This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to London
Insomnia is officially on the rise, and with it a range of ever-more far-fetched remedies and therapies. The pandemic, and the anxiety and uncertainty that has accompanied it, has led to a spike in sleeplessness, and terms such as “coronasomnia” and “momsomnia” are now regrettably in the lexicon. Articles, books and podcasts about sleep hygiene, digital detoxing, the calming powers of exercise and the dangers of sleep deprivation for one’s mental and physical health are popping up with increasing frequency.
And yet it is all surely hopelessly counteractive: the more we think about how to get a better night, the more elusive sleep becomes. Lying awake at 2am, fretting that the supermarket delivery is coming at six followed by the usual over-programmed day of work meetings, children’s activities and a dinner you can’t get out of, is made so much worse in the knowledge that wakefulness is also bad for your long-term health.
I have been a serial insomniac ever since I had my first child, and I consider myself an enthusiastic early adopter of any newfangled device or treatment that promises a good night’s sleep. I have tried everything from the bludgeon of proper pharmaceuticals to lavender drops, meditation, sleep workshops, early-morning exercise, alcohol- and digital-detoxing, podcasts, getting up, staying in bed, gratefulness, mindfulness and so much more, with varying success.
So it piqued my interest to learn that some top-end London hotels, in step with the times, now offer a variety of treatments and programmes aimed at aiding and improving sleep. My initial hunch was that signing up for any programme where sleep was the focus would be counterintuitive — the old adage being that the more you think about the mechanics of sleep, the less likely you are to nod off. However, the lure of mattress toppers, blackout blinds, triple-glazed windows and “Do Not Disturb” signs could just balance it all out. Here is the lowdown on London’s top hotel sleep treatments.
The Sleep Concierge at The Cadogan
75 Sloane Street, London SW1
The concept of a Sleep Concierge — someone to organise the tricky business of falling asleep for you — is both appealing and a bit mad. In this case, the concierge is The Cadogan hotel, Belmond’s lavish Chelsea outpost, which has teamed up with Harley Street hypnotherapist Malminder Gill to create a sleep package based around a night’s stay.
Guests who sign up to this service will find a hypnotherapy recording on the hotel app to use during their stay, but an optional add-on is a session with Gill herself. One thing I had yet to try is hypnotherapy, so I booked in with Gill for an initial phone consultation to discuss my sleep issues and what to expect from my upcoming session at The Cadogan. She paused and said that, given my history, I may need a series of sessions as one might not touch the sides, but she would give it her best shot. “It will feel a bit like having a bedtime story,” she told me, “and you are likely to drift in and out of consciousness throughout.” I have to admit I felt rather sceptical.
A couple of days later I checked into the hotel and padded down to meet Gill in a suite on the first floor for our session. The lights were dimmed and I slipped under the duvet, while Gill began to talk in mellifluous tones for 45 minutes or so. I felt a bit like a child being tucked up for a nap. A sign that it may have worked is that I cannot recall anything she said. Afterwards in my room, I sat in a daze on the bed for a good 20 minutes before it was time to eat in The Cadogan’s excellent all-day restaurant, The LaLee.
Part of the package is your choice of pillow from a “pillow menu”. I found this a rather daunting decision, and asked if I could try the whole menu. When I got back to my room, the bed was stacked with a wide assortment of labelled pillows ranging from soft or firm to anti-ageing and even anti-snoring. There was also a V-shaped neck pillow and a sort of snake-like one that reminded me of something I used during the latter stages of pregnancy. I got a bit hot and bothered trying them out, forsaking all the options in favour classic Hungarian goose down.
Whether it was the generous pourings of wine at dinner, the hypnotherapy, the luxuriously puffy pillow or a magic combination of all of the above, I slept well. And that was despite a few stressful work emails and too much pudding. Whether the effects of a single hypnotherapy session are lasting, I am not so sure — I suspect for cases like mine, I would indeed need regular trips to Harley Street.
OTO Deep Relaxation at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge, London SW1
One thing I have had some success with of late is CBD oil, or cannabidiol, a byproduct of marijuana or hemp. Not just any old stuff: I researched it thoroughly and was told by a fellow sufferer that only products with a potency of 3,000mg would suffice, and that I should, above all, get a flavourless version, as many common-or-garden CBD oils are unbelievably foul-tasting. A pipette of my CBD of choice an hour before bed occasionally does the job.
CBD is now everywhere, in edibles, cocktails and skincare. OTO, a luxury beauty brand specialising in products infused with CBD oil, has teamed up with the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge to create a range of three treatments at the hotel’s renowned spa: Balance, Focus, Amplify. I thought the idea of using CBD to amplify sounded a bit contradictory, especially for sleep, so I plumped for Balance, the only treatment of the three designed to aid sleep and deep relaxation.
