: Oh so you’re saying zero routine.
OF: Which is the bane of sleep, right?
OF: So I'm guessing this is a certain social strata.
OF: It’s almost the opposite of stress.
RM: And you would think that people in that situation have it all together, and they are stress-free, and they can just sleep, and all of that.
OF: Yes, that’s the dream, right?
RM: That's the dream. And you know what's funny? This is what society has kind of made us believe what success is, right? Like, when I finally make it, I don't have to work a day in my life. But actually, that is the worst thing you want to do for yourself.
OF: Yes, because that's the trope where somebody retires, and they die the next week, right?
RM: Yeah, exactly.
RM: Exactly. I've had clients, they've worked quite a bit, and then now they don't have to. Because their net worth is pretty decent, they don't really have to work at all. And all of a sudden, they can't sleep. And they're like, they think they are resting, but really they’re just doing nothing at all. We look at their lifestyle and say “OK, so what can we do now?” Actually building up routine. “Oh well, you know, maybe I like painting.” “Let's find you a painting class.” And unfortunately, those are the most common things that I see in my practice.
OF: Oh really, out of everything?
OF: It’s those people? Well I guess because, what you're offering is a service which people would still see as luxury right now. Right, it’s not something which is on every street corner.
OF: So the people who are coming to you, they have a certain disposable income.
OF: And that's now self selecting the kind of people you see.
RM: Yeah. It's the everyday person who's suffering quite a bit.
OF: Much more.
RM: Yeah. And it's the everyday person who is reducing their life expectancy, because of sleep deprivation and stress and all of these horrible things.
OF: Rumbiey, all of us are.
OF: I mean, I can't think of one person who doesn't have some kind of issue with one of the things we've talked about.
RM: Yeah, that's the thing. And it's frightening. We have gone so long doing these things - being these things - that they are almost a non-conversation point. You know, I always say “We are still children.” So think of a toddler. You know, if they don't get enough sleep, their world will come crashing down. They will scream, yell, have a tantrum.
RM: We are literally like that. The only difference is, we're not going to throw ourselves on the floor and roll around. No. But it could be a boss who's shouting, and they’re screaming, and they're just vile.
OF: These are toddlers who haven't had enough sleep.
OF: Oh gosh.
RM: For Christmas, give them a pillow. You know? Potentially this could be the real reason. And we might not have those emotional outbursts like that. But we'll have internal outbursts.
OF: Oh, I see.
RM: The way you think of yourself is diminished, simply because you’re under-slept. There's such a thin line between being mentally healthy and unhealthy. And that line is actually predominantly sleep.
OF: It's so funny, doing this project, I like to have people sitting in that chair who come from all kinds of backgrounds. And what I tend to experience through them, is that somebody who is a historian will just see everything in the context of history. Someone who is in marketing, they'll see everything is controlled by marketing. And that's the lens through which they see their life. Everything is to do with sleep right now. I mean, you must have friends who are like “Rumbiey, shut the **** up.”
RM: All the time. All the time.
OF: Because yeah, you will see people, and you're like “Oh, that guy's got a slouch: sleep.”
OF: Like “Oh, that guy's not in a good mood: sleep.” “Oh that guy's blind: he’s not getting enough sleep.”
RM: Just yesterday, going for lunch with my friends is torturous to them. I think. I also have to genuinely turn it off.
OF: What about for yourself, then? Do you allow yourself to not follow every single rule?
RM: Yeah, I do. I do.
OF: Right, so let’s just be honest then, which of the rules that we've talked about - not ‘rules’, but you know what I mean, it's these things that affect sleep - which of them do you allow yourself not to follow?
RM: So it doesn't happen very often, but often enough. And that is sleeping with my phone.
OF: So you do it too.
RM: I do. And you know, it's such a thing. But just recently, I started sleeping with my phone in my kitchen now.
RM: Because it's far enough for me not to feel like I need to go there.
OF: I don't know anyone who does not sleep with their phone charging next to their bed.
RM: Yeah, you know…
OF: In fact you put your alarm clock on your phone, right?
RM: I don't wake up with an alarm any more.
