There’s a good reason we spend up to a third of our lives in bed: a direct link between sleep and health.
Long before science confirmed the health benefits of sleep, cultural traditions around the world recognized the healing properties of rest. For instance, Ayurvedic medicine, a centuries-old practice rooted in India, links overall happiness with your quality and quantity of sleep, says Dr Michael Breus, a Los Angeles–based clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
If standard sleep hygiene practices like limiting screen time, caffeine and alcohol before bed aren’t working for you, ensure your space is optimized for sleep – our signature collection has been refined over decades in partnership with experts – and try embracing some of these rituals from cultures around the globe.
The practice of Ayurveda embraces the idea that each person has a unique constitution made up of three doshas (energies): vata, pitta and kapha. It would follow that each of us has different sleep habits, Breus says. In Ayurvedic medicine, sleep problems often arise from an imbalance of energies in the body. Insomnia is caused by excess vata and pitta energies. Excess kapha is associated with oversleeping. And when pitta is out of balance it can lead to intense dreaming. Learning your dominant dosha by working with an Ayurvedic practitioner can provide insight into your sleep habits.
“In Ayurveda, nidra (sleep) is considered to be one of the three key pillars of life,” says Sunil Narang, General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai. “Ayurvedic bodywork is an ancient, powerful tool to achieve a state of well-being by bringing forth a harmonious balance of body, mind and soul.” The Spa at the Hotel offers two Ayurvedic treatments that aid in a good night’s sleep. Uzhichil is performed on the traditional Ayurvedic wooden massage table. This ancient technique uses warm, medicated Triphala oil in long, soothing strokes to relieve aching muscles and encourage sound sleep. The classic Ayurvedic therapy Shirodhara commences with a relaxing back and shoulder massage, followed by a warm oil poured on the forehead.
“Herbal oil being gently poured over the forehead in a steady stream or flow is a widely practiced treatment in Ayurveda that helps in improving sleep quality,” Narang says. “It is typically used to relax the nervous system and treat stress, anxiety and insomnia.”
Ancient Egyptians used to soak their blankets in water before bed to keep cool at night. “Lowering the body temperature at night helps you fall asleep and stay asleep,” Breus says. “Rising temperature signals the body to move into a state of alertness in the morning.” If you’re going to take a hot shower, do it two to three hours before bed so your body has time to cool. To follow up, he suggests a cooling mattress pad and quality sheets and blankets: “Natural fibres are best and most comfortable.”
As for those wet blankets, though it may be hard to imagine finding them comforting, Breus says the weight of a soaked blanket could induce a sense of calm: “Studies have shown that weighted blankets help reduce anxiety and stress and can create a sense of relaxation that helps people fall asleep.”
Inspired by ancient Egyptian body rituals, the Cleopatra Bath Ritual at Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza is a luxurious milk bath. Honey, rose petals and essential oils soothe and ease muscle tension and prepare the body for a massage and a peaceful, deep sleep.
Scientific studies have shown a direct benefit for sleep from reflexology, an ancient form of touch therapy in which pressure is applied to points on the body. “Pressure points also connect to different physiological functions, including sleep,” Breus says. Specific reflex points related to sleep include the top of the toes, a point on the outer side of the big toe, the ridges of the toes and a point at the ball of the foot.
In addition to reflexology techniques, the Spas at Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen and Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake use a massage oil based on eaglewood, the dark resinous heartwood of Aquilaria trees. “Eaglewood was prized in ancient China for its calming qualities,” says Nicole Ni, Spa Supervisor at Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen. “We use it in our spa treatments to help relax and alleviate stress, resulting in calmer and longer sleep.”
Studies show a 30-minute afternoon nap combined with moderate exercise in the evening helps improve sleep. “There’s a biological reason you’re usually tempted to take naps in the afternoon,” Breus says. “Our bodies are designed to take long stretches of sleep at night, followed by a brief midday rest. The best time to take a nap is between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, when your body temperature drops and your melatonin levels rise.” Nappers, he says, reap the benefits of greater concentration, enhanced memory, better mood and improved physical performance.
Ibu Fera, Wellness Mentor at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay created a signature experience called The Sacred Nap. Instead of snoozing in bed or in a poolside lounger, you’re suspended from the ceiling of the bamboo Dharma Shanti Bale in an aerial silk hammock, cocooned in the tranquillity of the Sayan Valley. You’ll feel your entire body relax and rock gently to sleep in the womblike cocoon as Ibu Fera tells you a bedtime story about the life of Buddha. “I was inspired to create the Sacred Nap while I was rocking my own baby to sleep,” Fera says. “Most of us have forgotten how good it felt to be rocked to sleep and have somebody read you a bedtime story or sing a lullaby. I combine this with telling the life story of Buddha and chanting various mantras that I learned when I was a Buddhist nun for seven years. The soothing sound of the singing bowl offers more sacred energy for this experience.”
In many parts of the world, dreamtime is a special place where the body and mind go on a healing journey. Luis Molina, Spa Director at Apuane Spa at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, says the Sueño (Dream) Journey is based on the ancestral belief that we live two lives – one while awake and one while dreaming – with a strong connection between the two. This 100-minute ritual replicates the dream sequence, creating a harmonious and peaceful experience.
At Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas™, the Spa’s signature Restore Your Mind treatment balances energy points and chakras by utilizing relaxing massage techniques during a full-body exfoliation. The treatment ends with Shirodhara – the Ayurvedic pour of warm herbal oil onto the forehead’s “third eye” chakra – followed by a gentle scalp massage, inviting a sense of holistic balance and inner peace. “A good night’s sleep is the foundation of overall well-being,” says Lina Morales, Spa Director at the Resort. “It allows the body to recover and cells to renew, and it improves the immune system – which is especially important right now.”