I have passed many a sleepless night in a hotel bed. Some for entertaining reasons, others for economic ones, where flashing red lights and neighbouring feuds remind me, repeatedly, which side of the social and economic divide I find myself lying on.
So when I was offered the opportunity to sleep on a handcrafted Hästens bed in the Taj Cape Town, this was one luxury I was happy to take lying down.
And lie down I did, for more than the recommended daily allowance. In those hard hours of experiential journalism, I pushed myself to absorb fully the natural layers of cotton, wool, horsehair and flax that make up every Hästens bed, handcrafted to specification over several weeks in Sweden. I even bounced around a few ideas to verify the quality of traditional Swedish pine, before retiring to continue my sleep experience in earnest.
The Hästens 2000T II might sound like a model of sports car and, at R300 000, has a price tag that will get your heart racing and palms sweating all the same, but it is one vehicle you want to put some serious mileage on. It’s like being in a flotation tank, your body so perfectly and evenly supported that you actually feel weightless.
You get the feeling that a bed made up of more natural fibres than a hemp hammock and 180 hours of skilled human labour might just possibly offer a perfect night’s sleep.
I can’t say the bed changed my life or even my savings plan, but what I will say is that, if I went to bed a typical, practical South African, convinced that “a bed is a bed is a bed”, I woke up on the pragmatic side of the bed, furiously dividing the R300 000 price tag by the 25 years of our lives we reportedly spend chasing that elusive perfect night’s sleep – R32 a day, if you were wondering. R32.88 actually, but why split horsehairs when you have just paid more than your average annual income to have thousands of them supporting your spine, if not your argument.
And there is an argument to be had for how much money we spend on keeping ourselves awake, in caffeine and sugar, versus how little we invest in keeping ourselves naturally awake, and out of the chiropractor’s office.
I am not alone in this thinking. Many sleep studies have proven what any overworked mother already knows – sleep deprivation is bad for your health and for everyone else’s wellbeing.
Dr Susan Redline, a sleep specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, confirms this: “Sleep deficiency can affect mood and the ability to make memories and learn, but it also affects metabolism, appetite, blood pressure, levels of inflammation in the body and perhaps even the immune response.”
But until recently, few sleep studies were “going to the mattresses”, as the Godfather would have settled disputes. That was until Andy Krystal and Jack Edinger from Duke University spent four years looking into "how mattresses impact sleep, pain and daytime functioning".
It is the first study of its kind to look at the impact of a mattress on a person’s health in such depth – it evaluated 128 participants and more than 16 000 nights of sleep, making a case for investing more thought, if not money, into this critical purchase.
The study found, among other things, that even the smallest differences in mattress support caused correlating changes in sleep and pain levels.
Of course, not everyone likes it soft and supportive, but more interesting is the fact that most people wouldn’t be able to distinguish a good mattress from a bad one if a spring hit them in the face. Or so says the report, which found "people are essentially left to chance when trying to select a mattress using the generally recommended 'test drive' on the showroom floor".
The alternative would be to sleep on it. This is where Hästens offers some interesting alternatives. The Johannesburg store boasts the Hästens Sleep Spa, complete with dark walls and dim lighting to simulate an authentic sleep environment for its clients.
Back in Cape Town, clients are offered the opportunity to experience a Hästens bed in a natural, unpressured environment at the Taj Hästens Suite, where the luxury of waking up to panoramic views of Table Mountain comes as standard.
The partnership with the Taj Cape Town is a natural fit. In 2010, the Taj Mahal Palace got into bed with Sweden’s oldest bed manufacturer when it purchased a Hästens for President Barack Obama’s stay in its Tata Presidential Suite. I imagine that, like me, he slept in, wondering whether he could push back an appointment or two.
I am assured that it’s not only leaders of the "free world" who can afford to have the weight of the world lifted from their shoulders.
At between R70 000 and R125 000 for a mid-range bed, anyone in the market for a Camps Bay villa is probably in the market for a Hästens bed or two to complement their view.
Not surprisingly, men who are older than 40 make up the vast percentage of Hästens purchases in South Africa.
Presumably, these stressed captains of industry cannot afford to lose any sleep over a bad business decision and are adept at making high-priced purchases.
Understandably, luxury purchases are an emotive topic in a country where basic amenities such as clean water and sanitation are still a luxury for far too many. And yet, in the context of the luxury market, when South Africans already pay ludicrous amounts for their cars and wanton accessories, why should a R300 000 bed that can aid genuine health and wellbeing cause shock at the price tag?
I guess it’s much harder to parade your luxury bed at Sunday brunch or brag about it being on Jeremy Clarkson’s wish list. Or maybe it’s as simple as the fact that a bed reminds us that our bodies are fragile and ailing, and not as fast and furious as a roaring V8 engine. Just a thought. Sleep on it.
Cat Pritchard was the guest of the Taj Cape Town