How to give guests the best sleep of their life

Are your hotel guests satisfied with their sleep? What more could you do to improve their quality of rest? There's much to learn, discovers Georgia Seago

A worrying 51% of the world’s population are sleep deprived and 18% are insomniacs, according to research conducted in 2018 by Wakefield Research. This lack of good-quality sleep is having a big impact not just on an individual health-related basis, but on an economic scale too, with the cost of sleep deprivation on the US economy estimated at $411 billion, owing to reduced productivity and costs of accidents and illnesses.

“This interest in sleep is growing at a rapid pace in the health and wellness space,” says sleep medicine expert Dr Rebecca Robbins. “There is compelling evidence that sleep quality is a strong predictor of how long you’re going to live, and as a population we have prevalent sleep difficulties.”

Leisure and tourism destinations like hotels and resort spas are perfectly placed to help guests address these difficulties, and if done right, improve their sleep for good. Lessons to learn Robbins believes there’s plenty of opportunity: “Research we conducted found that out of a sample of around 1,000 people – a mix of leisure and business travellers – poor sleep quality when travelling was found across the board, with no difference in terms of which type of traveller sleeps better in hotels,” she says. “So, as an industry, we’re not doing well; by and large guests aren’t satisfied with their sleep.”

The same sample were asked what the hotel they most recently stayed in could have done to improve their sleep experience. Noise control, adjusted room temperature and a more comfortable bed and/or better pillows came out as the overruling factors.

“Many people reported noise in the hallway, from other guests or from air-conditioning units during their last hotel stay; while a better mattress that provided stronger support and more comfortable pillows were also key,” says Robbins. Recognising its responsibility to give guests a healthy night’s sleep, The Benjamin Hotel in New York City – one of the first to introduce a pillow menu – approached Robbins in 2013 to develop a sleep programme, taking a holistic approach to making bedtime in the hotel as conducive to good sleep as possible.

“We developed evidence-based strategies to improve the guest sleep experience and also provide an educational aspect, leveraging a lot of insight from behavioural sleep medicine,” explains Robbins.

Located on Lexington Avenue, one of New York’s loudest, busiest streets, the hotel was undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation at the time, which meant that Robbins could work directly with the interior design team to realise a design for optimal rest. “The rooms are fundamentally designed to help you unwind as soon as you walk in,” she says.

The key elements are:

• “A soft colour palette of neutral, relaxing tones. There are small pops of colour in the decorative pillows but these are taken off at turn-down service.”

• “Triple-pane windows to block out noise with thick blackout curtains. The bedroom has to be quiet and dark; guests shouldn’t be able to hear anything higher than 60 decibels, and our eyelids are so thin that any light coming through the blinds or under the door can disrupt sleep.”

• “An analog clock. This is critical; so many bedrooms look like airplane control units with all the blinking lights.”

• “Dimmers on the lights so guests can slowly get ready for blackout and relax during the adjustment. Plus, light bulbs should be on the warmer hue spectrum near the bed. Most are on the bright blue spectrum and almost hurt your eyes.” • “A room temperature of between 60 and 67 degrees fahrenheit – this does vary slightly as some people prefer to be slightly warmer or cooler when they sleep. This can be done by turning the thermometer down at bedtime and offering bedding of varying thickness.”

Robbins emphasises the importance of offering guests a pillow menu for a truly comfortable night’s sleep. “We all have a preference for sleep position – stomach, back or left or right side. There are different pillow recommendations for each, and in explaining this to guests and letting them make an informed selection, the sleep set-up becomes an educational experience,” she says, adding: “This results in lasting guest satisfaction and knowledge that they can take away with them and incorporate into their life.”

Simple habits This is where a pre-sleep “powering down” routine really comes into play, something Robbins says is “essential for healthy sleep when someone isn’t in their home environment. “We really have to emphasise the products and services related to sleep that we can offer to improve the experience,” she says.

The plan Robbins put together for The Benjamin includes a call from reception to remind guests to turn off their devices and start winding down, meditation and a menu of sleep-friendly bedtime snacks. “We worked with a yogi to develop a relaxation meditation on demand. Guests simply pick up their room phone, dial a number and listen to a guided meditation on speaker,” says Robbins. The hotel’s resident chef developed a selection of snacks using ingredients backed by evidence showing that they enhance the secretion of melatonin.

These include a range of soothing decaf herbal teas such as camomile, rooibos and verbena, a small bowl of granola and a peanut butter sandwich on wholegrain toast. Robbins points out that these simple touches are also revenue drivers and that sleep-friendly improvements don’t have to break the bank for smaller operations. “These initiatives can be relatively low cost but offer tremendous benefit from a branding standpoint. Guests are increasingly health conscious at home and hotels are positioned to benefit by aligning their services and mission with this trend,” she says.

Good sleep shouldn't just be a focus for guests; spa operators need to make sure they're getting enough too.