World Sleep Day on March 18 highlights the importance of good sleep for our wellbeing.
Someone who really understands the science of sleep is Michael Burke — an organic farmer from Galway. Michael lives on his family farm in Dunblaney, Dunmore, where sheep have been raised for more than 200 years.
“My father made me a wool pillow as a boy and I just loved sleeping on it,” he says.
Michael has a background in pharma having spent decades developing slow-release medicines.
“When I worked in healthcare, I came to realise the health benefits of wool,” he adds.
So he created a wool pillow made with just two ingredients — wool and cotton.
Called the Woolow, it relies on wool’s breathability, which he says, means it is particularly helpful for people who suffer from poor sleep due to respiratory problems such as asthma.
“Put simply, dust mites can’t survive in clean wool, so you aren’t breathing them in as you sleep.” says Michael.
“Natural wool has been awarded the international Allergy Seal of Approval. Our FairTrade cotton casing has a thread count of 300. It is another natural, breathable, sustainable product.
"Wool also has the advantage of being temperature controlling, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer.”
The sustainability of wool cannot be overlooked either. It can be recycled over and over and there is a renewed supply every year.
Michael also advocates sticking to a sleep routine. He recommends that bedrooms be “dark, not too hot and devoid of technology.”
Where is your happy space?
Hanging out at home and on the farm. Having worked in industry where I travelled extensively, I love being out in the fields and enjoy the connection with the environment, with my family farm and the connection to history.
What is your favourite room?
The living room when the fire is going is where I get to chill out and relax, have a cup of tea and watch TV.
How would you describe your home/interiors?
It’s a cosy farmhouse with lots of family photos and memories, comfy furniture. There’s a mix of traditional and modern. We have all the gadgets but it’s very much a home with lots of memories.
Best bargain ever?
Winning tickets to Ireland V New Zealand in the Aviva for the rugby autumn friendly. It was free so you can’t get a better bargain than that – and we had a great win and the atmosphere was electric.
Biggest extravagance in your home or workplace?
The complete renovation of the existing dance hall at Dunblaney House after it closed in 1945. It’s ongoing and it will be used as a visitor centre. The house was built in 1787. There’s a lot of history associated with Dunblaney House and of late we have been restoring the dance hall. Some of that work is being Galway Rural Development.
Favourite household or (or farming?) chore?
Harvesting the grain for Flahavans. We grow organic oats. There are certain risks to growing this crop and to take in the grain on a fine day is a beautiful thing.
Least favourite task?
Painting: It is monotonous. I hate it so much, from the prep to the clean-up, I get a painter in.
Are you a DIY whizz?
I don’t believe so. I will try to fix most things unsuccessfully and end up reading the instructions.
Fridge or kitchen cupboard must-have?
Coffee — early-morning coffee, made properly — I love the process of making it.
What’s your signature dish?
Breakfast omelette is my go-to dish — mushrooms, bacon; you could call it a frittata and it’s like an all-day breakfast.
Who would be your ideal dinner-party guests?
My 92-year uncle Anthony who is still an active farmer, he has so much wisdom and craic and many stories, along with Tommy Tiernan, such an entertaining guy — I always and go and see his shows -- and my family, including my partner Dello.
What two things would you save from your house in a fire?
Our family photos and my phone.
What is the best advice you got at home growing up?
I come from a large family and my mum Teresa would often say: Let it in one ear and out the other.
What advice would you like to give others?
Appreciate all the good things that exist in your life. And, As Oscar Wilde said: Be yourself as everyone else is taken.
What career advice would you give others inspired by you?
Follow your dream and have a positive mindset.
I must say our Woolow project has been most rewarding.
How do you feel good sleep is more important than ever these days?
A good night’s sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing and improves our quality of life. A good night’s sleep builds a strong immune system.
What is the worst job you’ve done?
I never really complained about work but do recall having working in construction in London during my first summer at college and missing home.
How do you unwind?
I play AstroTurf soccer and watch TV, particularly history programmes.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing as I love my sleep.