Could something as simple as a good pillow and a quiet room really put my wakefulness to rest?
Check in, drift off
Yawn, you think. Yet another piece about sleep. It's going to tell me to get eight hours, not drink coffee after dinner and remove my enormous, HD, plasma surround-sound television screen from my bedroom. Do you know what that television cost? Are you mad? Hush up, naysayers. In terms of importance, sleep is up there with breathing, drinking and eating. We spend approximately one third of our lives doing it, which amounts to about 200,000 hours for the average person.
Too little sleep doesn't only mean we're left dribbling into our keyboards at work the next day. Acute sleep deprivation has been linked to all sorts of serious medical problems: increased blood-pressure and heart complications, strokes, diabetes, obesity, depression - the list goes on. In other words, it's worth knowing the facts. How much time do people spend analysing their diets? Exactly. Sleep deserves to be taken seriously.
Hotels certainly take a decent night's kip seriously - after all many people find it hard to sleep in a strange room, so they have to go the extra mile to keep their guests happy. Witness the proliferation of pillow menus in recent years. Do you like yours firm? Soft? Hypoallergenic? Infused with the scent of lavender? Stuffed with the feathers of a rare strain of goose? No whim is too troublesome for many hotel chains now.
Abu Dhabi's Shangri-La, for instance, has a menu listing six different types and asks that guests requiring yet further "pillow assistance" telephone down to housekeeping. The Beach Rotana is in the process of changing all their beds to a custom-made "Ahlan" version as well as launching a pillow menu. The international W chain, of which Aloft in Abu Dhabi is a part and has a planned hotel opening in Dubai next year, is so proud of its sleep-friendly beds, mattresses and linen that it sells them on its own online store, www.whotelsthestore.com.
The Crowne Plaza chain has even launched a specially devised programme aimed at lulling guests into a deep, restful slumber, called the Sleep Advantage Programme. It has three main ingredients (technically four, but I am going to ignore their "guaranteed wake-up call" or money-back promise on the basis that most hotels stretch to wake-up calls these days). The main three promises are new beds (presumably a pledge that will eventually get old), rooms in dedicated "quiet" zones and a range of "amenities" to have you nodding off pronto.
Like many people, my own sleeping patterns are varied. I've never suffered a bout of insomnia, but I used to sleepwalk. I wake frequently throughout the night, whereupon I usually check my BlackBerry, which lies on the pillow beside me. Occasionally I dispatch e-mails at weird times. The air-conditioning in my apartment means I am perpetually too cold or too warm. I am either thirsty, or I have to get up for the bathroom. You get the gist. I don't ever sleep like the proverbial log.
So I decided to put one of these sleep pledges to the test. Could something as simple as a good pillow and a quiet room really put my wakefulness to rest? I plumped for the Crowne Plaza Yas Island, where the corridor of my fifth-floor room was indeed quiet, with a stern "Shhhhh" sign on all the doors around. Inside, there was the bed, which looked much like most hotel beds but covered with an abundance of pillows (all the beds in the programme apparently have seven pillows, as if this is the optimum number calculated for deep sleep) and with a small box lying on it.
In this box were two small vials. One was a pillow-spray, containing lavender, vetiver and chamomile oils. The other was called "breathe in", which was a blend of frankincense and eucalyptus and which you could run all over your face thanks to a little roll-on ball. This I did, before liberally drenching my pillow with spray as if putting out a fire. Overpowered by the mingling of these elements, I swept all but one pillow off the bed, peeled back the sheets (crisp, cotton) and clambered into bed. The mattress? Vast: there seemed to be acres of it. Acres of soft, squidgy support that moulded itself around me as if lying in a giant tub of play-dough.
A night of vivid, mad dreams ensued in which I woke only once, which is rare - although, as part of the scientific process, I had turned my BlackBerry off which presumably helped my inner control-freak relax. And it was quiet - no footsteps outside and no unwelcome calls from housekeeping. Bliss. Altogether, I clocked up nine hours of snooze-time, from 11pm until 8am, although I still awoke feeling a tad groggy.
This, says Dr Tania Tayah, is not surprising. A neurologist and sleep specialist at the International Modern Hospital in Dubai, she says that women's sleep patterns differ from those of our male counterparts. "In general, women tend to sleep more than men, going to bed and falling asleep earlier." They tend to sleep more lightly than men, too, and are more easily disturbed. As a result, "women are more likely to feel unrefreshed even after a full night's sleep".
Dr Tayah says the usual things about avoiding caffeine after lunch. "If you have had too much, consider eating some carbohydrates, such as bread or crackers to help reduce the effects," she advises. Also, she says sternly, we should avoid both alcohol and exercise within six hours of bedtime. As an issue that is more specific to the UAE, I ask her about the heavily air-conditioned climate in which we all sleep, and about how that affects our sleeping patterns. The best temperature for peaceful sleep, she says, is 20-22 degrees Celsius. "So monitor the air-conditioning setting to meet this range."
But there still remains the problem of that vast television. It is a bad idea to have one in the bedroom, Dr Tayah affirms, because it's simply too engaging and doesn't help you switch off. So out with that plasma screen, please. Stick your nose in a book instead.