Golden Slumbers: Spas' Role in the Quest for Better Sleep
by Josh Corman

HOW ARE YOU SLEEPING? It’s a simple question, but our answers can provide tremendous insight into the many ways in which sleep—or the lack thereof—affects the rest of our physical and mental well-being. In fact, the more we learn about the importance of being well rested, the more obvious it becomes that sleep is one of the central pillars of our health, alongside nutrition and physical fitness.

This increased awareness of sleep’s interconnectedness to other aspects of our well-being has led the spa and hospitality industries to heighten their emphasis on products and treatments that specifically target better sleep for guests.

Sleep Science
Many of us may know that eight hours is generally accepted as an ideal sleep duration, and poor sleep is tied to reduced cognitive function. But did you know that people who sleep between seven and eight hours live longest? Or that evidence suggests that poor sleep creates inflammation that can contribute to diabetes, heart disease and some cancers? Or that more than one-third of all U.S. adults (35.2 percent) report sleeping less than seven hours per night?*

The cost of lost sleep is indeed high, both in terms of people’s health and in a financial sense. The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates that insufficient sleep has an estimated economic impact of more than $400 billion dollars each year in the U.S. alone, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that drowsy driving is responsible for more than 6,000 fatal car crashes in the U.S. each year. Four in ten people with insomnia are also believed to suffer from a mental health disorder. Three quarters of adults with depression suffer from insomnia as well.

Given these grim statistics, it would be natural to wonder why people don’t do more to improve their sleep, but the reality is that they seem to be trying desperately to do exactly that. CDC data reveals that just under one in 10 adults (8.2 percent) take medication to help them sleep at least four times per week. Moreover, 20 percent of American adults tried a natural sleep remedy in the past year, and more than a quarter (28.2 percent) say that they have used a smartphone app to help track their sleep. People are trying to improve their sleep; it’s just that those efforts seem not to be working.

Figures like those above are causing sleep to become the focus of so much conversation around health and wellness in our culture and leading more spas and resource partners to develop programs, products and treatments to address guests’ sleep issues. According to ISPA Medical Advisor Dr. Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic, that shift in focus can’t happen soon enough: “Most Americans have probably heard the idea that daily exercise is really good. We’re just starting to get the message out that tending to your sleep quality is one of those things that we should do every day, just like we brush our teeth. I think the spa is increasingly being seen as a place where we can do that.”

Play to Your Strengths
To Dr. Bauer’s point, longtime spa industry consultant Amy McDonald is working with multiple spas and resource partner brands eager to bring sleep-centered packages and products into the spa and hospitality space. The good news is that there is no shortage of ways to integrate sleep-specific offerings at spas, even without having to create new treatments or purchase additional equipment. “There is so much opportunity,” McDonald says.

One spa McDonald advises is located in a remote spot that often causes guests to comment on the property’s sense of quiet and solitude. Seeking to create a relaxing and intimate sleep package for the couples who make up a significant portion of their spa and hotel guests. The spa prepared a small package that included guided yoga instruction, a sleep-specific meditation, a bath soak, a soothing pillow mist and a blackout eye mask. The end result is a calming nighttime ritual that adds to the guest experience and addresses sleep issues without requiring the use of the spa’s three treatment rooms or a dedicated service provider. If guests want to go further, they can opt for a treatment using a sleep-specific, CBD-infused skin or body care product.

Other spas McDonald has worked with have created similar packages curated to play to the spas’ respective strengths and goals while still addressing guests’ sleep needs. One luxury hotel spa created a package that incorporated existing treatments with sleep benefits with curated products in guests’ rooms. “They didn’t have to create treatments,” McDonald says. “We just looked at their menu and said, ‘These would be great,’ and they came up with a really nice package with a sleep tincture and a couple of other products.”

This approach should be encouraging to any spa leaders concerned that serving guests’ sleep needs requires a massive investment of time or money (or both) in new trainings, products or technologies. Spas that can create packages from existing treatments and product offerings meant to improve sleep and educate guests about their effects stand to benefit without overhauling anything. For spas that may want to do a bit more on the retail side, McDonald advises following the lead of a Texas day spa with whom she recently worked. As part of a retail initiative, the spa curated a collection of products from lines on offer at the spa and is hosting community events featuring local experts who speak about the importance of sleep to help educate locals who may be curious about how to improve their sleep but who want to learn more about how spas might help do that. “It’s building community. It’s building awareness. It’s giving people home tools,” says McDonald, who notes that the value of retail sales has never been greater due to industry staffing challenges. “Especially with the shortage of staff that we have right now, just being able to touch our guests and continue to support them when they’re at home is such a tremendous opportunity. Retail is what spas need right now—revenue without the labor costs.”

