The Light Sleeper: Great John Street, Manchester

IMG_9049We’ve decided to rename our hotel and B & B reviews The Light Sleeper to flag up the fact that they’re written from the perspective of someone who might find it hard to get a good night’s sleep away from home. This week it’s the Great John Street hotel in Manchester.

The hotel: Former Victorian school-house next to what used to be the Granada studios. Now an atmospheric boutique hotel
The room I stayed in: No. 23 – a ‘classical grand’ duplex suite with a sitting room upstairs. At least that was the second room I was allocated. The first I was directed to already had two occupants (fortunately not in bed). Red faces all round.
The bed: Very comfortable king size, double pocket-sprung mattress
Bedding: Crisp white sheets. Good pillows, Very deep mattress topper, possibly a shade too soft and squishy
Noise: Quiet for a city centre hotel though I could hear my neighbours from time to time so it could possibly be noisy if they were rowdy. A faint gurgle from the heating/air-conditioning which I eventually turned off
Light: Shutters let in some light which might be disruptive during the summer. But not a lot.
Bathroom: Unconventionally the roll-top cast-iron bath was in the sitting area upstairs (obviously a pad designed for romantic weekenders.) Good bathroom with large walk-in shower.

Other reasons to stay

* individual decor, not a chain hotel (though part of the Eclectic hotels group)
* within easy walking distance of bars, restaurants and shops
* good breakfast including lavish amounts of smoked salmon (served on toast as had run out of advertised bagels). Poor coffee though.
* 2 tellys – one in the bedroom, one upstairs
* good-sized desk and free fast wifi. Plenty of sitting space
* roof terrace and ‘playground’ with hot tub and sun loungers. Not that I can imagine they’d be much called for in Manchester.
* helpful service despite bedroom howler

* fact that bathroom was up a flight of stairs which could thoroughly wake you up* if you needed to get up to pee in the night. (* Fortunately I got back to sleep OK)

Cost: £108 a night (press rate). Normally from £150 for that class of room. Basic rooms start at £120

Would I go again?:
Yes, though would probably go for a room on a single level. A very comfortable, central  base for a work or leisure trip to Manchester.

Great John Street is in Great John Street, Manchester M3 4FD. Tel: 0161 831 3211

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8 steps that helped to cure my insomnia

Hypnotic Clock
High flying lawyer Nicky Richmond reveals the 8 steps she took to overcome her insomnia – only isn’t quite sure which one did the trick.

“I’m not sure when my sleep problems started; probably in my thirties when work started to be particularly stressful and I couldn’t find the off button. Before that I hadn’t really understood the concept of a bad night’s sleep but I started to wake up at 3 every morning, only for a few minutes or so but it was like clockwork. I’d wake, look at the clock and turn over band go back to sleep again.

I’ve gone to bed with Radio 4 for as long as I remember and until recently could fall asleep to it on the timer mode. By the time the 45 minutes sleep setting ended, I was away with the fairies. I started to turn on the radio on the middle of the night too, which was fairly effective to get me back to sleep unless there was music playing or you got a programme such as that comparing the concept of hell in various religions. I wasn’t keen on the Zoroastrian narrow razor-lined bridge.

Fast forward to last year and a combination of work stress, severe back issues and time-of-life changes meant a holy trinity of sleep destruction and at its worst I was waking up five times a night. I was sick of hearing myself say that if I could have just one night’s sleep I could tackle anything. Familiar?

So I decided to blast it with everything I knew. And I know that some of this might sound a little Gwyneth P and therefore be quite annoying but I’m telling you the God’s honest.

First, the easy one, caffeine. I’d never really drunk that much but I cut it right back and now I have only one cup a day, in the morning. I can’t entirely kick it. I’ve replaced the tea with decaff tea which is utterly tasteless and I have developed a taste for the magnificent Jasmine Silver Tip tea produced by the Rare Tea Co. I don’t miss the coffee. It took me two months to be able to say that.

Alcohol also wasn’t my sleep friend. Hormonal changes have meant a reduced tolerance to alcohol and I’ve cut it right back. Much as I love wine it doesn’t love me and spirits don’t seem to have the same effect.

Red clover has also been helpful in cutting down hot flushes to zero and I take that every day; the brand is Menapol Plus.

