For many, business travel means tossing and turning all night and bloodshot eyes the morning after. Sleep experts and some smart hotels are trying to change all that.
On the Road
Are you prone to watching Law & Order marathons -- or casting all sanity aside, infomercials -- while desperately trying to doze in a hotel room? If so, you're not alone. In a study by Guideline Research for Westin Hotels & Resorts, half of 600 frequent travelers polled were unhappy with their hotel-room sleep. Still, many business travelers consider sleep deprivation a necessary ritual of being on the road.
Tore Dietrich is one such insomniac. As president and CEO of High Impact TV, a company that produces trade-show telecasts, he often remains awake for 30 to 40 hours as he broadcasts across time zones -- typically needing, as he says, to "look normal," even though it's 3 a.m. And once he's off the air and needs to crash, typical accommodations just don't cut it: "I get tired as hell, but I have a hard time sleeping in hotels."
Dietrich is, in a sense, an entrepreneurial stereotype. "Most of us operate with the cultural bias that to be successful you have to push and not sleep," says Mark R. Rosekind, president and chief scientist of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA sleep researcher. "But businesses pay for sleep loss." According to Rosekind, judgment and decision-making skills, as well as reaction time, can be impeded by 50% when you lose sleep. Communication skills can be degraded by 30%, and memory abilities take a 20% cut in efficiency.
Helpful Hosts Fortunately, some hotels are out to increase your chances of sleeping well on their turf. The Le Méridien chain's new Art + Tech rooms, introduced in 2002, include custom Sealy-designed mattresses and a choice of either feather or hypoallergenic pillows. Emmanuel Caux, Le Méridien's area general manager for France and Belgium, also notes that Art + Tech room lights can be dimmed, because designers found that travelers respond to subdued lighting in an unfamiliar room. Expect to see about 3,000 of Le Méridien's more than 40,000 rooms retrofitted with Art + Tech features by the end of this year -- they'll be offered at a slight premium.
Currently the hotel's Art + Tech rooms are found at selected European locations; the hotelier will introduce these accommodations this month at its new Minneapolis site. Likewise, approximately 60 rooms of the Le Méridien in Beverly Hills, Calif., are being renovated to Art + Tech standards.
In similar fashion, Westin Hotels' proprietary Heavenly Bed features a pillow-top, 10-layer mattress and three kinds of down blankets. Introduced in 1999, the bed quickly proved so popular that Westin started selling it to satisfied guests ($2,540 and $2,965 for queen and king size, respectively). The package includes matching sheets, pillows, pillowcases, duvet, and bedskirt. A total of 951 beds were sold within the first year of being offered.
Hilton Hotels took the most comprehensive approach to better sleep with its Sleep-Tight rooms, a program that ended last December. The rooms featured Serta pillow-top mattresses; Sharper Image Heart and Sound Soothers to re-create relaxing environmental sounds; a Bio-Brite Sunrise clock with simulated morning light; and white noise CDs and a CD player. At the conclusion of the four-year program, Hilton discovered that the most popular component of the room was -- yes, the mattress. Serta worked with Hilton to design an even better mattress that is currently being distributed to Hilton's approximately 260 hotels. Hilton may also incorporate other Sleep-Tight features in future rooms.
Sleep Strategies In the more likely case that you don't find yourself on a pillow-top mattress, your head cradled on the pillow of your dreams, you can still sleep well. Keep your room dark, cool, and quiet, and request a high floor to distance yourself from traffic. Avoid working in bed. And request two wakeup calls to further reduce worry.
Sleep is essential for peak performance, and Rosekind recommends that adults sleep eight hours per night. However, a surprising February 2002 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that people getting seven hours of sleep nightly have the lowest death rates.
Voluntary insomniac Dietrich, who says he hasn't slept for eight contiguous hours in several years anyway, says it's okay. "We've never missed a live shot." That's a good record. And perhaps if he finds one of those new, more sleep-friendly hotel rooms, it may get that much easier.
GET SACKED Does a hotel launder all linens after each checkout? While you ponder that, consider the benefits of an all-silk DreamSack [$55; dreamsack.com], which cocoons you from harsh detergents, scratchy fabrics, and well, anything left behind. Another tip: Pack your own pillowcases.
SENSORY ASSISTANCE Screen out noise from city streets or the rowdy group next door with Hammacher Schlemmer's Portable Tranquil Sound Machine [$24.95; hammacher.com]. Listen to eight digitally created sounds, including "beach," "spring rain," and "heartbeat," through the small external speakers or lightweight headphones.
SPIN A DISC "Calming Electric Fan" sounds like the latest band out of Seattle but it's just one of the white-noise CDs at Pure White Noise [ purewhitenoise.com]. The label's other soul-soothing discs include "Smooth Radio Static" and "Peaceful Air Purifier." For best results, use a portable CD player with speakers.
SIMPLE CURES Low-tech eyeshades and foam earplugs are among the most effective ways to make the world go away -- at least until 7 a.m. Some Flents Quiet! Please foam plugs [$3 for six pairs; any drugstore] and Eagle Creek's Comfort Eye Shades [$10; eaglecreek.com] are road essentials.
DOCTOR, DOCTOR If the best efforts of your hotelier or these accouterments fail, an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid may provide relief. Use the former judiciously, or consult your doctor about the right prescription for your needs. Drug Digest's drug interactions database [ www.drugdigest.org] alerts users of possible side effects of both OTC and prescription drugs and natural remedies. (See "Check Interactions.")