Sleep’s Tech Leap
In addition to reams of research detailing our often less-than-optimal sleep habits and the pandemic’s impact on our overall health-consciousness, one reason for our increased attention to sleep is the increase in technologies designed to improve it. Fitness trackers and smartphone apps that track sleep activity are likely the most well-known of these, but the list of devices designed to aid sleep grows longer by the day.

Smart mattresses are among the products attempting to promote better sleep by tackling an array of sleep issues through adaptive technology, and the companies that produce them are increasingly focusing on the getting better beds into the kinds of resorts and hotels that emphasize an experience rooted in wellness. “People have started to pay more attention to how they feel when sleep better and what it does to their health,” says Alexandra Zatarain, cofounder and vice president of brand and marketing at Eight Sleep, which manufactures AI-powered, cooling smart mattresses and a range of other sleep-centric products including a cooling pillow, comforter and lavender sleep spray.

The rise in wearables and other sleep trackers, says Zatarain, means that “we have gained awareness of how much we sleep, how we sleep, the phases of sleep and the importance of it, and it’s reached a point where there is a group of consumers that are very educated about it.” In Zatarain’s view, this heightened awareness creates an opportunity for resorts and hotels with spas to promote better sleep for their guests through their experience at the spa and in their rooms.

Francisco Levine, chief business officer for smart mattress maker Bryte, emphasizes that point as well, adding that technology has only recently reached a point where we can capture sleep data detailed enough to respond in a tailored way, whether on the treatment table or through a bed that can respond to guests’ individualized needs on its own. “Sleep is influenced by so many different factors. Some of them are psychological; others are physiological, environmental, behavioral—and many of these factors are relative to the individual. Everyone has different needs when it comes to sleep.” Levine adds that Bryte beds are designed to respond to those personalized needs through customizable firmness and temperature, in addition to dynamically responding to changes in a sleeper’s movement and temperatures, which illustrates just how advanced sleep technology has become in a relatively short time.

Now, we are at a moment when it’s more feasible than ever for resort/hotel spas to create what Amy McDonald calls a “three-dimensional business opportunity” by extending sleep-oriented spa experiences into other aspects of a guest’s stay. As Francisco Levine notes, these opportunities are only now being realized as properties better understand how their component parts can add up to vastly improved sleep for guests. “We’re seeing a big shift from hotels into making their whole experience more wellness oriented. We have seen some spas taking initiative and extending the spa experience into the guest room. It could be scent diffusers, it could be tea or drinks, it could be [the use of] a certain fabric or pillow,” Levine says.

Spas can also play a big role in improving sleep by educating their teams about sleep and helping guests cultivate a healthy and holistic approach to sleep that extends beyond the walls of a treatment or guest room. Alexandra Zatarain points out that too often, as individuals learn more about the impact of good sleep, they feel like failures for not sleeping well. That’s one of the reasons why Eight Sleep describes itself as a “sleep fitness” company and uses that terminology to take some of the pressure off. “What we love about the term ‘sleep fitness’ is that it implies that, just like your physical fitness or mental fitness, it’s a journey,” she says. “It’s not an end destination. You need to continue to work on it, you need to measure it, you need to optimize it and prioritize it, but we don’t want people to think that they are bad sleepers for life. You can be a good sleeper. There are ways to get there.”

A Sleep Symphony
The quest to improve sleep seems to have turned an invisible corner during the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals increasingly recognize that, without good sleep, it can be difficult for other wellness-improving efforts to take root. “I think getting the consumer to recognize that we should approach sleep the same way we approach good brain health or good heart health [is important], says Dr. Bauer. “I think a lot of people stepped back and said, ‘I better do everything I can to really take care of myself and my immune system.’” He adds that the connected nature of different aspects of our health has become obvious as well, but that it’s still important that spas implementing treatments or packages to improve sleep stress the importance of a holistic, comprehensive approach and potentially even offer consultations that might give spa-goers a clearer sense of how they can address their sleep needs more broadly.

“It isn’t a one off, like, ‘I’m going to get a massage, and I’ll sleep better,’ or, ‘I’m going to exercise and I’ll sleep better,’ explains Dr. Bauer. “It’s a symphony—you’ve got to put all the pieces together” to create a “comprehensive lifestyle that looks at nutrition, exercise, mind, body, spirit and sleep.” From the good doctor’s description, it seems clear that spas are an ideal partner for people seeking improved slumber.

Dr. Bauer even envisions a future where collaboration between spas and medical professionals on issues like sleep will become more commonplace. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think that’s the wave of the future,” he says. “We’re going to start to look at spa as a partner and collaborator in keeping patients healthy and promoting wellness. Maybe we set the stage in medicine, but the hands-on, recurring visits happen in a wellness promoting atmosphere like a spa.”

For the sake of the millions whose sleep is anything but restorative, let’s hope that Dr. Bauer’s vision plays out like a prophecy.