If I had to make a list of all the things that stop me from getting to sleep it would be a long one. On it would be: work, rows, BlackBerries, exams, public speaking, catching planes, anger, grief, love, sadness, alcohol, snoring, food, happiness, conversation, creaking floorboards, teenagers staggering home late and the next-door neighbour’s motorbike.
Yet, more than any of the above, two other things guarantee that I will fail to nod off. The first is lying in a strange bed. The second, more disastrous than all the rest put together, is dwelling on the question of how much (or little) sleep I’m getting.
When the Milestone Hotel in Kensington, London, invited me to sample its new Sound Sleep Experience package, to include an hour’s consultation with Tej Samani, a “deep sleep coach”, I felt a twinge of hope – even though I knew the odds were stacked heavily against success.
On arrival at the red brick Victorian pile I was given an exceedingly polite welcome by men in livery, one of whom, introducing himself as Neil, led me to the finest room in the hotel.
“The Tudor Suite”, he declared, throwing open the door on to a vast, elaborately got-up room that housed a mighty gold bed, procured, Neil volunteered, from Sotheby’s in New York. I stared at the gilded edifice with four phallic gold pillars pointing insistently at the ceiling. Actually I didn’t need the bed’s reminder to gaze upwards at the wedding cake of stucco work overhead, extending a couple of feet down the walls, where it was met by padded, flocked fabric in cream and brown.
All round the room were occasional tables and side boards bearing huge bunches of lilies and orchids, and platters laden with toffees, jelly babies and mints. Next door was a sitting room with a second giant plasma TV, further orchids and sweets, wood panelling and a balcony, just in case guests got bored of telly and fancied playing at Romeo and Juliet instead.
Feeling unequal to the complete tour of these lavish apartments that Neil was anxious to provide, I submitted myself instead to the gift of soap he was pressing on me; a kind, but unnecessary thought given the sheer quantity of Penhaligon’s products in the sparkling bathroom.
With a little time to kill before the consultation, I ordered up a cup of tea, brought on a tray with a carnation and a plate of delicious homemade biscuits, and settled on the leopard-skin settee to inspect the books by the fireplace. There was a nice old leather bound edition of Barnaby Rudge and a less nice picture book of pedigree dachshunds.
My date with my sleep coach took place in a room in which the bed had been replaced by a mahogany desk and wallpapered with pretend bookshelves. Tej Samani turned out to be a smiling young man, dressed in a dark suit and shiny blue tie as if to give a speech at a wedding. I sat opposite him and glanced anxiously at the only thing on the desk: an open attaché case bearing a monitor with various electrodes attached to it.
Tej used to be a professional tennis player and serious insomniac. But now he sleeps well and, having taken seven psychology courses, teaches business people and random guests at the Milestone to do the same.
I told him all about the things that keep me awake while he nodded wisely and kept saying “Got you” in a way I rather liked. Then he launched into a long speech about parasympathetic nervous systems and alpha and beta and gamma brain waves, which rather lost me, though I brightened up when he told me I was unusually in touch with my circadian rhythm. This was nice to know, even though until that moment I’d been unaware of even having such a thing.
He then set about drawing up my own “bespoke personal sleep plan”. The good news was that there was no need to hook me up to his machine in my gold bed. Instead I needed only to follow two simple tips: go to bed 45 minutes earlier, which would make me less anxious about getting to sleep on time, and find time in the evening to free myself of all stimulation and loaf around doing nothing.
If sleep is a confidence trick, I felt I might be about to crack it. Tej’s tips were banal in the extreme, yet there was a calm certainty about him that was rubbing off on me. When I made my way to the hotel’s spa for the next stage in my treatment – loafing – I felt things might be about to change for me in the going-to-sleep department.
For the next hour I lay on a white bench doing nothing while Fiona Keane, a beauty therapist who comes highly recommended by Joan Collins, got busy rubbing hot stones into my back. She said there were some pretty shocking knots in my shoulders and diligently pummelled them with pebbles. There was only one trouble with this pleasant treatment: it’s not the knots in my shoulders that keep me awake but the knots in my mind.
Back in the Tudor Suite the bed had been turned down and on the pillow was another list of sleep tips – as well as a little packet of prunes, a halogen torch to read by and, most bizarre, a miniature book on lighthouses.
I took a deep bubble bath, wrapped myself in one of six soft robes hanging in cupboards and on hooks around the suite, and then I climbed into my gold bed, enjoying the sensation of the smoothest sheets, softest pillows and firmest mattress. I was more than comfortable. It was quiet. It was earlier than my usual bed time. I turned out the light.
Alas, sleep did not come. I turned the light back on and instead of counting sheep counted cushions, throws, footstools and pouffes, pelmets and flounces. I nibbled on a bit of scone with lovely homemade jam that had been left in the room earlier.
I turned the light off and lay there for a bit, trying not to think about sleep. Then I got out of bed and went to the loo, guided by a weird blue light. I settled down again. Still no sleep. I put the light on and contemplated the crystal decanter, which was full of a sweet sherry, but decided instead to fall back on my own tried-and-tested means of getting to sleep in emergencies: I took a small fraction of a mirtazapine pill. Hallelujah, 15 minutes later I fell into chemical oblivion.
The next morning I woke groggy but happy in my gold bed and, after a gold power shower, went down to the ornate dining room and ordered the “healthy and energising” breakfast Tej had recommended. The banana porridge was sublime, as was the creamy yoghurt scattered with nuts.
The following night at home I climbed early into my own bed, with its wrinkled sheets, and thought how plain and drab it looked. I didn’t think it for long as sleep overtook me, and continued to overtake me for the next nine hours.
The Sound Sleep Experience at the Milestone Hotel (www.milestonehotel.com) costs from £976 per room per night (or £1,590 for the Tudor Suite), including the consultation with Tej Samani, spa treatment, ‘sleep gift bag’ and breakfast