OF: Ah yeah, this is gonna be another thing, right?
RM: Yeah. Because I've listened to my body. And now I know the best time for me to go to sleep naturally. And the best time for me to wake up. But you have to take time to actually understand your body. How are you feeling if you're waking up at six o'clock? How are you feeling if you're waking up at seven o'clock?
OF: OK, but you're a consultant, and you can work with your own hours.
OF: What if you have work and you have to get up at 5:30?
RM: Well, then you need to shift something backwards. So your sleep time has to then go a little bit earlier. Like that is the core of what I do. Saying “Let's look at what your lifestyle looks like. Let's make it work for you. Your job needs you to wake up at 5:30? Great, but we want you to wake up with energy. And we don't want you to crash halfway through the day. So what can we do?”
OF: And is the idea that you'll listen to your body, and then you'll wake up naturally at 5:30 at some point?
RM: Yeah, eventually. Eventually, because there's also a pattern that you've created.
OF: I mean you've definitely given me, personally, a lot to think about. I feel bad because we've talked about what you do, and we haven't talked about actually who you are. Of course, I've got to know you a lot.
OF: But why don't we just finish off this first part of the conversation by asking you, how did you get to become a sleep therapist here in Shanghai?
RM: That's a very long story, but I'll try to make it really short. So I grew up with a family that was fairly unhealthy. And not necessarily that they were doing something specifically wrong, there are a lot of genetic issues. So on my dad's side there’s cancer, both my parents have diabetes, my dad actually passed away from diabetes and heart failure. And these are very genetic things. So when I was three years old, I had a heart attack, when I was at my oldest sister's funeral.
OF: Oh gosh.
RM: And she had just passed away from cancer. So you can imagine the stress that my parents had to deal with. They haven't even buried their daughter, and the youngest daughter's been whisked away to an emergency room.
OF: And that was with the emotion of the funeral. But you were so young.
RM: No. I eventually found the documentation and things like that. So apparently, two or three weeks before I'd had strep throat. This little bug migrated to my heart.
RM: And my heart rate was crazy crazy fast, even for an adult, that it eventually stopped.
OF: On the day of your sister's funeral.
RM: On the day of my sister's funeral. Following that, I had to go to doctors every single Saturday, like it was the most normal thing to do.
OF: Oh I see.
RM: So I grew up around a lot of medicine, obviously. And so it went on through school as well. And it just sort of solidified that I wanted to do something to help. My sister was working for a hospital, and she was like “Let me get you a part-time job.”
RM: It was at the hospital, and I was just a receptionist, just answering phone calls and smiling. That's all, but I loved it.
RM: I absolutely loved it. Because for the first time, I felt like I was genuinely helping with the little bit that I knew.
RM: Then it was time to go to university. And then that's when the economy took a nosedive. And all of my parents’ university savings got wiped out in one day.
RM: And all of a sudden, I can't afford to go to school, and I had to figure out a new plan. And I was still stuck as a receptionist. I was always found wandering the corridors and talking to patients.
OF: Ah this is starting to sound something like what you're doing now.
OF: I see.
RM: That’s where the spark happened. And the more I spoke to these patients… Because I was very different. I was not a doctor.
RM: I was not a nurse. So I wasn't a person with this immense authority that kind of scared them. All of a sudden, they're telling me what they miss, and their fears of going home after they get discharged, or the things they're not very happy about in the hospital. And I would start telling my GM “Hey, so I just kind of talked to a few patients. And they said, you know, maybe if we did this instead of what we're doing now, they will be more comfortable.” So I ended up having a whole department.
OF: Oh what?
RM: Yeah. So with that, fast forward, I get an amazing opportunity through my uncle. And he says “Well why don't you go to China? Go and see what's there.” And I'd never ever thought about China at all.
RM: When I came to China, I found Chinese medicine, because I was not feeling well. And I think it was just a complete culture shock.
RM: So my friend then says to me "Have you tried Chinese medicine?” And I walk in and this doctor clearly sees I'm sick. And I was so scared, because I'm all by myself here.