Then the radio. I decided that going to bed with Radio 4 was too random. Not every programme was conducive to a good night’s sleep and especially the news. A twitter friend had suggested meditation for my back pain and I started to listen to that instead. There’s a website called Meditation Oasis which has a number of free guided meditations. I listen to one every night. These days I’m much choosier about what I listen to.

Anxiety is something I’ve suffered from regularly; it’s a by-product of my personality as a control-freak, slightly insecure perfectionist. I’d tried pills, (Lyrica) which helped the first time but mixed with the pain relief they just knocked me out and made me feel like my batteries had been removed. I was overreacting to just about everything; a phone call from a client could push me straight into self-punishing panic, as if my internal thermometer had broken. A work colleague suggested hypnosis. I was so exhausted I didn’t even have the energy to be sceptical. I had four sessions. I haven’t had an anxiety attack since.

And then exercise, something I do completely begrudgingly. I started to walk after my back operation and set myself ten thousand steps a day. I bought one of those things to wear on my wrist thinking that I wouldn’t use it. Wrong. It forces me to confront my inactivity, lights up when I’ve been inactive for too long and most interestingly, monitors my sleep by recording movement. It is through this that I know that I don’t have restless sleep anymore. I listen to audio books whilst I walk and have now “read” some of the classics I’ve always meant to read but never had the time.

Nutrition may also have played a part. In a bid to get myself healthier, I’ve reduced my intake of cow’s milk and wheat. I also take one of those supergreen powders every day. I certainly feel better and I’ve lost 16lb in two and a half months without feeling miserable and those of you who know me will know I live to eat.

I haven’t slept so well for so long for years.

I don’t know which of the various changes I’ve made is the key factor but if you’d ask me to guess in order of importance the list would look like this, least important first:

8. Cutting down on booze
7. Reducing wheat and dairy
6. Red Clover and supplements
5. Reducing exposure to random stuff on the radio late at night
4. Exercise
3. Cutting out caffeine
2. Meditation
1. Hypnosis

And yes, with a good night’s sleep I can pretty much tackle anything.”

Nicky blogs on restaurants at The Food Judge and tweets @lawyer_eats

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Can’t sleep? Blame your gut bacteria!

Ecoli bacterium - 3D Render
It’s easy to blame anxieties going round and round in your head for sleepless nights. But the problem could lie not in the revolution of thoughts in your brain but in the churning in your gut, says Patsy Westcott.

The other day a packet of probiotics plopped through the letterbox with a press release suggesting that they might help fight fatigue and encourage sound sleep.  It seems a bit of a stretch. But there is an increasing amount of research suggesting that probiotics may help all sorts of health-related problems – from the obvious tummy troubles such as flatulence, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, to helping the immune system function optimally and even play a part in obesity. So I decided to investigate.

Over the past few years scientists have pointed to the body’s second brain, ‘the brain in the stomach’ – scientifically known as the enteric nervous system or ENS  – as the source of many ills. With an estimated 500 million nerve cells or neurons (as many as in the spinal cord), according to one expert, the ENS is thought to be as important as the brain in our heads for physical and emotional wellbeing. Hard to believe isn’t it, but think about how you get ‘butterflies in the tummy’ before an important meeting or big event, and you get the picture. In fact experts say that the ENS was the original nervous system when our fish-like ancestors emerged from the swamps more than 500 million years ago and may even have led to the development of brain itself.

What’s all that got to do with sleep? Well it seems that melatonin, a nerve messenger chemical or neurotransmitter – aka the sleep regulating hormone – is found in abundance in the gut. Amazingly there’s 400 times more melatonin in the gut than there is in the pineal gland, the ‘third eye’ in the brain where melatonin is traditionally thought to be produced. Research has even shown that most of the daytime melatonin in our bloodstream comes from the gut – well in mice at least.

Now one of the many roles of melatonin is to alter gut bacteria and it’s also been found that gut bacteria play a role in producing melatonin as well as other neurotransmitters, including the calming, feel-happy hormone, serotonin, that is also involved in sleep. And it also seems that stress, that well-known sleep slayer, causes changes both in gut bacteria and in neurotransmitter levels.

So could probiotics, which have been shown to help rebalance gut bacteria, help you get a good night’s sleep? To be frank it’s still too early to say. But there’s a substantial body of research suggesting they may help ease symptoms of well-known stress-related problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, which in turn is known to be influenced by sleep with many sufferers reporting that symptoms are worse after a bad night.

