Lately, I’ve not been the best of sleepers. I take a long time to fall asleep, wake up frequently, make notes on a handy notepad on my nightstand, drink water, sometimes even get up and walk around the house.
However, on a family holiday to Gushaini in Himachal’s Tirthan Valley a few weeks ago, I found I had no trouble sleeping at all. I spent a full eight hours (sometimes more) in bed and woke up well rested. In fact, I was surprised at how much time I spent napping and sleeping on the first two days of the trip.
Falling asleep isn’t always so easy when I’m travelling. I recollect tossing and turning all night in a very stylish beach resort, and a similarly disturbed sleep at a boutique hotel in a big city. I also recall a comfortable, relaxing sleep in a makeshift bed in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, on the grounds of a ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico. And many tranquil nights tucked into a sleeping bag while camping under a canopy of stars in the Western Ghats.
Sitting in the breezy balcony of my room, overlooking the gushing Tirthan River, I began thinking: What makes these instances different? What was it about this trip that was bringing me the blessing of such a good night’s sleep?
Around the world, hotels, especially high-end ones, have been investing a lot of money in trying to ensure guests get a good night’s sleep. This may be particularly true of city hotels, which target business travellers, but it’s increasingly becoming the norm to offer some kind of boost or sleep enhancer.
Some suggest a pre-bed routine with a video demonstrating deep-breathing exercises or meditation. Many fancy hotels have a pillow menu with eight or ten kinds to choose from. In their efforts to facilitate a restful slumber, hotels provide an assortment of paraphernalia: ear plugs, eye masks, sleep-inducing aromatherapy oils with diffusers. Some even offer foot massages that will lull you to sleep, and I’ve heard of hotels that have hired a sleep concierge or sleep consultant.
Our lodging at Gushaini was a cosy, family-run pinewood guesthouse. The only way to access it was via a metal basket, in which you sit and are pulled across the river. The bedroom had just a bed, a cupboard, and a few pegs to hang clothes. When I travel, sometimes I’ve found sleep props such as soothing music or eye masks are useful, even necessary. Apparently, all I really needed to get my night of repose here was a simple bed with a firm mattress, pillow, and comforter.
But I had that at home every day. Clearly, it wasn’t these objects that were ensuring or preventing a good night’s sleep. That’s when the answer became clear. The explanation lay in what I was doing during the day, before I got to bed: Inhaling fresh mountain air while hiking in the woods, walking through fragrant orchards, lazing in the warmth of the sun. The answer was in the synergy of a stress-free day with no cell phone signal and the presence of blissed-out loved ones close by.
Appeared in the July 2015 issue as “Sleep Easy”.
Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through the wilderness or the by-lanes of a city. She is obsessive about family holidays and has already instilled in her young daughter wanderlust and a love for the outdoors. She is the former Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.