RM: Luckily, the girl at the reception could translate. She was like “He says your heart rate is so fast, you're going to have a heart attack. He's gonna do acupuncture.” I was like "What's that?”
OF: Oh wow.
RM: I didn't even know what that was. So he does literally three needles. And in ten minutes, my heart rate calms down, and I don't feel like I'm about to die.
OF: Oh my gosh, yeah.
RM: And then he says to me “I'll treat you for free." So for a whole month, I was going to do acupuncture, and he was making me this horribly smelly bitter medicine. But it helped. And I think again the stars aligned, because at some point during that whole experience I was on LinkedIn. And then I saw a job post pop up. And they were looking for a marketing manager in a Chinese medicine clinic. I was like “OK.” And we worked pretty well together. And that's when I was like ‘mind blown' by the concept of Chinese medicine. The ‘holistic-ness’ is what really just hooked me because I was like “This is not something that Western medicine ever teaches.” They eventually gave me a work visa, and I felt home. Then I got sick. And eventually, it got so bad, I did go to the doctor. And they were like “Well, you have endometriosis.”
RM: So that's like an inflammation of the endometrium, which is like a lining in your uterus.
RM: And sometimes it can grow outside of your uterus.
RM: And it is excruciating.
RM: So I was bedridden for almost six months. The treatments that they were giving me, they weren't necessarily working for me. And I was getting very frustrated, because you're waking up with this pain, you're going back to bed with this pain. And you aren't functioning because of this pain, and all they're doing is almost like testing which one sticks.
RM: And that wasn't working for me. So a friend of mine, she's a health coach. And I went to her and I was like “I need your help. I feel like this is the end of me, help.” And she was like “You know, maybe Rumbiey you should study health coaching. And do it for you, to learn your body.” And I swear to you, in three months I had gone from 100% pain to like 30% pain. Just by changing my nutrition, the exercise, as well as my sleep, which I later discovered could be a thing. So I took extra studies for the sleep.
OF: That's a course what you did online?
RM: Yeah. I knew also that I didn't want to necessarily be a doctor of sleep. I wanted to specifically focus on the lifestyle, because I was like “There are doctors who do this already.”
RM: I don't want to necessarily be a part of that.
OF: And actually, it's not your skillset really.
OF: Your skillset was going between the lines that the doctors and nurses couldn’t do.
RM: Exactly, exactly. Be comfortable enough to weave into the everyday life of this person.
RM: And be able to genuinely change some things other than the medical aspect of it.
OF: I'm very glad that we covered your story. There's a lot. And I'm looking at the objects that you brought. And the shortcut part of me says “Right, I'm going to use these and fix my sleep.”
OF: I have to remember that these are just what you said at the beginning. These are physical manifestations of the much larger story that you've been able to share.
RM: Right. Exactly.
OF: And I hope that people listening would take away at least a few things. And if they need more, then they certainly know who to call.
RM: Absolutely. I just want to say thank you so much for inviting me to your bedroom.
OF: We're not finished, we have to do Part 2.
OF: We have more to go.
OF: And I already know that we've gone so long in the first half. So we are going to whiz through the second half.
RM: OK, cool.
OF: So let us start.
OF: Question 1, which comes from Shanghai Daily: What is your favourite China-related fact?
RM: As a foreigner, when I first came to China I initially just lumped everybody into one big giant demographic, I guess. But actually getting here and realising there are so many minorities…
RM: … Has been such a breath of fresh air. Because it has allowed me to look at the Chinese people and say “You're all just like everybody else.”
RM: And it's nice. It's comforting.
OF: Yes, in terms of you can't generalise about Zimbabweans…
OF: … So why would you generalise about Chinese?
OF: What is the equivalent in Zimbabwe? What is the majority tribe or culture or language?
RM: So the majority tribe are the Shona?
OF: Aha. Are there any similarities between Shona culture and Chinese culture that you’ve seen?
RM: More than you would believe.
RM: I was shocked.
RM: So like the marriage culture is very similar here. Also, the education. Just China is way more intense. My dad actually wanted me to be an economist because he was an economist. And he just thought “That would be the thing for her.” No.
