Tired of sleepless nights I went to Switzerland to try and find a solution to my chronic insomnia
You’d read a book to celebrate World Book Day and probably get your heart checked up on World Heart Day. So how would you celebrate World Sleep Day? By getting a good night’s sleep? While that does sound like an excellent idea, according to the Sleep Managment Institute, a staggering 30-50 percent of people suffer from insomnia and sleep-related issues. And that includes me. Over the years I’ve tried everything to get
a ‘good night’s sleep’ – from counting sheep and downing herbal remedies to investing in expensive pillows, bedsheets and blackout curtains. Sleep, or rather the lack of it, has had a toll on my personal and professional life. I’ve turned up to office having had little or no sleep at all, making concentration difficult. I have said many times that if money could buy sleep, I’d be investing in it heavily.
To that end, I’ve been trawling the net for sleep solutions and have come across sleep apps, sleep diets… and sleep clinics. So it was a pleasant surprise when I was assigned a trip toProfessor Paul Niehans, to experience a week-long sleep programme, at one of the leading destinations for sleep solutions – the award-winning Clinique La Prairie (CLP) in Montreux.
I’ve turned up to office having had little or no sleep at all, making concentration difficult. I have said many times that if money could buy sleep, I’d be investing in it heavily.
More famed for its International Jazz Festival, Montreux is a small Swiss town on the edge of Lake Geneva, with a stunning mountain backdrop. The clinic was established in 1931 by Professor Paul Niehans, who pioneered the idea of injecting patients with tissue cells from lamb foetuses to stimulate cell rejuvenation, boost the immune system and slow down the ageing process. With its hefty price tag, the clinic is popular with the rich and famous. Acquired by Swiss entrepreneur Armin Mattli in the 1980s, he went on to develop the clinic, where a medical team of over 50 specialists continue to do research.
THE CLINIC’S HISTORY
The original clinic building, a former boarding school, is now part of a massive $50 million dollar Swiss-style building complex, designed by Jacques Richter and Ignacio Dahl Rocha, architects of the beautiful Néstle HQ building in nearby Vevey. It’s connected via underground tunnels, which has sparked many rumours of celebrities staying at the clinic being able to move from treatment to treatment in total privacy. The programmes include better revitalization, and the newest, sleep therapy – this was the one for me. My dreams of sorting out my sleep issues started at Geneva Airport, where I was met by one of CLP’s chauffeurs. I’d had a long flight from Dubai and was exhausted.
After a 45-minute journey past picturesque Lake Geneva to Montreux, I found the team ready to welcome me to CLP. Check-in was done, I made my way to my room, which I hoped would be the venue for the best week’s sleep I’d ever had. Heading to bed earlier than usual, around 9.30pm, I was hoping to be fresh and wide-eyed for my first day. I drew the curtains, put my iPhone on silent, pulled back the sheets and lay down hoping this would be a good night. That would only be a dream. At 4am I was still wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling. At 6 am I decided I’d laid down enough and got up and caught up on the news. Was it because of the strange surroundings? A new place? A new bed? I perused my schedule, which had been slipped under the door. Sadly no breakfast yet, as I needed to get my body statistics done on an empty stomach.
LET’S GET STARTED
At 8am there was a soft knock on the door. Dr Françoise Ulrich-Holden wheeled in a trolley stacked with monitors – my blood was taken, blood pressure and weight measured. My next visit was from the clinic’s dietician. Veronica talked me through what she had planned for me that week – food was also part of the sleep treatment. I explained that I’d been following a healthy diet, with no takeaways or fast food. She told me that a Michelin-star chef would be preparing my 1,500-calorie bespoke programme for the week, which I was instantly excited about. I have never had a Michelin-star chef cook for me, so I was looking forward to her menu proposal. Checking the timesheet, I could see this was going to be a hectic day, with back-to-back appointments until 7pm. Tests done, I had a light breakfast of cereal and muffins on the terrace overlooking landscaped gardens with a stunning mountain backdrop – chilly but it was a change from the searing heat of Dubai.
