‘I tested the perfect formula for sleep – here’s what I learnt’
A nap is the last thing I need right now. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, I was already having a stressful day at work, then a fire alarm went off just as I sat down to eat my lunch, and now I’m in a rush because I’m late for my appointment to nap in an upmarket boutique. The conditions for a restful time are, sub-optimal, put it that way.
I’m visiting Anya’ZZZ in London’s Belgravia, a six-week pop-up concept store from fashion designer Anya Hindmarch, focused around helping Londoners sleep better.
The store, smothered in neutral-toned blankets and soundtracked by soft chimes and birdsong, is designed to be a haven for the sleep-deprived. Shelves are stacked with lavender-scented pillow sprays, essential oils, supplements, luxurious silk pyjamas, deluxe hot water bottles and sumptuous blankets.
In the past decade, sleep health has become big business. Experts estimate between 10-30 per cent of working adults suffer from chronic insomnia; a lot of desperate people searching for solutions to sleeping better. Perhaps that’s why, in 2021, the global sleep health industry was valued at $65 billion (£54 billion).
Having tried more sleep tech than the average person, through my work, I’ve seen first-hand the amount of cowboys and marketing guff that’s out there. The pillow which inflates to roll you over so you don’t snore? Wakes you up every time. The specialist sleep headphones which play ocean sounds as you snooze? They irritate your ears if you keep them in all night. Blue-light blocking sunglasses to wear in bed? The science on that is pretty sketchy, actually.
Among all this junk, there are a few gems. The popularisation of the aforementioned lavender pillow sprays have merely commercialised a sleep remedy which has been used for hundreds of years. I have also been impressed with the innovations in mattress design over the years – rusty metal springs be damned.
What I haven’t tried though, is putting a lot of these innovations together in one room. That’s what I’m here to try at Anya’ZZZ.
I don a pair of those silk pyjamas (£595) and some Alpaca-wool bed socks from Scottish brand, Pairs (£24.99). Silk is an organic protein and breathable which helps to keep moisture on your skin and aid with temperature regulation. A key element of good sleep is temperature – doctors recommend 18.3C as being the optimum for most people. To help with that, I’ve got a Dyson Air Purifying fan (from £499.99) on the bedside table to regulate the temperature.
The sheets (£245 for a double), pillows (£60 each) and mattress topper (£215) are from Floks, made with sustainable sheep’s wool, and the sumptuous Naturalmat mattress (£2,070 for a double) also has a temperature-regulating wool layer. The material is good for sleep thanks to its hypoallergenic properties which resists both mould and bedmites, but there might be more to it than that. A 2018 study from the University of Sydney found that woollen pyjamas helped people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer than cotton alternatives.
On the bedside table a Lumie Bodyclock lamp (£229) softly dims. These 'wake-up lights' are designed to simulate the sunset and help key into the body’s natural circadian rhythms so that the brain releases melatonin, a sleep hormone. A 2020 study published in the academic journal Sleep found evidence that lamps like this do exactly what they say and benefit circadian health.
Beside the lamp is a SleepHub (£349); a set of speakers which play a variety of soothing sounds – in this case ocean waves – which mask low-frequency tones designed to guide the brain through its natural light and deep sleep waves, preventing interruption and waking.
I also tried a few CBD sleep drops from Dreem Distillery (£75 for a 10ml bottle) – the efficacy hasn’t been conclusively proved here, studies have shown CBD can reduce anxiety and pain, so scientists have theorised it may aid sleep. To help it on its way, I spray a few spritzes of ThisWorks lavender spray (£35) onto the pillow. In 2015 a study published in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that lavender works well in tandem with other sleep hygiene interventions to improve sleep quality – participants in that study said they woke feeling more refreshed than those who didn’t use lavender, even though both groups sleep for the same length of time.
Alright, so I don’t get to sleep for too long because it’s the middle of the workday and I need to get back to the office, but my Fitbit reports that my heart rate dropped to its lowest point of the whole day so I’m certainly relaxed by the whole experience. I feel it too – everything that has been stressing me out seems to slip away as I inhale that lavender scent and listen to the sound of waves lapping at a beach.
The trouble, as you may have spotted, is that if I wanted to replicate my very relaxing nap at home, I’d be looking at paying roughly the price of a family holiday. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, it’s quite hard for most of us to justify spending that much money on getting a good night’s rest, no matter how much we might need it.
That’s being borne out by the things people are shopping for, the sales assistant upstairs tells me. “It’s been really busy, people are very curious about sleep,” he explains. “But they’re looking for a quick fix, so the supplements, the essential oils, the bed fragrances, those are things that are selling.”
It isn’t marketing guff to say the renewed focus on sleep health has changed the way we sleep for the better in a lot of ways. Plenty of innovations can and do help people sleep when they’re struggling, but if seeing all of these things together has taught me anything, it’s that the things that work in sleep health are nothing new: wool, lavender, sunsets, and cool night air – not so difficult after all, and certainly not worth spending thousands of pounds on.
Anya’ZZZ is open at The Village Hall, 11 Pont Street, London SW1X 9EJ, until 18 February.