RM: He was very encouraging of my job at the hospital. And he would come - so my dad was weird - he would come, and he would sit just in front of me and he would sleep.
RM: Just to be there.
OF: How funny. Another sleep connection as well.
OF: Ha. Question 2, which comes from Rosetta Stone: Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?
RM: 马马虎虎 [Mǎmǎhǔhǔ].
OF: 马马虎虎 [Mǎmǎhǔhǔ].
RM: And the reason why I love it is because it was one of my very first words that I learned.
OF: It's often the first word that a foreigner will learn.
RM: Yeah. And I remember our Chinese teacher… Because I did a full university education with Chinese for a full year.
RM: So it was very structured. And I remember my teacher, she would always say “Chinese people will immediately think you speak good Chinese.”
RM: But now, I don't even use it any more.
RM: Because if you use it, people are just like “Your Chinese is very low.”
OF: Yes. It’s one of those things that actually only the foreigners seem to say.
OF: Which is interesting, because in this podcast I assumed that it would come up more. It hasn't. There's only one other person who said it, and he was Chinese.
OF: And when it came out of his face…
RM: You were just like…?
OF: “Why are you saying that?”
OF: Because I'd literally never heard a Chinese person say it.
RM: Yeah, I think it's something that they push more foreigners to say because it's fun, it’s easy.
OF: It's cute.
RM: Exactly, it’s cute.
OF: And can you explain what it means.
RM: So it just means ‘So-so’.
OF: Very nice. Next question, which comes from naked Retreats: What is your favourite destination within China?
RM: I would say 南京 [Nánjīng].
RM: 南京 [Nánjīng] for me feels a lot like a town back home. So it's got the mountains, it’s got the city, and it feels like the city is a little sunk in. Sort of like in a valley, sort of. So the first time I went to 南京 [Nánjīng], I was like “I love this place.” So for about a few years, I would make sure to look at the forecast to see if it was snowing in 南京 [Nánjīng], and I would go every winter.
RM: Just to go and see the snow. But specifically in 南京 [Nánjīng], because it had that homey feel.
OF: It's a chill city. Very cool. If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?
RM: Oh lord. I would miss the subway. No matter where you are, you have at least two lines…
RM … That you can choose from, you know. And it's also something I will not miss, at the same time. Because of the crowds. I won't miss the crowds that are disengaged.
OF: I know exactly what you mean. And these are the people who act like crowds, and not individuals.
RM: Yeah. And it's really sad.
OF: Yes. The flip side of the convenience, right? Next question, which comes from SmartShanghai: Where is your favourite place to go out, to eat, or drink, or hang out?
RM: Well unfortunately, a lot of my favourite places have been closed.
RM: But my favourite place right now is Barbarian on 武夷 [Wǔyí] Road. Because it's new.
OF: I don’t know that one.
RM: Near 中山 [Zhōngshān] Park, actually.
OF: I know which complex you mean, I just had lunch in one of those places the other day.
RM: Yeah, it's pretty.
OF: It’s quiet, people don't really know about it yet.
RM: Yeah. So I love that place.
OF: By the time this episode comes out, it's probably old news already. But as we're speaking…
RM: It’s new.
OF: It’s still pretty cool. Next question, what is the best or worst purchase you've made in China?
RM: I think the best purchase was these mouth tapes.
OF: Mouth tapes?
OF: That’s for if you're snoring, it shuts you up?
RM: Not just snoring, but it improves your breathing.
OF: Because you have to breathe through your nose?
RM: Yes. Because we're always breathing through our mouth.
RM: So I actually initially bought them to try them out, so I could give them to a client who has specifically this problem. So I tested them out, and I was like "Oh my gosh, they're amazing.” So now we have them.
OF: Wow. I'm picturing it.
OF: This wouldn't be a turn-on for me.
OF: And you wear them daily?
RM: I try. Whenever I remember to.
OF: Well, well.
RM: Weird, right?
OF: I mean, this is why I have this question. That I can get weird answers like that. Next question, what is your favourite WeChat sticker?
RM: OK, let me actually send it to you.
