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Why do we stay in hotels? Well the most important and obvious reason is a good night’s sleep when away from home. 2023 has being dubbed the year of sleep tourism and sleep has become the focus of innovation in hotels. Byrte mattresses are using the latest AI technology to configure comfort and posture. There are technologies adjusting room temperatures, and there is the use of pink noise to bring about deep sleep. Consumers are increasingly realising the importance of good sleep. According to P&S Intelligence, the global sleeping aids market will reach €162.5 billion by 2030, up from €72 billion in 2019. In the far future, advances in claytronics and programmable matter mean the perfect bed and the perfect night’s sleep. Hotels are using innovation to ensure guests get a perfect night’s sleep. Hotel Management School’s new Professor of Innovation,  Disruption and New Phenomena Dr. Ian Yeoman, discusses the trend of sleep, why it is important and how the hospitality and tourism industry is innovating.

Defining Sleep

We spend about a third our lives asleep. It is an elementary part of our lives and without sleep we couldn’t function. Sleep is a state of reduced mental and physical activity, in which consciousness is altered, and sensory activity is inhibited to a certain extent. During sleep, there is a decrease in muscle activity, and interactions with the surrounding environment are significantly reduced. One of the most important aspects of sleep is REM, which stands for ‘rapid eye movement’. During this period sleep has many aspects including a virtual paralysis of the body. It’s the period where dreams occur in which images, ideas, emotions and sensations occur. At the same time, during sleep most of the body’s systems are in an anabolic state, helping to restore the immune nervous, skeletal and muscular system.

Sleep in Practice

Sleep seems to be treated as a health concern in a modern society, with sleep professionals, new technologies to assist your sleep, drugs to help you sleep and an ever increasing range of sleeping disorders. According to the literature on sleep, it is about ‘doing sleep’ and ‘being asleep’. The ‘doing sleep’ explores a complex range of issues like falling asleep, sleeping, and awakening encompassing a range of topics including sleeping patterns, spatialization and cultures. Whereas the ‘being asleep’ literature is dominated by the medical and physiological sleep research published in journals such as the Journal of Sleep Research, which indicate the importance of sleep for the physical and emotional well-bring of humans.

Sleeping in a Hotel

What I am trying to say is, sleep is probably the most important aspect of the hotel stay, as without sleep everything else doesn’t matter to the hotel guest. A guest who has slept well, will in the morning be ready to go, be prepared for business and feel rejuvenated for a full working day. But a guest who hasn’t slept will be the opposite. For those that research, teach and are involved in the hotel industry, it is something that isn’t on the syllabus of many academies and hotel schools.

According to Valtonen and Veijola’s study on sleep in tourism (2011, p. 183)

sleeping is understood as an ‘obligatory evil’ to be squeezed in between the operations of arrival and departure. The check-out time is advanced from noon in some hotels; the breakfast
time starts earlier and earlier; simultaneously, a ‘special service’ is needed for those who wish to stay past noon.

Even though extra attention is apparently paid to sleeping well in a hotel, given the rise of advertising on the quality of mattresses or the variety of pillows at one’s disposal, it does not change the fact that the morning chattering and clattering of cleaners may invade space and time—indeed, regardless of the doorknob sign Please, do not disturb.

Thus, it’s about time we took sleep more seriously!

Why is Sleep Important Today?

According to research by the Foresight Factory, sleep is the most important trend of 2023 with 65% of Dutch consumers saying they try to get enough sleep in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In a world where mindfulness has become more prominent, sleep has been integral to this. As a consequence, sleep is being rebranded as the new healthy eating. No longer something that is made to fit around schedules or lost to modern distractions and devices, sleep is being redefined as the antidote to ill health, stress and an always-on mentality. Poor sleep, therefore, is being demonised, and linked to conditions and diseases including obesity and dementia.​ As a result, consumers are proactively managing their sleep. Some are taking steps to optimise their sleep – for instance, by avoiding technology before bedtime, which can suppress the release of melatonin (a hormone that induces sleep), creating elaborate bedtime rituals designed to relax, or looking to sleep-proof their bedroom environment. Others are monitoring their sleep patterns to ensure they are getting the perfect amount and type. The focus on sleep is creating opportunities for brand innovation and content: a growing range of foods, drinks, supplements and media that help optimise sleep are arriving on the market, as well as tech devices and accompanying services to help consumers wind down.

