A BENEFIT OF being a freewheeling freelance writer is the option to work any time, anywhere – or so I'm told. A downside is the blurring of days. When should one be hacking away at the coalface of truth, and when is it OK to grab “me time”? The resulting anxiety – for this chronically chronologically challenged scribe – is most noticeable when on holiday, and an activity break tied to a rigid schedule is one solution.
In recent years, then, I've enrolled to make artisanal gelato in Bologna and take photographs like a (wannabe) pro in Luang Prabang. I've sunk low on scuba sorties and climbed high while trekking. But signing up simply to slumber?
“Sleep has become the great casualty of modern life,” according to Chris Oakes, general manager of the luxurious Indigo Pearl resort on the Thai island of Phuket. “It's been stolen by the stresses of work and family and the round-the-clock connectivity imposed by the Internet age.”
The concept of sleep tourism is relatively new to Asia, and Indigo Pearl's eight-day, sevennight Art of Sleep package offers a rare escape devoted to apathy. For “sleep-starved, stress-soaked, sheep-counting overachievers and workaholics”, the self-indulgent deal promises the “restorative properties of the simplest and most natural wellness therapy of all: long, blissful, uninterrupted nights of the deepest sleep”.
Oakes is a self-confessed insomniac for whom gates to the Land of Nod are regularly bolted. This guest, however, is the opposite. “I can wind down when standing up,” I like to brag. My problem is a nagging feeling of never being as productive as I should be, and I've a dream that Indigo Pearl's “languorous lie-ins, cat naps, power naps and all the lazy afternoon siestas I desire” will put an end to feeling rotten about being an undisciplined sleepyhead. What's wrong with being lazy, after all, if being lazy is what's demanded?
A late-morning flight from Hong Kong means I've missed another deadline – the resort's “Beeline for Bed” early check-in to conk out. Indigo Pearl is located in the north of Phuket and pleasingly close to the airport (the luggage collection-to-lobby hop takes just 10 minutes in air-con limo comfort; and don't fret about the noise of jet engines – the runway is far enough up the coast never to disturb even the shallowest shut-eye).
Surprisingly, Indigo Pearl's design aesthetic suggests industry over indolence, and Phuket's now-defunct tin mines inspire its look. The paradise-island clichés are all there: manicured gardens of frangipani and birdsong? Check. Iridescentsilk details? Check. But then there are the wilfully rusted iron doors, the kooky lamps forged from hammered copper, the exposed plumbing of a Victorian workhouse. Think society meets steampunk. Imagine Kelly Hoppen grappling with Jules Verne.
My accommodation is suitably sumptuous, and its garden is shared with a 60-centimetre-long monitor lizard that I christen Dozy because he spends his days catching Zs in the sunshine (though he can get nippy when startled, clattering his way into hiding under the decking, presumably for another snooze). But before I can join my reptilian mucker in the arms of Morpheus, there are choices to be made.
Which essential-oil combination would I like wafting through my candle-lit digs on torpid evenings in? The Qi blend of lavender, bergamot, geranium and orangepeel extracts appeals, but I opt for Aqua, which employs orange, bergamot and lavender. “Lavender enhances blood circulation and has a calming scent that induces sleep,” the menu informs. “Bergamot relieves stress and tension. Orange ... acts as a sedative.”
There are Reviving and Sparkling options on the Bath Menu, but the Relaxing possibility sounds the best bet under somnolent circumstances and is centred around Champaka oil. (“This beautiful flower will allow you to enter a deep state of relaxation.”) And there are eight pillow options, including the Igusa, which is named for the rush plant from which tatami mats are made, and features “small holes [to] absorb humidity and heat”. I plump for the plump Kapok, so labelled for the tropical tree and the “soft, natural” cotton obtained from its seedpods.
Finally, I'm asked when I will enjoy my complimentary stress-relief massages, and whether I would like to partake of a recreational class or two courtesy of the resort's fitness and leisure instructors. Though boyishly excited by the idea of “palm-leaf origami”, I'm told, “Actually, that's generally something for the kids,” and so fix on tai chi.
Research recently published in online journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience found that adolescent students selected to nap for up to 50 minutes scored higher when tested on recent lecture content. Studies of adults show that siestas can improve problem solving, while Google encourages its employees to grab 40 winks now and again, even placing high-tech “nap pods” in the workplace.
Having dozed during afternoon and evening, I'm under the covers by 9:13pm. I've slapped on the aloe vera lip moisturiser and I'm rocking the gel eye mask from my on-pillow Sleep Well Kit, and listen – at mosquito-burp volume – to a compilation CD by Indigo Pearl's resident DJ Kensho. Normal “sleep onset latency” – the length of time that it takes to transition from full wakefulness to sleep – is, apparently, about 15 minutes. I remember a lounge-y mix of Billie Holiday's Speak Low, but I'm long gone before it ends.
Morning arrives. Though the package's in-suite Sparkling Chandon Breakfast has been ordered for 10am (it's available, by the way, at any time during the day), I wake at 7.50am. After a dip in the pool, I have a waking window to check out online how other resorts and hotels worldwide are assisting their guests in floating away on a fluffy white cloud without resorting to emptying the minibar. The list appears to be growing.
Turndown service at 70 Park Avenue in New York provides sleep-coaxing melatonin chocolates, while the Tranquility Suite at Hotel Monaco Chicago features a sleeping cove with super-soft bamboo sheets. Some rooms at the Hotel Gabriel in Paris incorporate a NightCove with sleep and nap programmes.
London's Milestone Hotel in Kensington has offered a Sleep Experience Package whereby guests snooze with a small device that mimics the brainwaves of excellent sleepers. The medical centre at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland, meanwhile, can film and analyse everything from breathing irregularities to limb positioning of its clients, while Swissotel Berlin's DeepSleep package features light therapy, mountain-air breathing and nutritional supplements.
Bangkok's respected Bumrungrad International Hospital has its own Sleep Lab for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as snoring, insomnia and bruxism (grievous teeth grinding). Patients can spend a night in a specially designed environment and a polysomnograph monitors brain waves, breathing, oxygen saturation and other vital signs.
The Indigo Pearl approach is less scientific, it must be said, but also less intrusive, more luxurious, gentler. “We are simply providing an environment where catching up on sleep is possible, and flexibility is the key to that. If a guest wishes to have breakfast in bed at 5pm, that's fine,” says Oakes, adding that checkout has been extended to a civilised 6pm.
Activities are not frowned upon, of course, and actually add to the heavy-eyed experience. One highlight of my stay is a 60-minute, eucalyptus-scented, stress-relief massage book-ended by lashings of cooling butterfly pea tea (which, softly spoken, five-foot-nothing masseuse Ta informs me, is rich in antioxidants while boasting a lovely cornflower-blue hue). Indigo Pearl's Coqoon Spa has the usual pools, rain showers, steam rooms and sauna, but most wondrous are its two Nests – large, bulbous and peculiar treatment rooms, handcrafted from wicker, which literally hang in the air from the banyan trees. Afterwards, I flip-flop back to base like a warm and jelly-limbed Mr Bean-alike.
And the tai chi lesson is a genuine eye-opener. Never having tried it before, this freewheeling freelance writer always believed it to be the choice of doddery old geezers, and a weak-willed form of exercise for the even weaker of limb. Actually, it turns out that tai chi is quite hard work demanding concentration and discipline. Pleasingly, it's also quite exhausting.