The rise of sleep tourism

Going on a vacation might seem like a rather unconventional way to try to improve your sleep habits.

But sleep tourism has been growing in popularity for a number of years, with an increasing amount of sleep-focused stays popping up in hotels and resorts across the world.

Interest has skyrocketed since the pandemic, with a number of high profile establishments focusing their attention on those suffering from sleep-deprivation.

Over the past 12 months, Park Hyatt New York has opened the Bryte Restorative Sleep Suite, a 900-square-foot suite filled with sleep-enhancing amenities, while Rosewood Hotels & Resorts recently launched a collection of retreats called the Alchemy of Sleep, which are designed to “promote rest.”

Zedwell, London’s first sleep-centric hotel, which features rooms equipped with innovative soundproofing, opened in early 2020, and Swedish bed manufacturer Hastens established the world’s first Hästens Sleep Spa Hotel, a 15-room boutique hotel, in the Portuguese city of Coimbra a year later.

Pandemic impact

So why has sleep suddenly become such a big focus for the travel industry?

Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher and co-author of the book “Sleep for Success!” believes this shift has been a long time coming, particularly with regards to hotels.

“When it comes down to it, travelers book hotels for a place to sleep,” she tells CNN Travel, before pointing out that the hotel industry has primarily been focused on things that actually detract from sleep in the past.

“People often associate travel with decadent meals, extending their bed times, the attractions and the things you do while you’re traveling, really almost at the cost of sleep,” she adds.

“Now, I think there’s just been a huge seismic shift in our collective awareness and prioritization on wellness and well being.”

The global pandemic appears to have played a huge part in this. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that 40% of the over 2,500 adults who took part reported a reduction in their sleep quality since the start of the pandemic.

“There has been heightened attention to sleep in the Covid-19 era, and likely, because so many people have struggled with this [sleep],” says Dr. Robbins.

Prioritizing sleep

Hypnotherapist, meditation and holistic coach Malminder Gill has also noticed a change in attitudes towards sleep.

“Everything seems to be moving towards longevity, and I think that has really fueled things,” Gill tells CNN Travel.

“Because it’s no great surprise that sleep is an important aspect of our lives. Lack of sleep can cause lots of different issues in the body, and for your mental health.

“So, anxiety, depression, low mood, mood swings — all sorts of things, on top of the tiredness.”

Gill has partnered with the Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel in London, to create a special service catered to guests with sleep issues called the Sleep Concierge.

The service includes a sleep-inducing meditation recording, a pillow menu with options that cater to guests who may prefer to sleep on their back or side, the option of a weighted blanket, a bedtime tea developed specifically for the service, and a scented pillow mist.

“Different things work for different people at different stages of their life,” Gill says of the different items offered within the service.

Sleep-inducing practices

“We’ve tried to stack the odds in our favor. If you combine all of those things, I would say there’s a higher chance of a better quality sleep. But I don’t think there’s a one size fits all.”

The types of sleep-focused programs and/or retreats offered by hotels and resorts also tend to vary, with different establishments approaching the concept in different ways.

Luxury hotel brand Six Senses offers a variety of full sleep programs, ranging from three to seven days or more, at a number of its properties, while Brown’s Hotel, a Rocco Forte hotel in Mayfair, London, recently launched, ‘Forte Winks’ a two-night experience especially created to help aid guests “into a serene sleep.”

“Sleep is so important and we noticed there was a trend in sleep tourism happening, and wellness in general, after lockdowns and Covid,” explains Daniela Moore, senior group PR manager for Rocco Forte Hotels.

“So we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase Brown’s as a hotel that cares about you getting the best night’s sleep.”

For Gill, the emergence of more and more of these types of experiences is a sign that the “narrative of staying up to get things done,” is being challenged, and people are beginning to have a deeper understanding of just how important sleep is.

Quick fix?

But can short term sleep-focused travel experiences actually have a long term impact on a person’s overall sleep?

According to Dr. Robbins, travel experiences centered around “healthy sleep strategies” that aim to supply guests with the tools they need to improve their sleep can be hugely beneficial, provided a reputable medical or scientific expert is involved in some way to help to determine whether there may be something else at play.

“If someone comes to one of these retreats, and isn’t seeing any progress, it could be because they have an untreated sleep disorder,” she explains, pointing to conditions such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia as potential examples.

“That’s why it’s vitally important to make sure that hotels are partnering with scientists and medical professionals that can impart these strategies carefully.”

Mandarin Oriental, Geneva has taken things a step further by teaming up with CENAS, a private medical sleeping clinic in Switzerland, to curate a three-day program that studies guests’ sleeping patterns in order to identify potential sleeping disorders.

Although the majority of sleep-focused establishments and experiences tend to fall within the luxury travel sector, Dr. Robbins believes that all hotels and resorts should be making this a priority.

“There are ways to make it meaningful for each level,” she adds, pointing out that “it doesn’t cost much at all to leave a pair of earplugs next to the nightstand.”

As sleep tourism continues to grow, Dr. Robbins says she’s looking forward to seeing “who really continues to pioneer and think creatively about this space,” stressing that there are countless avenues that haven’t been fully explored yet when it comes to travel and the science of sleep.

“The notion of travel actually rejuvenating you and allowing you to return home refreshed and restored is a really exciting proposition,” she adds.

Top image credit: Rocco Forte Hotels

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