Sleepcation, holidays dedicated to sweet sleep

Sleepcation, holidays dedicated to sweet sleep


In these particularly stressful times, a summer break in the name of energy recovery and ... sleep is what you need. From spas with specialized courses to guarantee sweet dreams to packages that include advice from an expert on the subject

(Photo: Pexels) It is difficult to sleep peacefully in the days of Covid-19. Numerous scientific studies have highlighted insomnia problems for those who are sick, for those who are cured and also in the general population. So, if there is a time to take sleep-focused vacations seriously, this is probably it. There are, in fact, hotels and spas that, alongside massages and swimming pools, also offer experiences that promise sweet dreams.

Sleep holidays have a name, sleepcation, and are less rare than you might think to think. At the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva, Switzerland, for example, a three-night package is available which includes an overnight stay, for one evening, in a VIP suite of the Cenas sleep clinic, which includes a sleep test to evaluate how you sleep and what you are strategies to improve your rest. The Swedish mattress manufacturer Hästens, on the other hand, has opened its Sleep Spas in the United States and, a few months ago, also in Portugal, in the city of Coimbra. Here, in addition to being able to choose the type of pillow that best suits your needs, you are entitled to a consultation with an expert who will give you personalized advice for better sleep.

(Photo: Pexels) Even some hotels of the Best Western chain have a pillow menu to allow customers the freedom to choose the perfect pillow: for children or in anti-allergy latex? Ergonomic or suitable for cervical sufferers? To find out in which structures the menu is available, just do a little Google search: it is available, for example, at the Best Western Hotel Cappello D’Oro in Bergamo. In Milan, the choice available at the Carlyle Brera Hotel (which, the website warns, is temporarily closed) is record-breaking: there are 10 different types of pillows to indulge in and the service is free.

The chain of eco-sustainable luxury resort and spa Six Senses, thanks to the collaboration with the sleep doctor Michael J. Breus, has developed a wellness program explicitly dedicated to rest, available in facilities around the world, from Ibiza in Spain to the Maldives. What does it consist of? Yoga nidra and meditation sessions, specific treatments, expert advice, nutrition advice ... A very traditional proposal when compared to the futuristic sleep capsules that are found around airports in various weights: in Italy, for example, there are those managed by ZZZleepandGo. Why the restful holiday starts from the journey, right?

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A £600 a night hotel ‘sleepcation’ cured my insomnia

For almost a year, I have been struggling to sleep. I drift off without problems at night, but stress in my personal life last September seemed to switch on an alarm clock in my brain which woke me up at 4am every morning, buzzing with energy.

Even when the original source of stress cleared itself up, the annoying internal alarm persisted. Insomnia has all the effects you’d imagine (lethargy, brain fog), but worst of all is the loneliness. The early hours of the morning are a sparse and unpopulated place, and nothing makes you feel more untethered from society than crying as you do a jigsaw puzzle at four in the morning.

I tried various treatments: doctors prescribed sleeping tablets that were so strong I was drowsy for 24 hours after taking one, and phone calls with an adviser which were too brief to be of any help.

It appears I’m not alone: the pandemic has unsurprisingly caused many restless nights, with one in four Brits struggling to sleep, according to a study from the University of Southampton released last year.

For insomniacs, holidays often make the problem worse. Though they’re supposed to offer a chance for supreme rest and relaxation, temperature changes, unfamiliar environments, alcohol and jetlag often add up to more sleepless nights.

Hence the arrival of sleepcations: hotel breaks designed around getting a restful night’s sleep, so you go home feeling genuinely refreshed.

The luxury Six Senses chain offers tech-based sleep analysis during your stay; Four Seasons hotels claim that the art on the walls uses designs that are “scientifically proven” to help to relax you; the Benjamin hotel in New York offers pillows with hidden speakers inside that can play lullabies.

The Cadogan, a five-star hotel in Chelsea, west London, is leading the way in the UK with its “sleep concierge” package: a service including a pillow menu, hypnotherapy, and a turndown service tailored towards a perfect night’s rest. It all sounds very relaxing, bar the price: from around £620 a night.