I then headed down to the medical centre for my next round of tests. First stop was the gym, where I was met by personal trainer Alex; he carried out a breathing analysis, BMI and heart rate. He didn’t seem at all alarmed by the readings as I rushed off to my next appointment at the aesthetic and cosmetic surgery department: Let’s not forget this is a private Swiss clinic. The cosmetic consultant asked if there were any procedures I wanted while at CLP. I mentioned I was unhappy with my frown lines. ‘Don’t frown then,’ she suggested as we both burst out in laughter.
I then headed down to the medical centre for my next round of tests. First stop was the gym, where I was met by personal trainer Alex
TIME TO SAMPLE MY BESPOKE MENU
My next appointment was lunch – I was looking forward to this. I was shown to my table, which would be my personal table for every meal that week.
The restaurant was modern in decor but not too fussy, and floor-to-ceiling windows allowed amazing views of the controlled meal plan. My set three-course meal started with warm asparagus soup with lemon and thyme; the presentation was that of a five-star hotel. Next, fricassée of tender chicken with ‘chermoula’ marinade used in Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking, followed by pan-fried baby banana and passion fruit. Verdict: How can this be a ‘controlled meal plan’? It was utterly delicious. Later that afternoon I headed out of the compound to see the beauty that is Lake Geneva.
My final meeting for the day was one I hadn’t anticipated. To discover the reason for my bad sleep pattern, a technician attached 12 electrodes to my head, hooked up remotely to a monitor and told me that I could enjoy the rest of the day. Back in my room, I took a look at myself in the mirror; I looked like a man with electric dreadlocks.
Not wanting to scare other diners, I opted for room service. It was tricky tucking into my dinner while being entwined in cables. Apparently, while I’m ‘sleeping’ the monitor records my brainwaves and eye movement, right from stage one, when the sleep is lightest, through to stage four, which is the heaviest, when the brainwaves are the slowest. That night I’m not sure I reached stage two, tossing and turning all night trying not strangle myself – possibly the worst night’s sleep I’d had for ages. The next morning, the nurse came to my room to remove my electric dreadlocks and relieved of the mass of wires, I enjoyed breakfast on the terrace.
MEETING DR. SLEEP
At my first meeting with Dr Sleep – aka Dr Olivier Staneczek, the specialist in internal medicine and respirology – we discussed my progress so far, and he suggested another night of being monitored. To get more results, he explained the proposed treatment would follow my heart, breathing, rapid eye movement, and give a detailed account of my sleep cycle. So after the day’s tests and appointments, I returned to my room to get wired up. This time, electrodes were attached to my head, back and stomach, pipes were taped to my nose to monitor breathing and the monitor strapped around my belly. I looked like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. As I climbed into bed, it was apparent this wasn’t going to be easy or comfortable. I prefer sleeping on my tummy, but with all this equipment strapped to me, it was quite impossible. It felt like I had fallen asleep on the TV remote.
Electrodes were attached to my head, back and stomach, pipes were taped to my nose to monitor breathing and the monitor strapped around my belly
THE DAYS AHEAD
Over the next few days at the clinic, I underwent hypnosis, in which I was asked questions about my sleep patterns. I was also told to think of a place and time when I was totally relaxed. It took me some time, but finally, I remembered my time in Goa in the late 1990s. I was on lying on a beach in Colva, listening to my CD walkman, the water lapping my toes and my mind clear of the pressures of life. Sheer bliss. Dr Fatima Santos calmly talked me back to that place by telling me to relax, unwind and feel the feeling I had then. I felt calm; her voice became less audible, and I think for a moment I was there, on the beach. Moments later I awoke feeling like I had been asleep for hours, and it felt like a really good sleep. ‘That was awesome’ I said. She then told me to practice some breathing exercises. It felt odd being taught how to breathe, but as Dr Fatima explained, these are all ways of relaxing and promoting sleep. ‘Give me another four’ shouted Emile, my personal trainer. I gave him four more. It’s my third gym session as part of the programme, and the only difference from my regular gym at home is that here I am working out in the fresh mountain air. I had regular check-ups during the week – my blood pressure was monitored daily. I was by this stage getting into a routine: Breakfast, gym, relaxation massages, walks around the lake and, of course, sumptuous three-course meals.