So there could be some truth in it. Of course, as we all know it’s a long way from mice to men, so I’m still sitting on the fence. But they could be worth a try.

For more about melatonin read Patsy’s posts on What you need to know about melatonin and 10 ways to boost your melatonin naturally.

1. Ghosh AR. Appraisal of microbial evolution to commensalism and pathogenicity in humans. Clin Med Insights Gastroenterol. 2013 May 27;6:1-12.


3. Chen CQ, Fichna J, Bashashati M, Li YY, Storr M. Distribution, function and physiological role of melatonin in the lower gut. World J Gastroenterol. 2011 Sep 14;17(34):3888-98.

4.  Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9.


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Review: Ragdale Hall Health Hydro, Leicestershire

Superior singleThe latest of our hotel reviews from the perspective of light sleepers, Patsy blisses out at  Ragdale Hall which she describes as “Northanger Abbey meets the World of Interiors, Bath Spa and posh gym.”

The room I stayed in: No. 7, a fairly small ensuite single room on the first floor up the  grand and decidedly baronial staircase (the Hall dates back to 1785) with superb views over the misty Leicestershire countryside.
The bed: Single: simple but comfortable  and I slept like a log.
: Crisp white sheets with a duvet and synthetic pillow but a down pillow was available in the pillow pack in the wardrobe together with a single sheet for warmer nights.
Noise: Lovely and quiet – comfort and relaxation are the watchwords here and guests are urged to keep noise down after 10 p.m.
Light: The curtains were fully lined and the room was dark when they were drawn. I like to wake up to the dawn light so I kept them open and awakened to birdsong and a view of winter tree tops.
Bathroom: Small but with a great shower. Complimentary shampoo, shower gel etc from the White Company.

candlelight stretchOther reasons to stay

* Fantastic thermal spa with loads of different ‘rooms’ including a volcanic salt bath, rose room, thinking room (with classical music and ceiling projections of constantly-changing images and colours designed to trigger positive and/or inspiring thoughts), a gorgeous candlelit bath and fabulous indoor-outdoor waterfall pool
* Great range of fitness classes including Try Behind Barres – ballet-Pilates fusion, Hit it – a class involving drumsticks (not chicken ones) and Cycology (indoor cycling).
* Fabulous spa treatments – I had Blissful Face and Back massage (Elemis) that more than lived up to its name
* Fully equipped air conditioned gym, with large range of fitness classes from Zumba to Candlelit Stretch (yoga by candlelight. Divine.)
* Hair salon with some great stylists who give good advice on (much needed) haircare
* Shops! Clothes and fitness wear including some very flattering designer wear. Managed to resist (but only just) massively slimming D.E.C.K. trousers by Irish brand Decollage. Gift shop has great range of brilliant and lustworthy bling. Beauty store sells wide range of upmarket products including Elemis and Decleor
* Food is healthy but not punishing e.g. Atholl Brose – delicious breakfast dish of toasted oatmeal, honey, low fat yoghurt and raspberries.

* None to the Hall itself. But if you’re coming by public transport as I did, the price of the 40 minute taxi from Leicester at bit steep at £22 each way. I was told Loughborough would have been quicker (15-20 minutes) – and cheaper.
* Cost. A weekend in a twin economy room costs from £373 pp including 50 minute Blissful Face and Back massage or two 25 minute treatments, breakfast, buffet lunch and dinner, plus full use of facilities above. Then there’s the shops….

Would I go again?:
 You bet! It’s one of my favourite spas.

Ragdale Hall is at Ragdale Village, Melton Mowbray,  Leicestershire, LE14 3PB. Tel +44 1664 433000. Patsy’s stay was complimentary

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Choosing a new mattress

KFavelle-Mattress_1024Given that it’s sale time I was going to write something about buying a new mattress when I spotted that blogger Kavita Favelle of Kavey Eats had just bought one. Who better to ask than someone who’s just been through the process of choosing one? This is what she says:

“I’ve spent 14.5 years of my life asleep. Not continuously, you understand – I’m not a sleeping beauty recently awakened from an unnatural slumber – but an average of 8 hours a night throughout my life adds up to a lot of time in bed. Sleeping is something I have a great affinity for, even more so as I get older and it helps reset the aches and pains of each day.