I’m sleep-deprived enough to give anything a try, and when I check into my room there’s no denying that the bed – probably the biggest I’ve ever seen, and dressed with a pillow I chose from the hotel’s list – looks promising. So could a sleepcation really give me a decent uninterrupted night’s slumber, and help me tackle my insomnia?

In the early evening, I am booked in for an hour-long session with Malminder Gill, a sleep expert and hypnotherapist, who created the Cadogan’s programme. There is some decent evidence that hypnosis can aid relaxation and improve sleep for some people, and Gill herself is certain that it resolved her own insomnia, which she suffered from “in a massive way” for several years.

 “You’re staring at the clock, driving yourself crazy and just not sleeping at all”, she says. “Then I had hypnotherapy and it helped me.”

Insomnia often starts during a period of stress, setting up a habit of wakefulness which persists long after the issue has passed. Worrying about not getting enough sleep in itself can then start to keep you up at night.

Some believe hypnotherapy can help with insomnia not only by creating a feeling of calm, but by resetting this vicious cycle, and replacing negative thoughts – berating yourself and worrying about how tired you’ll be – with positive thoughts that this will pass. Accepting that insomnia happens, says James Wilson, of coaching service The Sleep Geek, who is unaffiliated with the hotel, can help to stop “one bad night becoming three weeks”, he says.

Gill’s work could therefore be helpful for me if it helps to either unweave the stress of the past year, or help me to accept that I might sleep badly, but that it will be temporary and will pass in the end.

Gill explains she will encourage me into a state of deep relaxation, before making a series of suggestions that will help me to reframe how I think about my insomnia.

During her session, I lie down and shut my eyes, and she begins to read a parable-like tale about a hungry child at a funfair. It makes sense to begin with, but what happens after this is a blur: it feels a bit like a lucid dream, where your brain is asleep enough to dream but awake enough to know it’s not real. Occasionally I surface to hear phrases like: “I wonder how soon it will be before you are sleeping normally”, before sinking down into semi-consciousness again.

When Gill rouses me after about 45 minutes I feel so profoundly relaxed that my limbs are floppy, and I have to lie down on the sofa with my eyes shut for an hour before dinner.

Back in my room after dinner, the hotel’s service includes a spray to mist my pillow, and a pot of tea that’s blended with different herbs that are traditionally used to treat insomnia, like chamomile. Again, there isn’t brilliantly clear evidence that these products work, but anything that calms you down will be good for sleeping, says Wilson.

Before bed, I listen to a meditation session recorded by Gill, and am almost instantly lulled back into the hypnotic state of deep relaxation.

That night I sleep for eight hours – a miracle for me, especially given I’m in a hotel room and have had a few drinks.

Even better, the results last.

I take the recording Gill has made home with me, and listen to it a few times afterwards. Its relaxing effect is strongest at first and diminishes after about three weeks, but I still count that as a huge win after the year that I’ve had. Certainly, my sleepcation has taught me about the fundamental importance of relaxation. Whether it takes an hour of reading before bed, or a course of hypnotherapy, it may be worth it to slow your racing thoughts and help you sleep well.

Find out more about the Cadogan’s Sleep Concierge package at

Ways to have better sleep on holiday

Keep the room cool: your body temperature naturally falls as you fall asleep, so ensure your bedroom is not too hot by opening windows or using air conditioning where necessary. If you’re prone to disturbed sleep, aim to book a room that’s dark – request blackout blinds or curtains – and quiet.

Watch the wine: “Alcohol is a sedative: it knocks you out and gets you to deep sleep but it really affects the REM sleep, which is the emotional repair part”, says sleep coach James Wilson.  

Get outside during the day: exposure to daylight maintains your body’s circadian rhythm so you’re more likely to feel sleepy when it’s dark. Take exercise, and take time to do things you enjoy.

Consider home comforts: Anything that reminds you of home can make you feel more comfortable, safe and ready to sleep, even a pillow similar to the one you have at home. “When I’m travelling I take my wife’s perfume with me, which makes me feel more emotionally connected to her”, says Wilson. “It helps me relax and sleep.”

Don’t worry if you sleep badly at the start of your holiday: “It takes about three days for your body to get used to a new environment”, says Wilson.

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