Today I woke up feeling tired and groggy. I switched off my alarm by reflex at 7am and dragged myself out of bed by 7.15, still feeling the struggle until my first cup of coffee at 7.45. Since becoming a mother last year, I’ve been irritable, absent-minded and constantly, cripplingly tired. And I’ve learnt what those who suffer from noisy neighbours, frequent jet lag or stress-related insomnia already knew: that sleep is a tremendous luxury.
It’s certainly not easy to attain – according to one wide-ranging 2010 survey, 68 per cent of adults in the UAE sleep badly. Those of us who don’t get enough rest, envy those who do and fixate on how we might get more. So it’s no surprise that the luxury market is offering extravagant solutions – but can money really buy you a good night’s sleep?
One five-star hotel in London certainly thinks so. The Corinthia Hotel (www.corinthia.com) introduced a Sumptuous Sleep Retreat package earlier this year. Priced at around Dh6,800 for a one-night stay in the hotel, it includes a two-hour ESPA ritual massage, use of its spa and a special menu; and for an additional Dh2,300 you get a consultation with the internationally recognised sleep expert Guy Meadows.
A physiologist by training, Meadows became interested in insomnia while researching for a doctorate in sleep disorders. Since then, he has set up an insomnia clinic in the United Kingdom, written a book and created an app to help people sleep better. He also offers a corporate programme called Sleep to Perform – which is a popular option as companies are realising that tired executives are less effective at work. “Sleep is not some evolutionary mistake,” he tells me over coffee in the Corinthia’s opulent lobby. “It’s a fundamental part of our emotional, physical and mental well-being.”
Having worked with more than 4,000 clients, Meadows doesn’t take long to get to the root of my sleep problems. During our conversation, we establish that I have three sleep problems: a baby who occasionally wakes up during the night (not much to be done about that), a husband who is a frequent early riser and disturbs me with his tossing and turning, and an erratic schedule that entails some travel.
Unlike many of his clients, I don’t have trouble falling asleep – rather, my problem is that I pass out as if drugged. “We process the emotions of the day in a phase called REM. Based on the latest imaging research, we think that somehow our brain works out our problems and if you’ve had a stressful day, it de-stresses you. If you don’t get enough REM sleep, you can’t regulate your emotions properly.”
Sleeplessness doesn’t just affect our mental health. After just one or two bad nights we’re more susceptible to viruses and slower to recover. After three or four weeks of poor sleep, our cardiovascular health is compromised, and after a few years, the risk of diabetes increases. There’s even some evidence suggesting a link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s disease.
It is little wonder that consumers are prepared to spend more and more on achieving sound sleep. Since launching in Dubai two years ago, the Swedish luxury bed company Hästens has seen exceptionally high demand and is currently looking for a location for its second showroom in the emirate, with plans to expand into Abu Dhabi. Among its most popular models is the 2000T (Dh136,000), which uses two separate spring systems to produce a feeling of weightlessness.
“One big selling point for the UAE is that our beds are made from natural fibre so they keep you cooler, and they take moisture away in the night,” says Peter Vedel, the vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Hästens. “They can be built with dual specification – so if you like a firm mattress and your partner likes a softer one, you can both get your wish. And if you are sharing the bed, your partner won’t disturb you if they get up and vice versa.”
That sounds like one answer to my early-waking problem.
Next, gradual relaxation into sleep needs to be established. For this, Neom Organics has created its Tranquillity range, a three-step process consisting of a bath foam, scented candle and room spray (available in Dubai at Bloomingdale's and the Burj Al Arab, and in Ras Al Khaimah at the Waldorf Astoria). Blending 12 essential oils including jasmine, basil and lavender picked in the French mountains, it smells delicious – and the bath is a particularly good idea, replicating the drop in temperature we'd normally experience as melatonin is released. I spritz the room spray liberally across my curtains and light the candle just before bedtime, padding about in its soft glow, and tend to agree with the 95 per cent of testers who say they woke up feeling calmer and more well-rested.
But what if you're on the move? The GoSleep sleeping pods available at Abu Dhabi International Airport and now at Dubai International Airport are an option. Consisting of a flat-folding bed covered with a roller-blind, the experience is like flying first class, and at US$14 (Dh52) per hour, well worth considering if you arrive in time for a nap.
Being a late riser usually means I don’t have time for a snooze at the airport. Instead, I attempt to fly with an Ostrich Pillow. The brand began with selling a sort of old-fashioned diving bell-helmet-like pillow made out of grey jersey – the idea being to create darkness and muffle noise while supporting the head and neck. This option is quite a style statement, however, so I opt for the smaller Ostrich Pillow Light, which is like a padded snood you wear around your eyes and ears. It helps me get a few hours’ rest on one short haul flight to Greece, but for a longer trip from Dubai to London, flying with the baby, I’m too worried that I’ll miss her cries or the seat belt sign going on, to relax into it properly.
For Meadows, worrying is the key problem with what we might call the sleep industry: there’s no substitute for the right mindset. “What an inflexible person has is an attitude like, ‘I won’t sleep on a plane,’” he says. I try to look nonchalant. “Already, before they’ve got to the plane, the chance of sleep has narrowed. So many of our clients will say, ‘My bedroom has to be perfect – it has to be the darkest, quietest, coolest place.’ All those things are important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s important not to obsess about them. One of my clients built a completely soundproof bedroom. But she didn’t realise that she promoted a ridiculous sense of inflexibility.”
Thus, instead of taking away my morning cup of coffee – “tell someone they can’t have caffeine and they’ll just get annoyed” – Meadows advises me to worry less if I’m woken up in the middle of the night. “The classic problem for someone who wakes up in the night is that they act in a way that actually just wakes them up more. You might start thinking about stuff, worrying about things, problem-solving, pick up your phone…”
This is exactly what happens if my husband or daughter wake me through the course of the night: I start counting down the hours until I need to be up in the morning until I’m so stressed that I have to get up and make a list of everything I need to do. This is what Meadows calls a “coping thought”, a phenomenon he would counteract with a technique called mindfulness. “Don’t try to challenge the thought – it’s like putting out a fire with petrol. Instead, you have to move playfully towards that thought. Say, ‘Oh, right on time, a coping thought. And I see you’ve brought your buddy anxiety with you, too.’”
After our chat, I head off to explore the Corinthia’s spa – a rabbit warren of luxurious facilities, from the peaceful swimming pool to another where you can lie and relax, to loungers in front of a fire. The next time I wake up in the night, I’m tempted to try to visualise myself inside one of its “sleep pods” – a dark, oval-shaped space that is equipped with a divan, blanket and cushions. But instead I remember Meadows’s advice.
“Ask an insomniac what they do to fall asleep and they’ll give you a list as long as your arm,” he says. “But if you ask someone who sleeps well what they do, they’ll tell you that they do absolutely nothing.”
And that is the last thought I remember having.