Like many Britons, I suffer from a bad back, plus some tedious shoulder, neck and hip problems to boot, all of which means that it’s important not only to get 8 hours of sleep, but 8 hours of really good sleep. Good sleep allows my body to rest, repair and relax muscles and joints that are often screaming at me by the time I go to sleep. And that’s where a good bed comes in.

The key aspect of a good bed is a good mattress.

Beneath the mattress, of course, you’ll need a sturdy support; one that keeps the mattress flat across its entire width and length (and doesn’t creak every time you move in your sleep). Whether you opt for a divan base (where the base is the support) or a bedstead aka bed frame (where the mattress is supported by slats within the box area of the frame), it’s simply a case of ensuring that the bed can  easily carry the weight of the mattress, bedding and people who’ll be sleeping on it.

But when it comes to choosing a mattress, it’s a little more complicated and, if I’m honest, rather bewildering.

I started to suspect we needed a new mattress when I found myself waking up with a back ache day after day for months. Sometimes the back ache would force me out of bed before I’d had enough sleep – making me grumpy for the rest of the day. What nailed it was a holiday in which the morning backache completely disappeared. It took a few more such stays away from home to galvanise me into starting the search for a new mattress.

And that’s when I ran into analysis paralysis, struggling to decide what type of mattress to buy and how much to spend.

It’s often said that you get what you pay for when buying a mattress, and that the more you spend, the better the mattress will be. But with mattress prices ranging from £100 to £3000, it can be difficult to set a budget and understand the difference an extra £50, £100 or £500 could make.

My first step was to learn about the categories of mattresses available.

Open spring mattresses are often the cheapest type available. The spring coils inside are, as the name suggests, open, and much of the rigidity of the mattress comes from rods or wires sewn into the edges. This type of mattress is the most likely to sag over time. As my partner and I are both heavy individuals, I quickly crossed open spring off my list.

Pocket spring mattresses house each spring in a separate fabric pocket, adding a lot more rigidity across the mattress. The individually pocketed springs are less likely to sag sideways than open spring versions. Pocket spring mattresses are distinguished by the spring count or spring density; the more the better, as your weight is distributed across them.

Memory foam mattresses don’t have any springs; instead they are a solid layer of visco-elastic foam that moulds underneath your body. They are marketed as being particularly good for maintaining good posture during sleep, but not everyone gets on well with them: they feel quite different to regular sprung mattresses.

In addition, it’s not uncommon these days to find pocket sprung mattresses with a thin layer of memory foam integrated into the mattress above the springs. This is what we chose for our previous mattress, and it gave us a very good sleep for several years.

As many people do, we headed to a store with a large selection of mattresses.
We spent an hour peering at specifications and lying on various mattresses for as long as we could without feeling completely daft. That seldom amounted to more than 3 or 4 minutes per mattress; rarely as long as 5.

I just didn’t feel confident in making a decision on that basis – our existing bed still feels wonderfully comfortable when I first lie on it; there’s no evident sagging or unevenness and no discomfort until several hours in.

All that this exercise allowed us to agree on was that we still prefer a firmer mattress over a soft one, and that we liked both the higher end pocket spring mattresses and the startlingly expensive well known brand (oh, alright – Tempur) memory foam ones.

I was sorely tempted to give memory foam a try.

But I’d never slept on one before and the Tempur came in at around £1800; a lot to spend without being sure. We quickly discovered that their “free 60 day trial” actually incurred an unspecified (but likely to be substantial) charge for collection when returned within the trial period. We were further put off when we realised that their “15 year limited guarantee” was what I would describe as a 5 year guarantee with stepped discounts on buying a replacement, after that.

We thought about finding a budget hotel chain using memory foam, as a way to test one for a whole night. That proved harder than expected.

Eventually, I turned to Which? and looked at their latest mattress report. The Which? tests looked at body support, durability and permeability to moisture, amongst other features. With so many choices on the market, I figured the reviews should at least help me to narrow down my choices and focus on brands that performed best.

To my surprise, the Best Buy mattress in the tests turned out to be an inexpensive option by well-established UK bed brand Silentnight; it has a core of miratex foam topped with a layer of memory foam; the miratex foam has some slits that create softer zones for head and feet and firmer for back and hips.

