Did you know that approximately 70 percent of Americans have difficulty sleeping at least two or three nights a week? The effects can be enormous. With lack of sleep comes irritability, moodiness, depressions, weight gain, and a myriad of other physical and emotional ailments. Lack of sleep also affects a person’s productivity, creativeness, and their ability to think in critical situations.
“Most people don’t realize that they are sleep deprived,” says Dr. James B. Maas, a professor, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, and past chairman of the Department of Psychology at Cornell University. Maas is also author of the self-help book “Power Sleep,” published in 1998, and “Sleep For Success,” co-written with Rebecca Robbins, a doctoral candidate in communications, health, and psychology at Cornell. “Sleep For Success” is scheduled for release this month. “Most people could use another hour. We just did a study, and if you ask people how much sleep they’re getting, they over-estimate by nearly an hour.”
Why is this research important to hoteliers? Simple, there’s no more important determining factor to guest satisfaction at hotels than the ability of the guest to get a good night’s sleep. And, when it comes to the all-important frequent business traveler, the ability of a hotel to offer the kind of rest that helps lead to productivity can be the difference in gaining repeat customers and getting bad user-generated reviews on social media websites.
That fact is not lost on the hotel industry. For years, even decades, hotels have not been shy about promoting their sleep environment to potential guest. Turn the clock back 10 years to Westin’s debut, and subsequent heavy promotion, of its Heavenly Bed as not just a bed, but a total sleep experience; or go back a few years to the Holiday Inn Express commercials touting the brand’s sleep environment as a place to, in effect, make oneself more productive, and you see the importance that hoteliers have placed on sleep experiences.
But are hotels really creating the optimum sleep experience for their guests? To become purveyors of sleep, hoteliers must not only look at the mattress and bedding truly understand the science of sleep, but also understand that a good sleep experience doesn’t begin when a person climbs into bed.
“I think a lot of hoteliers don’t realize how critical the evening and night sleep is to daytime performance and feeling the next day,” Maas says. “A lot of hotels will spend a lot of money on the lobby, the appearance, recreational facilities, but they don’t seem to focus on the bedroom. There are some very elementary things to consider: the quality of the mattress, for one. Sometimes those mattresses don’t give guests proper lumbar support and they wake up stiff in the morning.
“Another thing is pillows, so many hotels figure they’ll buy low-end pillows and change them out,” continues Maas, who has partnered with United Feather & Down to develop a new line of pillows designed to help guests achieve the best sleep possible, “but if they had pillows that keep the head and neck in a straight line as if you were standing up you can increase the deep sleep by as much as 20 percent.”
Lighting and Sleep
Beyond bedding, Maas points out that room lighting is essential for a good night’s sleep. He says that a lot hotel rooms do not use light-darkening curtains or curtain that don’t completely come together, leaving a gap. “That light that comes in from the street can be just enough to wake a guest up, so we think hotels ought to have light-darkening curtains, and really make it dark—that’s what brings on the secretion of melatonin in your brain to put you to sleep, or at least supply clips to keep the curtains shut,” he says.
Maas also points to the prevalence of sleep interference from light seeping into a room from under a door or the increasing amount of electronics found in today’s guestrooms. “I’m amazed when I travel and turn the lights off and it looks like a control room,” Maas laments. “There’s a bright light coming from the television set [even though it’s off] and perhaps from the DVD. Then there’s light emitted from clocks and radios. I go through the room throwing towels over equipment.”
What most people don’t realize, Maas says, is that many times LED lights on electronics are bright enough to get through a person’s closed eyelids and disturb sleep. He says it would be a good idea for hotels to have dimmable clock faces.
While electronics may sometimes be too bright, Maas says, rooms in general are improperly lit. He suggests reading lights over beds, so when two people are traveling together, one person can read while the other sleeps. Speaking of reading, Maas points out that reading itself induces quality sleep much better than television, and suggest that hotels might want to think about creating better reading environments in guestrooms. “Watching TV late at night is not only nerve-racking due to the news that’s on them, but also they emit blue daylight spectrum light which actually keeps you from getting to sleep,” he says.
He points to the existence of blue spectrum light blocking glasses that can be worn, even over regular lenses, to block such light while watching TV or viewing electronics such as an iPad. He puts these types of amenities on his list of what hotels could offer to help create a better sleep experience.
One way hotels can help set themselves apart from others in the industry, Maas says, is to take the opportunity to become an educator of proper sleep. “There ought to be DVDs in the room that educate people on how to get a good night’s sleep. There ought to be tent cards in the room with sleep education material—what you should and should not do during the day to give you a good night’s sleep,” Maas says.
Robbins, who also holds a degree in hotel administration from Cornell and serves as a teaching assistant to Maas, points out that the hotel business, in general, is mainly about giving guests a good night sleep. She says the one of the biggest issues for hotel guests and getting a good night’s sleep is jetlag. “The business community, when on the road, struggles to get a good night’s sleep,” she says. “The hotel environment can clearly provide a positive function by not only offering a delicious breakfast in the morning and providing superior service, but also providing a top-level environment to sleep in.”
Both Maas and Robbins say that it behooves a hotel to concentrate on creative ways to help guests get the right amount of rest because when a guest feels better in the morning, they feel better about their stay. For example, Robbins says, “Instead of chocolates on the bed, how about some cereal or granola or a piece of fruit. You can say, ‘We’re doing this because we want you feel refreshed in the morning.’ Let them know that you’re doing that for their benefit.”
Maas agrees, “As Rebecca wrote in the book, when a guest comes into a hotel room and sees chocolate or cookies, what that’s saying to them is, ‘Here, have a lousy night’s sleep.’”
And, cultivating good sleep extends outside the guestroom. “Preparing for a good night’s sleep starts in the morning,” Robbins says. Maas and Robbins both say that hotels can help induce better sleep for guests by offering healthier foods and entertainment that aids calmness, rather than stress.
In the end, when a hotelier can understand the nature of a truly rejuvenating sleep, he or she can better help guests get their necessary hours. And that can help lead to a more satisfying experience at their hotel.