While rest is important, this is not just about bedding down; it is also about gearing up. Feeling well rested during the day and ensuring energy levels are at their peak is a clear motivator for better sleep hygiene. Sound sleep may be just one route to improved mental and physical readiness, but it is something that many now recognise as a vital ingredient for a healthier and happier life.

Sleep Innovation Resorts

Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, Canada, recently launched luxury sleep retreat for guests struggling to switch off at night. The Secrets of Sleep: A Life-changing Retreat is  premium priced at €800, plus accommodation and food etc.

During the three-day, four-night stay, guests will be invited to daily workshops where they will learn about the science of sleep and how to “heal” their relationships with it, with guidance from Dr. Colleen Carney, Director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Toronto Metropolitan University, Toronto. They will be encouraged to take part in complementary activities at the inn, including yoga, meditation and unwinding in one of the rooftop hot tubs. In the UK, Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa, located outside Bath, offers a sleep retreat complete with hypnotherapy and guided meditations. On the Thai island of Koh Samui, guests at the Kamayala can enrol in a sleep enhancement programme, where they have access to a naturopathic lifestyle consultation and herbal remedies to improve slumber.

These retreats are aimed at tourists who want to optimise their sleep, especially after more than a year of pandemic life has wreaked havoc on many people’s sleep cycles.

Sleeping Technologies

Imagine how a hotel could monitor and understand guests sleep patterns. Wesper is a disposable smart patch that is designed to help consumers learn more about their sleeping patterns. The wireless patch is meant to be worn on the torso throughout the night. It is equipped with a sensor that measures various parameters, including respiratory effort, breathing airflow, oxygen levels, body position and more. The data is transmitted to an accompanying app via Bluetooth and crystallised into a sleep report, which can be accessed by the user the following morning. Hotel sleep therapists would help guests make sense of the data and recommendation about improving sleep patterns, behaviours and bespoke bedroom configurations. These technologies are aimed at generation Z (those born from 1997 onwards), as about 25% of European consumers of this generation actively monitor their sleep patterns according to various studies.

Economy Beds

In 2011, Air New Zealand introduced the Skycouch, a row of three economy seats which can fold forward to turn into a flat bed for two people. From 2024, the airline will introduce sleeping pods on long haul flights for economy passengers. these passengers will be able to book four-hour sessions in lie-flat sleeping pods – which the airline has named “Skynest” – at an additional cost. Pods will have a mattress and sheets – which will be changed by cabin crew after each booking – and will be stacked on top of each other to take advantage of the height of the cabin.

What Does This Mean for the Hospitality and Tourism Sector?
  • Promote rest as part of travel. Travel, whether for business or leisure, is a key instance in which consumers experience anxiety and sleep disruption. Travel brands across the spectrum can work to minimise such issues and provide the optimal environment for relaxation and sleep. From pre-flight meals that reduce jet lag, to pillow menus in hotels and nap pods in cities, this is an area ripe for innovation. ​
  • Improve the inflight sleep experience. While the lie-flat beds in Business Class are conducive for slumber, the cramped seats in Economy Class make good sleep nigh impossible. Consider how you can improve the sleep experience in lower travel classes.
  • Optimise rooms for sleep. For some, sleep and relaxation will be a key feature of the vacation experience. Rooms can be optimised for restful activities with soundproofing, blackout blinds, extra comfortable mattresses, and calming scents and sounds. And communal areas too can be adjusted to promote restful sleep – for example, through lighting that is synced with circadian rhythms.​
About Dr. Ian Yeoman

Dr. Ian Yeoman is the new Professor of Disruption, Innovation and New Phenomena at the Hotel Management School. Ian has a long established links with NHL Stenden, being co-editor of the Journal of Tourism Futures and a Visiting Professor at the European Tourism Futures Institute. Ian joins the school from New Zealand, where he was a Associate Professor of Tourism Futures at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Ian has published extensively within his field of study, with over 70 research papers and 20 books. When not researching Ian is a keen photographer and supporter of Sunderland AFC, his football team.