When I looked on Amazon, this mattress was showing as available for just over £200. That seemed shockingly cheap, certainly less than we were expecting to spend by a long shot.

I soon spotted a related product – Silentnight 7 Zone; virtually the same as their 3 Zone but 2 cm deeper (and with slightly more complex shaping to the miratex foam), it was also on special offer, bringing a UK King Size down to just £155 with free delivery. That’s over 90% cheaper than the pure memory foam mattress we’d been considering.

Customer reviews (which I checked on a couple of different sites) were overwhelmingly positive, and when a friend chimed in to let me know they’d bought the same mattress a few months earlier and were very happy with it, my decision (and order) was quickly made.

The mattress is industrially folded, compressed and shrink-wrapped in a rolled up form; as no specialist delivery team is therefore required, it was delivered within days.  After opening and unfolding, we left it the stipulated 24 hours to uncompress fully before use. It has a slight odour, like drying hops, but I am hopeful that will fade in a few days.

Of course, it’s too early to comment on durability but the bliss of waking up without back ache in my own bed is fantastic, and I’m a very happy customer.

kaveycarousel 100x100Kavita Favelle is a greedy Londoner with a love of eating well and travelling often. Enjoy Kavita’s food and travel writing at her blog, Kavey Eats.

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10 ways to sleep better on a plane

© CandyBox Images –

Later this week I’m flying to Chile, a trip I’m immensely looking forward to – apart from the overnight plane journey there and back. However hard I try I never seem to manage to sleep for more than a couple of hours which is infuriating when my fellow passengers seem to crash out from the moment the meal is over until the time they get woken for breakfast.

I’ve tried eye masks, earplugs and neck pillows none of which seem to make a blind bit of difference. The only thing that works is a sleeping tablet and you’re not supposed to take those in case you get DVT or are too dozy to take decisive action i an emergency,

So I thought I’d research the accumulated wisdom online to see if I could pick up a few tips:

1. Pick the right seat for you. If you’re tall get as much leg-room as possible. That’s not easy in economy obviously but you can get a little bit extra in an aisle seat. On the other hand you’re less likely to be disturbed in a window seat. Apparently you should try and sit the side of the plan you normally sleep according to this article – so on the right hand side if you sleep the right hand side of the bed. is a useful site that highlights the best seats on different planes. Avoid busy areas around the toilets.

2. Fly midweek rather than at the weekend – there’s more likely to be extra space next to you. If you spot a free row ask the flight attendant if you can move. (Everyone else will of course have the same idea so stake your claim as soon as you can.)

3. Don’t overdo the booze – a glass or even two is relaxing. Anything more and it’s more likely to disturb your sleep. As of course is coffee . . .

4. Take your own headphones. They’re likely to be more comfortable and block out the noise more effectively than the ones they provide on board. If you tend to find the noise of the plane engines distracting invest in some noise-cancelling headphones, which are also invaluable if there’s a howling baby in the row in front of you.

5. Prepare some soothing playlists of favourite music or relaxing sounds like breaking waves. I might try this specially composed Night School Sleep music. Even an audiobook may be more soporific than watching a film.

6. Try and resist the temptation to spend the flight glued to your electronic reader. Just as at home the bright light will make it harder for you to sleep

7. Acquire or upgrade your travel pillow. Clearly my rather basic foam one doesn’t offer me the support and comfort that more sophisticated pillows do. I must say I like the look of this cashmere one and the J pillow looks intriguing. There are other suggestions here.

8. Take your own travel blanket. OK, it adds to your carry-on luggage but it’s so much nicer – let alone more hygienic – than the synthetic blankets they hand out for free. If you haven’t got the budget for one these wildly expensive cashmere travel wraps (me neither) you can buy one for about £12. Remember to buckle up over your blanket so the flight attendant doesn’t wake to check you’ve got your seatbelt on.

9. Take a cosy pair of socks. Same principle. It’s all about comfort.

10. Sniff a calming essential oil. Having got used to the Neal’s Yard Body Butter I might try their aromatherapy nighttime blend. This Body Shop spritz also looks good. Obviously you don’t want to asphyxiate your neighbour so don’t overdo it …

So, the overall message is make yourself as relaxed as possible and do what you feel comfortable with. I’ve left out the advice to change into your PJs because I’d feel such a wally. I will however get a new travel pillow and travel blanket and report back how I get on!