The depths of the Mandarin Oriental’s fragrant, dimly lit spa chamber are somewhat womblike, and the ritualistic nature of any visit there — slippers, warming tea, water features — ensures the unwinding process begins as soon as you check in your coat.
I selected “firm pressure” on the form, and therapist Lucia took this on board with gusto. The relaxing OTO oil was also laced with jasmine, helichrysum and chamomile, and along with the pleasant gong-like “sound therapy” conceived for the treatment, I was soon in a blissful liminal state.
There is nothing like a packed, delayed Piccadilly Line Tube to undo the benefits of those 90 minutes — it would have been far preferable to pad back to my hotel room in my robe. Nevertheless, that night I slept an astounding 10 hours and nearly missed the school run. I would say that this is worth the hefty price tag, and definitely worth a return visit.
ROOM by Antony Gormley at The Beaumont
Brown Hart Gardens, London W1
This is not a sleep treatment, nor is it new, but British sculptor Antony Gormley’s ROOM at The Beaumont more than deserves inclusion here. Bursting out of the hotel’s second floor like a futurist explosion, ROOM is first and foremost a monumentally architectural sculpture based on the artist’s crouching body. But it is also a sculpture you can sleep in, a monument to sleep itself, and one of the most extraordinary places to stay in London. As such, it is often reserved by visiting celebrities and art fanatics, so I was lucky to secure a rare booking.
Room 215 leads, via a living room, marble steps and thick black-velvet curtains, to the sculpture’s cathedral-like sleeping chamber, kept so dark that your eyes need to adjust to make out the geometric wooden innards leading to what is, at 10 metres, surely the highest hotel ceiling in London. The only furnishings are a big double bed, a little alcove with a phone for room service and a charger. As Gormley put it: “I wanted to structure night as a preamble to sleeping and dreaming, and reinforce the feeling of being fully enclosed. The very subliminal levels of light allow me to sculpt darkness itself. My ambition for this work is that it should confront the monumental with the most personal, intimate experience.”
On checking in, as a Gormley superfan I felt a mix of intimidation and excitement at the thought of sleeping in one of his actual works of art, and wondered how the night would pan out. In truth, after a martini at the hotel’s Le Magritte Bar and a superb monkfish wellington in The Colony Grill Room, I probably could have passed out anywhere, but I did have a surreal moment before nodding off in which I felt like a Lilliputian trapped inside a giant game of Jenga. But ROOM’s intensely cosseting darkness and quietude soon melted away my anxiety, and I woke to my alarm at 10:15am, set in a moment of panic the night before in fear of missing breakfast. My night at ROOM was a rich, sensory experience that put me in a becalmed, contemplative mood for the day.
Unwind and Reconnect Sleep Package at Pan Pacific
80 Houndsditch, London EC3
It seems a strange time for a Singaporean hotel chain to open its first European outlet, especially in the heart of the City, but on my Friday-evening visit to the new Pan Pacific it was buzzing with staycationing couples and city slickers popping in for cocktails.
The hotel is serious about sleep, and has devised four jam-packed 24-hour packages designed to help you to reset and relax. I plumped for Unwind and Reconnect, which began with a one-on-one yoga session in the hotel’s gym. It had been a while since I had been on a mat, and so I already felt quite weary by the time I ordered at the hotel’s Singaporean-themed restaurant, Straits Kitchen.
Before putting on the complimentary silk eye mask, it was time to grapple with some sleep tech: the Pan Pacific is the first hotel in the UK to use the Chili Ooler, a temperature-controlled mattress pad that you programme yourself via an app. With advice from the hotel’s wellness manager, I set mine to 21C — the recommended temp — and then heaved another sleep contraption, a Mela weighted blanket, on top of me. I woke in the night oddly cold, so I threw off the cumbersome blanket (many swear by it, but it is not for me), whacked the mattress temperature up a bit and soon dozed off again.
The real knockout was the treatment in the hotel spa, which began with being zipped into a MiHigh infrared sauna blanket, designed to help you detox and ease muscle pain. The therapist soon helped me to forget how overheated I was starting to feel by “playing” some singing bowls — a deep surround sound that is a form of effort-free meditation. Once I was happily released from the blanket, she began to artfully massage my legs and arms with warm bamboo canes — an effective deep-tissue technique that further aids relaxation. By this point it was Saturday morning and I knew the rest of the day would be a write-off.
Illustrations by Agathe Bray-Bourret
What is your secret or strategy for a good night’s sleep? Tell us in the comments below
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