Call me crazy but when Marks & Spencer first invited me to a sleep retreat at the beautifully quirky Artist Residence Hotel in London, I almost said no. Not because I don't love M&S and not because I wasn't curious to get a glimpse of the uniquely designed rooms that I'd previously only had a chance to swoon over on Instagram, but because I don't find London particularly restful or retreat-like.
Day or night, there's probably more people in Euston station than live in my entire village. I'm a country mouse. London's often a touch too fast-paced for me. I pop there for work now and again but rarely stay over. I prefer my nights peppered with the sounds of birds and the occasional car as opposed to full on traffic and revellers.
Yep, I'm officially a bit boring, you can say it.
However, curiosity got the better of me.
As you probably know, sleep (or lack of) has been a hot topic in my house since October 2010 (wouldn't you know it, the same month my eldest was born) and I seem to be on a permanent quest for better bedding ... it's almost a hobby. With the first set of bedding I purchased for myself coming from M&S (a white duvet cover with embroidered daisies), I couldn't turn down the opportunity to learn more and experience a rare full night's sleep without cries of 'mama, mama, MAMA!' echoing down the hallway.
I arrived at Artist Residence with just enough time to drop my bag off in room 8, tucked away in the eaves on the third floor, have a quick look around, run my hand over the incredibly cosy M&S Dawson Check brushed cotton bedding, get changed and then spend five minutes in a bewildered state as to why no young children were shouting for snacks or whining that their brother was breathing too loudly. I no longer know what to do with myself when surrounded by silence. Is this true for all parents? It's very disorienting.
Dinner was served downstairs in The Club Room, and in keeping with the sleep theme, the menu was designed by nutritional therapist, Amelia Freer, with ingredients chosen specifically to aid a good night's sleep. I've long been aware of foods and drinks to avoid before going to bed, but I hadn't realised that certain things can actually encourage sleepy vibes.
Healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds, protein from fish and vegetables, and minimal refined sugar help support sleep and stop our blood sugar fluctuating during the night. Magnesium, found in fish such as haddock as well as nuts and seeds, helps to calm our minds so we can drift off. And melatonin, a hormone that sends signals to our brain telling it to go to sleep, as well as being naturally produced by our bodies, can also be found in foods such a sour cherries. Obviously, they're going to form a very large part of my children's diet from here on in!
M&S Sleep Retreat Menu
designed by nutritional therapist Amelia Freer
WARM AUTUMN SALAD
Heritage beetroot salad with goats cheese
OVEN BAKED HADDOCK
Haddock with a spinach 'pesto' puree with butternut squash
Morello cherry frangipane tart
Warm chai with cashew milk
During dinner, Certified Sleep Coach Max Kirsten spoke to us about how to get a better night's sleep. With a table full of bloggers and Instagrammers who possibly spend a touch more time on their phones than an average person, he was quick to mention sensory overload and the glare from our screens being the main culprits when it comes to keeping us awake at night.
How many of us use our phones late at night and then as an alarm clock to wake us up in the morning? Max warns against this if you're struggling with sleep. The blue light emitted by our phones encourages our brains to stay alert. The yellow glow if you switch to 'night mode' is not quite as bad but phones are best left in another room and an old fashioned analog alarm clock a better investment to get good shut-eye.
Something else I didn't know was quite how long coffee stays in your system. I never drink it late at night but Max suggests not having a cup after midday to avoid it having an impact on your sleep patterns. I always have a bit of a lull around 3pm that has me reaching for ALL the caffeine. I obviously need to find an alternative!
And finally, Max mentioned something that had me shaking my head at not thinking about it sooner. To encourage the boys to sleep, they have a warm bath every night - our temperature reduces slightly in the evening which signals to our brain that it's time to sleep ... a warm bath helps this process - and then we lower the lights in their rooms to help them wind down.
But do I do this for myself?
No, I do not!
To be honest, I rarely struggle to get to sleep but this sounds way more relaxing than running around doing EVERYTHING so that I'm basically exhausted come 10pm. Instead, I'm going to stop doing ALL the things at 9pm and spend an hour gradually winding down with a soak in the tub surrounded by ambient lighting rather than ultimately collapsing in heap on my bed.
After dinner, a few glasses of white wine and a highly unskilled game of ping pong with Dee Campling, I retired to my Egyptian cotton and Hungarian goose heaven. And despite being in London, my noise-fears were unfounded and I had an amazing night's sleep. Some might raise a quizzical eyebrow and suggest it was down to the wine but I think the secret might lie with Amelia's delicious menu, the This Works products kindly left in our rooms, and the incredibly soft and cloud-like M&S bedding.
I've always been a fan of M&S bedding ... well, of their homeware, in general, to be honest - they've always been able to tempt me with cushions that I never knew I needed ... the popcorn beauties on my bed are my latest crush. And this autumn, M&S bedding is having an upgrade ... one largely based on feedback from customers. The range is going to be 61 percent bigger with extended choice in colours, textures and fabrications. AND for you parents out there, get this, coming up from Spring Summer 2018 are innovative 'stay clean' duvets and pillows which promise to repel liquids. In your face, spilt drinks. I can't wait to put them to the test.
If you fancy creating your very own sleep retreat or stylish sanctuary, there are some amazing hints and tips on the M&S website. Take a look and let me know which is your favourite room. I think I like Kate's white washed waffle bedding the best!
This post was written in collaboration with M&S. Photos by Sam Mellish.