BERLIN - Dr. Samia Little Elk meets me for a preliminary talk about the "Deep Sleep Package" I have booked, which includes sleep analysis. This year, Berlin’s up-market Swissôtel has begun offering its guests a program developed by Dr. Michael Feld, a sleep consultant who is well known to German TV viewers. He and his colleague have opened a practice at the hotel.
Since I became a mother, I have not been able to sleep through the night. My sleep patterns appear to be permanently out of whack, I tell Dr. Little Elk, who nods in sympathy. She specializes in sleep medicine, psychosomatics, and psychotherapy.
"Our approach is multisensory," she says as she explains the program. "The more senses we appeal to, the more intense the reaction." The goal is not only to fall asleep easily and to sleep soundly, but also to wake up in the best condition.
The first step is a half-hour of “mountain air” that I am to inhale while reclining in an ergonomical chaise longue in the Power Nap Lounge. This is the sort of air -- with about 4% less oxygen -- I would be breathing if the hotel were located at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). It makes blood vessels expand and blood pressure go down. It relaxes me as I also absorb meditative sounds from an iPod.
About half an hour before I go to bed for the night, Dr. Little Elk comes to my hotel room and places 16 colorful electrodes and strips on my head, chest and legs. These are to measure body position, thoracic and abdominal respiration, brain waves, eye movement, oxygen saturation, muscle tension in the chin, leg movement, the flow of nasal breathing, and my heart rate (ECG).
For optimum snooze inducement, room service brings hot chocolate with sage, orange oil and lavender in it. Then I turn off the lights. The electrode under my chin is uncomfortable: so is the chest strap. A little red light blinks from the finger electrode, and blue from the LED digital display on the chest strap. Best to pull the covers up over my head.
I nod off around half past midnight. But I am awake again by 2:45 A.M. Uh-oh! The merry-go-round of thoughts starts whirling. What if I lie awake for the rest of the night? Will I have had enough sleep? What if I go back to sleep and miss my appointment with the doctor tomorrow morning? Maybe it would be a good idea to set the alarm.
I wake up again at 3:18 A.M. Good idea about the alarm. Maybe I should be taking notes about all this? Awake again at 3:32 A.M. I think yes, taking notes is a good idea, just to be on the safe side.
My blood pressure starts going up; my pulse gets faster. I turn on the light and get up to go to the desk. I am sure the doctor will agree these notes are a good idea. Back to bed. The pillow is too soft, all crinkled up. Why didn’t I check out that pillow menu on the bedside table before turning in?
4:58 A.M. When I wake up this time I can hear the sounds of Berlin coming to life. I would rather be sleeping. Taking care not to tear off the electrodes and strips, I get up and go over to the picture window to close the draperies so they do not let in the encroaching light.
7:03 A.M. I wake up again. Another hour and a half until the alarm rings. Probably a good idea to take a few more notes. My notepad is filling up fast.
8:28 A.M. My eyes flutter open two minutes before the alarm goes off.
I am allowed to take off the paraphernalia myself, and room service brings it to the doctor for evaluation, after serving me a good-morning cocktail of green tea, mango juice, ginger, vanilla, mint and crushed ice.
How do I feel? As if I’ve been run over by a bus. I try a little light therapy, and sit for a half hour in front of a 10,000 lux light. Nothing. The situation only improves when I drink my usual café au lait at breakfast. Dr. Little Elk joins me.
Her evaluation: despite relatively little sleep, both NREM and REM phases of the sleep cycle are normal. I don’t snore; there are no interruptions to my breathing, no restless leg syndrome – all of which would disturb sleep quality.
"When you’re at home and you can’t sleep, get up,” says the doctor. “Engage in some monotonous activity until you feel drowsy, then go back to bed.”
And stop looking at the clock, she says. Even if the alarm is due to ring in an hour, there’s still time for a complete sleep cycle.