OF: Oh I see. Tell me what's going on here.
RM: So it’s Beyoncé.
RM: And she's busy flicking her hair.
RM: And what I love about that, is because every time I send it, it’s because somebody has done something really cool. I think all my clients have received this, I’m pretty sure. When they have done something really amazing - like with their meal plans or something - and I'm like “You got it.”
OF: Oh, I see. So actually, it's out of generosity.
OF: It's not actually saying that you're the goddess.
RM: Oh, no, no, no, no. I always give it out to other people, like “Look what you've done, you’ve just done this amazing thing.”
OF: Next question. What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?
RM: Ah, that would be Alicia Keys.
RM: "No one, no one, no one.” Yeah, it's an easier song to sing.
OF: I see. It’s to do with the easiness of singing it.
RM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't want to strain myself at a KTV.
RM: Oh my gosh.
OF: And finally, this comes from JustPod - which is the studio that normally I’d be using, but today you're in my boudoir - what or who is your biggest source of inspiration in China?
RM: Ah, you know, I get a lot of inspiration from people's stories.
OF: You're going into very intimate details.
RM: Yeah, yeah. People help me be able to tell the story of ‘Purposely Healthy’ in such a way that it resonates with people. That’s the name of my coaching brand.
OF: That’s coaching.
RM: Right. And then the products, it's ‘The Slumber Box’.
OF: Rumbiey, thank you again.
RM: Thank you for having me.
OF: Oh I love the sing-song. And before I let you leave, out of everyone you know in China, who would you recommend that I interview in the next season of Mosaic of China?
RM: I would recommend Dr. Gina.
RM: From ASPINE.
RM: So she's a chiropractor, and she has transformed my back and my shoulder. She invited me to her clinic, and she was like “Hey, come in for a consultation.” And I walked out of there - after just one session - feeling like she had reversed so much.
OF: Wow. It'll be good to meet with Dr. Gina. Thank you so much.
RM: Thank you.
OF: First things first, I mentioned at the top of the show that there’s an extra 30 minutes of content in the PREMIUM version of the show this week. Here’s a whole bunch of clips from that version to show you what I mean:
RM: Sleep spindles, and…
OF: I've never heard of ‘sleep spindles’, what the hell are you talking about?
OF: Do we know why our temperature drops?
RM: It's like hibernation. It's key in getting you to sleep.
RM: Say “Sanibonani.” And everybody, everybody: “Sanibonani!” Everybody was just saying “Hello!”
OF: The whole bus.
RM: The whole bus.
RM: Usually people like that eventually can start having headaches the minute they wake up.
RM: “That can't be Rumbiey. She's not that fat.” And I had swollen.
OF: Oh gosh.
RM: So that's when the real alarm bells went off.
RM: There’s actually a very interesting phenomenon that's been happening lately: ‘social jetlag’.
OF: ‘Social jetlag’?
RM: Eventually your body starts to suppress its own production. Because our bodies naturally produce melatonin.
OF: Oh I see.
OF: You must lose some clients immediately at that point.
OF: Like “Don't talk about my life, just fix my sleep!”
RM: Yeah. Right.
RM: So I get in, get him out, and start to do CPR on him. Unfortunately, he passed away.
OF: OK, so no snoring during stage three.
RM: That is an actual problem, it is not normal.
RM: They're like “If I can't sleep, I'll just wake up my wife.”
RM: Deep clean your mattresses!
RM: I can totally have a great time.
OF: And actually yes you will relax in that one week.
RM: Yeah. Then I come back, my life is still the same.
RM: It blocks fourth and fifth stages.
OF: Oh so you never get the deeper sleep.
RM: You don't even get it.
OF: I wouldn't touch the kitchen surface over there if I were you.
RM: With that system, they were like “Do you want to create a department?” I was like “Let's do it.”
OF: It’s like “Screw you, I’ve done it ‘for the man’ the whole week. Now I'm going to do what I want.”
RM: In China that's an actual thing, ‘Sleep revenge’.
RM: ‘Sleep revenge’.
RM: Initially, I wanted to be a doctor.
OF: Yeah, right.