Do you have any top tips for sleeping on planes?

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Power napping – or rather failing to nap – in Berlin

When I was researching sleep programs for a feature recently I discovered the Swissotel Berlin offered a service to sleep-deprived guests so as I was visiting the city for a few days I thought I’d check it out.

If you’re staying at the hotel you can request the ‘Deepsleep package’ which was devised in conjunction with local somonologist (as they call their sleep specialist) Dr Michael Feld. It includes a ‘sonic’ pillow (above) which simulates the sound of your heartbeat, a calming spray mist, herbal infusions to help send you to sleep and wake up the next morning and a light box (below) for those who find it extra hard to get up and running.

But the element I was most intrigued by was the provision of a PowerNap Lounge.

Liege sand kiwi 2_1024I guess I imagined a large room full of slumbering guests but in fact it only proved to be a couple of “Inemuri Loungers” (above) which are full length chairs with a hammock-like dip in the middle and raised base roughly the same height as your heart on which to rest your lower legs. It was so comfortable I thought I was onto a winner – a quick post-prandial pick-me-up after pounding the streets of Berlin all morning and I’d be raring to go again.

Of course it didn’t work out like that. One reason being the curious smell of freshly peeled orange that I discourteously assumed came from the director of PR who was showing me round – she must have had an orange for lunch I thought – but turned out to be another mist dispenser which instead of making me nod off actually made me feel more awake. (Orange is supposed to be calming but obviously not in my case.)

Even the music on the mini ipod they gave me it which sounded like the playlist at a Brazilian nightclub didn’t do the trick. Infuriatingly the man next to me – oblivious to both the orange and the bossanova – slept soundly throughout. I was probably just too busy clocking up the whole experience and sneaking photos to relax.

According to Christiane the hotel is generally approached by wives who are concerned about their high-achieving, stressed-out husbands not sleeping well but maybe it’s over-stimulated journalists like me who need the help …

The full Deepsleep package costs an extra 60 euros on your room rate but you can use the PowerNap lounge on request if you’re just visiting the hotel.

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Review: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons

photoYou’d expect to sleep well at a luxury hotel like Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons but, as Thane Price, star of the Big Allotment Challenge reveals, it’s about much, much more than that …

The hotel: More hamlet than hotel Le Manoir has grown into a beautiful haven of cream stone and manicured gardens.
The room we stayed in: The Arabesque suite was as luxurious as you could want a suite to be. With a sitting room, equipped with comfy sofas, up to the minute magazines, bottled water, fruit, chocolates and sugared almonds all on offer.
The bed: a full superking-sized bed with all manner of lighting gizmos to create different moods. These I found were easier to operate before the wine and the cocktails.
Bedding: 400 thread count sheets and pillowslips. Down or anti allergic duvet and pillows can be requested. There is a small vial of mist provided to spritz your pillows
Noise: I think we were last to bed and heard nothing until we woke in the morning.
Absolute peace and quiet.
Light: See above. You could set the mood lighting in the room and there were lots of heavy curtains to create a womb-like atmosphere.
Clean?: Spotless with a super shiny bathroom
Bathroom: Mirrored throughout with tiny floor lights that come on as you walk in. I might have preferred not to have seen my 25 year old body reflected in all those mirrors but the feeling of wanton luxury was undeniable. There was a TV at the end of the bath, a separate shower cubicle and double basins.
There was a pretty cotton embroidered drawstring bag in which to take home your soap plus his and hers slippers in cotton bags too.

Other reasons to stay:
Raymond Blanc has been running the restaurant here since 1977 and the hotel since 1984. An early example of the country house hotel it still sets the benchmark for luxury and hospitality. The many, many staff are friendly, helpful and in no way obsequious.

The Michelin-starred restaurant has a variety of set menus, My advice is to choose from the a la carte section as the many extra courses can soon fill up even the most avid trencherman.

Don’t leave before breakfast. It is truly splendid with a large buffet selection offering such rarities as freshly squeezed pomegranate juice plus table service for the small but perfectly balance hot dishes.