ONE MORE SLEEP
My final day at the clinic was a tad nerve-racking; the results were in. I waited outside Dr Staneczek’s office ready for diagnosis. ‘Mark, please come in and take a seat,’ he said. He then asked if I had enjoyed the sleep programme and if I had slept. I explained that I did have a few sleepless nights but the therapy and relaxation consultations were helping. He then opened my file and began explaining the results of my various tests. Showing me the sleep results he said ‘Mark, this is the area that concerns me. Last night your sleep was very broken. The results have demonstrated that you had stopped breathing.’ ‘I stopped breathing?’ I asked in shock. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘64 times’. Dr Staneczek explained that my issue was sleep apnoea – something I had heard of, but I didn’t understand the symptoms. He told me that my tongue lies too far back and blocks my respiratory passage, causing me to stop breathing and prevents me from sleeping. ‘Can this be treated?’ I asked. He offered three options. Option one, break my jawbone and increase the cavity that my tongue rests in, which he thought was an extreme measure. I agreed. The second option – make my tongue thinner by surgically removing the skin from each side. I did not like the prospect. The last option, he said, was to have a brace fitted that would keep my windpipe open but this can be uncomfortable. I was shocked at the results but equally relieved that after years of sleepless nights I finally found the cause, and ways to treat the issue.
BEFORE I TURN IN
I’m tired of discussing my lack of sleep. Finally, I have concrete evidence that I do have a condition. So what’s next? Having been pulled, pricked, stretched, monitored and taught how to breathe, I returned to Dubai with solutions to my sleep problems. I’ve ramped up my exercise routine; continued breathing exercises, my caffeine consumption is at a minimum, phone on night mode and my diet, albeit non-Michelin star, is on track. I bid you goodnight and hope you sleep well.
WHAT IS SLEEP APNOEA?
1 Those who suffer from this serious sleep disorder stop breathing for a few seconds whilst they are sleeping. It’s estimated that a quarter of the population has the condition. It’s more common in older men.
2 Obstructive sleep apnoea is caused when the airways in the throat relax too much during sleep and prevent the sleeper from breathing properly for at least 10 seconds at a time. The brain then sends signals to rouse them from lighter sleep – although the sleeper may not be aware that it’s happening. The blockage can happen several times a night.
3 Unless a partner alerts them, many sufferers don’t know what’s causing their disrupted sleep. Diagnosis is usually done by an investigation into the patient’s sleep patterns by a clinic.
4 Sleep apnoea is considered serious because the effects over time can contribute to a host of illnesses. Those include high blood pressure, the risk of a stroke or heart attack, irregular heartbeat and developing type 2 diabetes. However, being overweight is also a factor in having sleep apnoea, so this may also be a result of that underlying cause. The short-term effect of sleep apnoea is tiredness – to the point where you might pose a danger to others if you drive, or operate machinery for a living. It can also affect relationships, as sufferers often snort, snore or breathe loudly, or have night sweats, disrupting their partners’ sleep.
5 The condition can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and reducing alcohol and smoking. For severe cases, the use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine can be used to keep airways open.
Source: NHS, Mayo Clinic
■ The week-long Better Sleep programme starts from Sfr18,330 (Dh69,500) per person on double occupancy basis or Sfr 18’930 on a single occupancy basis. It includes full board, consultants, tests and airport transfers.
■ For more: lapraire.ch Tel 0041 21 989 33 12 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Words & photos by Mark Setchfield, Read the full feature @ fridaymagazine.ae