Konrad Gstrein steps into a guest room at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto and releases his grip of the door handle. The door gently swings behind him and closes with a solid “ka-chunk!”
He pauses and listens. There is silence.
For weary, jet-lagged visitors, each of these rooms has been designed to be a quiet sanctuary, insulated from the chattering of other guests out in the hallway and the dinging of elevator doors, says Gstrein, the hotel general manager.
Sound-proofing is just the start. Numerous details go into delivering a restful night’s sleep, he explains – from sliding bathroom doors that open and shut soundlessly, to blackout curtains that, when pulled back, allow natural light to fill the room. Epsom salts are provided so guests can prepare for sleep with a relaxing soak in the deep bathtub, and chamomile tea is set out so they can make themselves a soothing cup before bed.
Gstrein points out the plush bed, which can be customized with bedding toppers of varying firmness, according to the guest’s preference. It’s the centrepiece of the room.
“We call it the sleep temple,” he says.
He mentions this with no sign of jest. Sleep, after all, is serious business.
In recent years, the travel and hospitality industry has taken considerable measures to help travelers get adequate sleep, from designing optimal sleep environments, sometimes with the help of doctors and researchers, to providing high-tech devices such as sleep trackers and sound machines. Not only do airlines and hotels aim to provide convenience and comfort while you’re awake, these days, they’re also trying to make sure you rest well along the way.
“Travelling can get hectic if you are a business traveler and enhancing guest experience is a key aspect of this industry,” says Dipak Haksar, chief executive of India’s luxury ITC Hotels and WelcomHotels. “Moreover, sleep quality has grown in the public consciousness as a key measure of health, creativity and productivity.”
All of these factors, Haksar suggests, have led the travel and hospitality industry to put more emphasize than ever on sleep. At ITC Hotels, for instance, visitors can dine from a “sleep menu” of foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium and other nutrients meant to induce slumber. Rooms are also equipped with kits containing sleep masks, ear plugs, pillow mists, relaxation oils and sleep handbooks, and bleary-eyed guests can participate in relaxing yoga and meditation sessions to unwind before bed. The luxury hotel group Six Senses provides expert consultations and assigns personal “sleep ambassadors” to guests who opt for a sleep-focused upgrade.
This is all in addition to the push to get more shut-eye during the journey itself.
Air Canada says that among its many sleep-promoting measures, it has invested in special mood-lighting systems that simulate sunrise and sunset on its planes.
“We take a holistic approach to sleep and restfulness on-board during a customer’s journey,” says Andrew Yiu, vice-president of product for Air Canada.
It’s an approach, he explains, that begins with the planes the company uses; its latest 787s are designed with higher air pressure and higher humidity, which he says are proven to improve sleep and general well-being. And this sleep-centred approach carries through to the ergonomic design of its “Signature Class” seats, which have a massage function, and the in-flight entertainment, which allows travelers to watch movies in “night mode.” This reduces the brightness of the screens and removes blue light, which is known to disrupt one’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock, Yiu explains.
Lufthansa, meanwhile, introduced a new “Dream Collection” of sleep shirts, blankets, pillows and mattress toppers for business class passengers earlier this year, which the company says is meant to enhance sleep comfort on its long-haul flights.
The German airline has also previously experimented with high-tech sleep aids. On a 2016 “FlyingLab” flight, where Lufthansa tries out new products and services, it allowed passengers to test sleep devices such as a smart mask that tracks sleep patterns and provides tips on how to improve sleep.
There is a limit, however, to what all of these sleep-promoting measures can do, says Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary.
“They don’t address the physiological factors related to circadian disruption associated with jet lag,” he says. In other words, they can’t prevent your internal clock from getting mixed up after a long-haul flight.
Jet lag, which can involve sleep disturbance, indigestion, intermittent fatigue and impaired concentration, is a complex issue to manage, and one that is made all the more complicated by individual differences among travelers, he says.
Some people, for instance, are not as affected by jet lag as others. Jet lag also depends on the number of time zones you cross, and the direction you travel, Samuels says. For this reason, he offers very specific, tailored jet lag and travel fatigue management strategies for his patients, including professional athletes and businesspeople who need to be in top form when traveling around the world. These strategies may include light therapy, melatonin and sedatives.
Even so, he says there are some basic steps that all travellers can take to minimize the impact.
For starters, make sure you’re well rested when you board your flight, he advises; don’t stay up busily working late the night before you travel. And as soon as you get on the plane, adjust your watch to the time of your destination, and sleep and eat according to that time schedule, he says.
“If you start feeding yourself on the destination time zone, your [internal] clock will adjust quicker,” he says.
Samuels notes it’s important to stay hydrated on the plane and to limit your consumption of alcohol. He also highly recommends getting some sleep during the flight, which may require the help of an ultrashort-acting sedative. He suggests talking to a doctor for guidance.
At the end of the day, he says, you’ll need more than things such as blackout curtains, special bedding, gadgets and spa treatments to manage the physiological impact of jet lag. Nevertheless, these measures can certainly make your travels more pleasant.
“If you’re looking at it from the hospitality industry’s perspective, it’s about comfort,” Samuels says.
So even if they don’t put you to sleep, you may, at least, toss and turn in a cozy bed.