There are lovely gardens to walk through, a Japanese teahouse to explore, Raymond’s greenhouse is open to you, the kitchen garden burgeons with produce and the many sculptures that dot the grounds add elements of surprise as you wander. There are bicycles to borrow should you feel more energetic.

The cost, which means this will have to be a rare treat.

Cost: As they say of yachts, if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it …. Rooms start at £500.

Thane stayed at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons as a guest of the hotel. You can see a longer version of this post including a review of the restaurant on her blog.

Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford.

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What’s the ideal sleeping position?

Sleeping positions

© bramgino –

I suppose it’s an indication of little I used to think about sleep that it never occurred to me my sleeping position was in anyway abnormal. I fall asleep on my right hand side then often sleep on my stomach, head to one side if I wake up during the night. Turns out only about 7% of the population do this.

But is there a ‘best side’ to sleep on? The jury seems to be out but there are pros and cons to each sleeping position

If you sleep on your back (which I rarely do) it’s apparently good for your spine and preventing acid reflux but you are more likely to snore. On the other hand it may “maintain perky breasts” according to this article on the CNN website. (Probably not if you’ve had a couple of kids, I’d suggest)

Sleeping on your side – right or left – apparently makes it easier to breathe and helps to avoid heartburn and acid reflux. It also tends to be the most comfortable position if you’re pregnant, especially with a body pillow. However curling up in a foetal position is not good for your neck or spine.

Some experts say you’re better to sleep on your right hand side if you have a cardiac condition as it puts less stress on the heart. On the other hand sleeping on your left may be better for your liver and kidneys.

Sleeping on your front can put strain on your neck though this can be alleviated if you only have one or no pillows. (According to the Better Sleep Council this position makes me brash, outgoing, and very uncomfortable with criticism!)

On the other hand a recent survey came up with the finding that sleeping on the left of the bed (which I invariably do) makes you more cheerful and positive – but not as financially well off as those who sleep on the right. According to the … er… Daily Mail.

In the absence of any consensus it seems to me that there’s no reason to change your sleeping position if you sleep well or haven’t been advised to alter it by your doctor. On the other hand if you sleep badly – or snore loudly – it could be worth trying to make a change.

So what are you – a side, a back or a stomach sleeper and have you ever managed to change the way you sleep?

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10 ways to boost your melatonin naturally


© DeVIce –

Following her introduction to melatonin earlier in the week health writer Patsy Westcott shows how you can do without supplements and boost your melatonin naturally.

* Boost melatonin with diet. Put cherries, tomatoes, bananas, pineapples and oats on the menu – they are said to push up melatonin levels.

* Go easy on sugar and caffeine. They causes surges in blood sugar which in turn  increases production of cortisol, which opposes the action of melatonin.

* Keep it dark in the bedroom. Darkness is vital to encourage production of melatonin. Use blackout blinds or thick curtains. And no technology in the bedroom. Banish TV, your mobile or tablet from the room you sleep in. ‘Light exposure, especially the ‘blue’ light from phones and TV can reduce melatonin,’ says nutritional health expert Marilyn Glenville.

* Get some daylight. Exposure to daylight is essential to keep your body clock working as it should. Be sure to get out into the daylight for some time every day, especially in winter.  (During the long, dark days of midwinter a daylight lamp such as those made by Lumie can help you get your quota.

* Manage medication. Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, anti-anxiety drugs, nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids and some antidepressants can block melatonin production. Ask your GP or pharmacist for advice on the best time of day to take them.

* Magic magnesium. Known as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ magnesium, found in green leafy veg, has a calming relaxing effect on the body.

* Beef up the Bs. B vitamins vital for a healthy nervous system can help if stress is stopping you sleeping well. Vitamin B 6 is found in beans, poultry, fish, dark leafy greens, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe, B12 in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, or dairy and folate in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, breakfast cereals, and fortified grains and grain products

* Remember G for ginseng. ‘Siberian ginseng, a tonic for the adrenal glands, can be useful if you keep waking up during the night.

* Brew up a cuppa. L-theanine an amino acid, found in tea (green or black) is known for its calming, relaxing effect on the mind. ‘It can stop those endless thoughts that stop you falling off to sleep’ advises Marilyn Glanville

* Step up. A study found that a 10-week moderate- to high-intensity step aerobics training programme improved sleep quality and increased the melatonin levels in sleep-impaired post-menopausal women.

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