As a sporadic insomniac, I was intrigued to know if sleep treatments offered at spas actually worked, or whether they were just massages with a bit of lavender and chamomile.
To be honest, when I booked a Spa Find Sleep Therapy Dream Facial (50 mins, £60) at Ragdale Hall, I wasn’t expecting much. A large part of me was thinking: how can a facial make you sleepy? Most of my restlessness is in my body and mind. Surely I need Valium, a lottery win and a course of therapy if I’m ever going to get the full eight hours - not lavender oil rubbed into my cheeks.
Or so I thought.
My therapist Resian began by cleaning my feet, hands and face with comfortingly hot flannels, which made me feel like a small child being washed. She then used a few soothing techniques that I realised I had often used on my babies to get them to sleep: gently stroking my forearms, and making a circle in the fold of my wrist and inner elbow - Chinese acupressure points apparently, which you can do on yourself at home.
I’ve read articles that suggest touch and hand-holding produce oxytocin, responsible for bonding, which reduces stress and increases a sense of trust and security. I was aware I felt a flood of warmth towards my therapist and quite happy to be in her soothing hands.
The oils used contained lavender (of course) and I was encouraged to breathe them in deeply. There’s no evidence to support the idea that certain oils produce soporific results. However, there are studies into deep breathing and how it slows down the nervous system (find out about the 4-7-8 breathing technique here).
The facial is a deep, firm massage – no cold masks or abrasive exfoliation – soothing rather than invigorating, designed to release tension. Resian used deep, firm, circular strokes to loosen my cheeks (I must have looked like a pug when she did that), and seemed to be physically untwisting my jawline. She paid a lot of attention to my frowny forehead too. As she did, I could feel my naturally angst-ridden features completely loosen and relax.
After my facial, she massaged my shoulders, my glands, my temples, and paid particular attention to the occipital lobe at the back of my head (I have no idea how this relates to sleep, despite two minutes intensive Googling). She finished with a blissful Indian Head massage, which made me feel all tingly and nice. I think I may have slept for a bit at this point as I can’t remember much else… Maybe that’s the point at which I finally switched off.
So did it work?
Straight after my facial I felt relaxed and happy in a stupid-grinny way. About an hour after, I felt drugged. I had to drive home that afternoon and was slightly worried I would fall asleep at the wheel. When I got home (alive), I had an early night … but slept really badly. However, this was due to other factors (snoring husband, annoying cat, possibly coffee and cake). I so wish I had spent the night at the spa, where eight hours uninterrupted sleep would be more of a possibility.
My experience certainly made me feel that sleep treatments are more effective than I previously thought.
It also made me more aware of just how much tension I hold in my face. Even when feeling dog tired and ready to pass out, I wear the expression of someone about to have a colonoscopy. I now try and relax my jaw, cheeks and forehead with a firm massage before bed - or simply unclench my jaw and think happy thoughts. It seems to help.
Other tricks from spa sleep treatments
Most sleep treatments use soothing music, while I've been told that Neom’s Sleep Ritual plays a ten minute meditation beforehand. I’ve found both useful for distracting me from my own worried thoughts at bedtime. My favourite sleep aid, as recommended by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan in her inspiring sleep toolkit Tired But Wired, is the sound of rain.
One fellow Spa Spy swears by Neom’s Tranquillity candle, which she lights before bed (although you’d have to get up to blow it out, surely), while another loves massaging or bathing with Temple Spa’s Drift Away body oil (100ml £24) – both products now on my wish list.
The One and Only Resort in Palmilla has a dedicated sleep ritual and programme that includes blackout shades, blackout of all digital equipment, candles and daylight only, with birdsong and bubbling spring sounds to help you relax, and mindfulness exercises.
Or, for the more serious minded with cash to spare, for just under five thousand Euros, you can have a total two day sleep health check and make-over in the Grand Resort Bagraz in the Swiss Alps.