RM: And then I was like “No, I've seen too much of them. No.”
[End of Audio Clips]
OF: I have posted a bunch of images on social media alongside today’s show, including details of how you can reach Rumbiey to get 20% off a customised sleep coaching programme (valid for the next three months), or 15% off Slumber Box products (valid until the end of December 2022). Just quote Mosaic of China, and the discounts will apply.
Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. Coming up right now is a catch-up chat with the Armenian violinist Astrid Poghosyan from Season 01 Episode 04. And we’ll be back with another new episode next week.
OF: Astrid, hello!
OF: What a pleasure to see you. I have run into you actually quite a lot since our first recording, and since our catch-up recording. In pandemic years, I've known you for a century.
OF: Well, for anyone who doesn't know you, you were the first non-Chinese management employee in the 150-year history of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. So I guess I should ask you, what's happening at the orchestra? What's going on?
AP: Well, it's been a challenging time, I guess, for all the industries including ours. But I mean, the entertainment industry, it's probably one of the most sacrificed industries in these times.
AP: Especially for the times when you thought that you’ve already recovered - you’re back to normal after 2020 - and it hits you again. You keep making plans, and changing them; keep making plans, and changing them. But we are still going forward with live performances, this is the ‘freedom time’.
OF: Well I remember the first lockdown, because that was during our first catch-up. So you're from Season 01, and then when we had our catch-up for Season 02 you were saying how actually it was quite manageable. Because during that time, you could still do some kind of small events and you could broadcast them, right? You had, like, little quartets, because people could still get together, just there was no audience. I guess this time it was very different.
AP: This time, we had learnt our lesson from 2020, so we kind of already knew what to do, what not to do. We had weekly concerts every Friday, streaming.
OF: You did?
AP: Yes. Doing streamings of our previous highlight concerts.
OF: Oh, your previous concerts.
AP: Including our world tours. And it was part of a whole programme by the Shanghai government as well. Different cultural institutions from Shanghai, they would stream on different days: evening concerts, ballet, dances, or anything culture-related.
AP: So they were streaming, and our day was Fridays. That's why you have to actually be really active before these ‘force majeure’ situations. So once this thing happens, you have some kind of materials to use…
AP: … Until you get back to normal again.
OF: So you had a bunch of recordings just ready to go, right?
AP: Exactly. Yes, yes. So we worked in that way. And it was a good chance for us as well to give ourselves a recap of all those moments. Because we forget a lot of good stuff we've done.
AP: Because you keep moving forward. And you know you have done it, but it's just passing by. Especially when you're stuck at home, those things feel even more precious. So it was like a good reflection time as well, in a way.
OF: Well, if anyone listening has not been to the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, I do recommend you go. It's an amazing building. You actually gave me a tour behind the scene, this is now three or four years ago. If you are not into classical music, give it a try, because you might find that you are, right?
OF: And personally, of course, you are a violinist. That's how you came to this profession. In lockdown, did you play for your neighbours?
AP: Yes. And then what I found is that maybe one thing you should consider when you rent an apartment somewhere, just try to check whether you have any musician neighbours around. You have some quite good entertainment.
AP: You have live music happening. Probably every time I would practice, my neighbours would send a message in the WeChat group saying “Oh, where's this coming from? Can you play more?” I'm like “OK, I already played an hour…”
OF: Really? So actually you became famous in your block.
AP: I would just play, and people would listen. And at some point it make me feel good as well that I chose my profession. In pandemic times, I can bring some unexpected joy to people.
AP: So that was fun.
OF: That's very nice. I have a piano which I bash on now again, but I do it very quietly. My musicality is not as good as yours. Well, what about the future then? What's in the future for you right now?
AP: The future is unknown. That's the best answer for the past years, I guess.
OF: You've been here since you were sixteen, right?
AP: Yes. And it's my 13th year.
OF: Many people have said “Oh, I've lived in China for 13-14 years.” But for you, it’s such a big percentage of your life.
OF: So I'm very grateful for what you're doing at the symphony. And I hope that I can also come to see one of your concerts soon.
AP: Thank you.