This Spa Treatment Gave Me the Best Sleep of My Life—Here's How to Do It at Home
If you'd accidentally stumbled in during my treatment at The Spa at Terranea, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd walked into some kind of meditative ritual, rather than a massage at one of L.A.'s top spas. Eyes closed, I lay face down on the massage table as my therapist focused on moving energy within my body, starting at the crown of my head and pushing pent-up stress down my back and out my toes. Melodic beats swelled intentionally in harmony with every stroke and the air was filled with a heady mix of cedarwood, sweet orange, and Damascus rose, specifically chosen to lull me into a meditative state. Nope, this isn't your typical massage—it's a Sound Sleep treatment, designed to give me the best slumber of my life. And it did.
I'd be lying if I said I was the ideal candidate for a sleep treatment. I've never really struggled to doze off, but chatter among the other editors on my press trip to Terranea Resort, a Destination Hotel, piqued my interest. "Everyone is talking about it," one spa-savvy editor quipped, admitting she'd called multiple spas in her hometown to find a similar offering, to no avail.
So in the name of a good story, I got into a robe, shrugged off any pre-conceived ideas I had about "energy" treatments, and entered the dimly lit treatment room (I know, poor me). How much could a 60-minute massage really change the sleep quality of someone with zero issues drifting off? It turns out, a lot.
One of the most unusual, and arguably powerful, parts of this treatment is the music. Unlike mainstream massage, every beat is intentionally chosen and mixed to play in tandem with the therapist's light strokes. "It has a base tone with a circular repetitive sound that gradually adds new tones following a cycle until a complete melody is created," explained Sharon Holtz, the spa director at Terranea Resort. "Then, the added tones are gradually removed one by one until only the basic tone remains. This creates a type of heartbeat effect, 'deactivating' the brain and quieting the thoughts, for a profound relaxation." The crescendo peaked with the massage, and as we reached the 30-minute mark I felt myself slip into a half-awake, half-asleep trance state.
Before you scoff, there is serious science to suggest that sound has a profound effect on our body and natural stress response. The American Psychology Association cites research that suggests music improves the body's immune system function and reduces stress, and anther study found that listening to music was more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery.
While the soundtrack is unique to Comfort Zone, the company that created the music, studies suggest that simply listening to lyric-free tunes with a gentle bass line can help lull you to sleep. In fact, sound therapists created this specific song to slow listener's heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and lower cortisol levels.
A natural sceptic, the thought of an energy treatment seemed a little too left of center for me. My therapist explained that she'd use light-touch massage to draw pent-up energy from the top of my body, pulling it down through my back and legs, then finally out through my toes. It felt like someone raking their fingers lightly down my back, which has a surprisingly soothing sensation.
"The Sound Sleep treatment focuses on energy with firm strokes that ground the energy of the person, while the light-touch strokes help calm the mind and remove stressful energy from the body," Holtz told me afterward. Alternative therapy treatments like Reiki healing and acupuncture follow a similar bodywork technique, which is believed to release endorphins, reduce stress, allow energy to circulate more freely in the body.
While I couldn't incorporate the light-touch massage into my evening ritual at home (my boyfriend wasn't sure if I was joking when I floated the idea), there was another part of the treatment that proved helpful when my hour was up: scent. Fragrant oils were heated and applied to my skin with a soft brush. "Essential oils can absolutely help prepare a person for a restful night’s sleep. Whether it is using the oils on the body, for inhalations or diffused in the environment, they can be particularly beneficial," said Holtz.
Of course, the essential oil blend used in this treatment was selected with as much intention as the music. "We use Tranquility Oil," explained Holtz. "The notes of cedarwood combine with the more sparkling notes of sweet orange and Damascus rose," she told me. "The sweet and slightly balsamic essential oil of sandalwood sets the base, and with notes of geranium and vetiver create the tail of the scent. A hint of vanilla warms and harmonises."
If you can't find the exact blend at home, studies suggest lavender oil is just as effective at calming the body. Josh Axe, a doctor of natural medicine, recommends using the essential oil in your evening ritual. "Lavender is naturally calming, so I recommend diffusing it in your bedroom in the evening before bed," he told MyDomaine Australia. "It will help you to fall asleep and get a good night’s rest."
When the music dulled and my energy had been drawn down my calves and out through the tips of my toes, I slowly eased back to reality. Groggy, I stepped out of the treatment room and into the spa's quiet space, an open balcony with views of the Pacific Ocean. That night, I was asleep in less than a minute. It was a deep, dreamless sleep that was so utterly restorative, it made me realise that while I haven't had sleep problems, I've also never experienced great sleep. It's the kind that makes your toes tingle as you begin to drift and leaves you alert the next day, not foggy.
The effects lasted for three blissful days, and then I returned to New York and the chaos of my East Village street-facing apartment. While I can't fly back to L.A. every time I'm stressed out on deadline, that 60-minute treatment left me with a few tools to re-enter a meditative state. A glance at my nightstand reveals bottles of essential oils, a diffuser, and speaker. You might even think I'm the type of person who believes in the power of energy to soothe stress and calm fatigue. After those three nights of exquisite sleep, I'm not ruling anything out.