July 15, 2024
44 S Broadway, White Plains, New York, 10601

in search of ‘lucid dreams’ at a Bloomsbury hotel

in search of ‘lucid dreams’ at a Bloomsbury hotel

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“Is that the beautiful Victorian hotel with the vulgar bar?” asked my partner of the Kimpton Fitzroy, which we’d once visited for a drink after it reopened six years ago. I’d loved the kitsch opulence; he’d seen it as an oligarch’s drinking den. Reader, I left him at home.

I did not want to risk bickering over the bar’s giant disco ball and ruining a dream assignment — a new wellness package in the luxury hotel, promising to deliver lucid dreams.

Although located in Bloomsbury, a central London area known for its early 20th-century writers and artists, including Vanessa Bell and Lytton Strachey, this experience seemed more woo-woo than intellectual. Lucid dreams are those hazy sleep states when you know you are dreaming, and can potentially even control the dream. They offer the chance “to capitalise on our snoozing time and support psychological and spiritual growth”, according to the marketing material for the “world-first” package, created by Charlie Morley, a lucid dream teacher, and Sam Potter, an artist who uses artificial intelligence and virtual reality. It promised to help train “the mind to recognise when you’re in a dream state so you can direct what happens in your dreams . . . to improve mental health, wellbeing and connect us to our higher selves . . . (gaining) valuable insights into your subconscious”.

I had no idea what this meant but when it comes to sleep I’m a sucker for anything that promises to enhance it. I’m hardly the only one. According to Market Research Futurethe global sleep aid sector is predicted to rise from $64.5bn in 2023 to $112.6bn in 2032.

The hotel’s terracotta facade, featuring statues of four British queens

Arriving at the Kimpton Fitzroy, I was still impressed by the elaborate terracotta front, no matter how many times I had gone past it. (The Victorian hotel has fared far better than another of the architect Charles Fitzroy Doll’s projects — the first-class dining room of the Titanic.)

My suite was almost as big as my three-bedroom flat and smelled of luxury, or maybe it was expensive candles. After taking advantage of the roll-top bath in the corner of the bedroom overlooking Russell Square, I decided to conduct a dress rehearsal of the dream package before dinner, just to iron out any difficulties before a proper one at bedtime.

Lucid dreaming is, Morley told me by email, a learned skill. “Some people will get lucid on their first night and for others it might take a week or so of practice. It’s like learning to juggle: some people seem to just get it and have a natural talent but for . . . most people it takes a few weeks to really learn.” I managed my expectations.

In a softly lit interior with columns and archways, some steps lead down to an area with mosaic floor
The foyer is an ornate mix of marble and mosaic © Philipvile

First, I brewed a herbal tea, adding “lucid dream drops” containing valerian, mugwort and lavender. A pamphlet then instructed me to plan my dream based on a question I’d like to ask my “higher self” or a fantasy I’d like to experience, or a part of my psyche I’d like to heal.

I’ve never really been a higher-self person. I don’t dabble in spirituality or even patchouli oil. But I am willing to give it a go. In the past I’ve occasionally willed myself without success to dream about a person who has died in the hope of a small connection. But this felt too sad to do before dinner, so I decided to focus on a creative conundrum I’d been thinking about, in the hope that some answer would appear by magic.

I tried the recommended “hypnagogic affirmation technique” — to enter the liminal pre-dream world, I recited an affirmation: “Next time I’m dreaming, I will know I’m dreaming.” I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Ozbut lying on her back without the ruby slippers.

A bedroom decorated in subtle creams and beiges
One of the rooms, with four-poster . . .  © Will Pryce
A white roll-top bath next to a bay window with slatted blinds
. . . and roll-top bath © Will Pryce

This was a calming preamble to the main event: the virtual-reality headset. My only VR experience until now had been from the perspective of an eagle flying over a mountain range (terrible for my vertigo), workplace training for sacking employees and the Salvador Dalí immersive show (trippy and fun). I put on the headset and started the video. A woman with a soothing voice talked me through a guided meditation, music pulsing softly in the background. Images of flowers and clouds floated across my vision.

Sharing your dreams in public is risky. As Adrian Mole once wrote, “There’s only one thing more boring than listening to other people’s dreams, and that’s listening to their problems.” So the good news is, I didn’t have any dreams.

Nor when I tried it again after a delicious cold vodka gimlet in the glittery bar, and buttery grilled king prawns and Dover sole in the restaurant.

That was because for most of the night I couldn’t actually get to sleep. Not through any fault of the hotel, or the fellow guests, but because I’d read a troublesome email (a rookie error) and then mentally beaten myself up for not enjoying the luxury sleep experience.

That reminded me of the problem with investing in sleep. It only adds to the pressure.


Emma Jacobs was a guest of the Kimpton Fitzroy (kimptonfitzroylondon.com), where double rooms cost from £399 per night including breakfast. The ‘Room to Dream’ package is £50 extra

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