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Dreaming of Sleep

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Tiredness comes with the territory when you travel for business, but new research points to long-term consequences for physical and psychological health and well-being when we regularly miss out on quality sleep.

On average, we sleep for two hours less than we did in 1960 and, according to a recent survey commissioned by insurer Direct Line, 48 percent of us say we need eight hours of sleep but two-thirds of us only get six. Still worse, many frequent travelers get much less than this.

In the short term, a lack of sleep affects your ability to concentrate and make decisions, and renders you more irritable. Your family and colleagues often bear the brunt of that. In the longer term, it puts you at risk of several serious diseases.

“When you travel frequently, you undermine two aspects of your sleep cycle – your sleep homeostat, which regulates the drive to sleep, and the body clock or circadian rhythm,” says Professor Jason Ellis, head of the Centre for Sleep Research at Northumbria University of Newcastle, England.

Living out of sync with your body clock affects the activity of more than 700 genes, according to new research from the University of Surrey. The result is the disruption of several metabolic processes, including how we respond to stress and the ability of cells to regenerate.

This may help to explain why regular disruption of sleep increases your risk of depression, a finding by the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center, and puts you at higher risk of cancer and heart disease, as proven by a wealth of research.

Scientists at the University of Chicago found that after only a few days of cutting back to four hours’ sleep a night, people struggled to process glucose in a way similar to the early stages of diabetes.

“Forcing your body to function when it’s supposed to be asleep puts it under tremendous strain,” Ellis says. “We know from studies on shift workers that it can lead to serious health problems.”

One of the latest discoveries is that sleep “detoxes” the brain. According to recent research from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, sleep helps to flush out waste products such as amyloid-beta, the protein that has been linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

Thankfully, companies are finally taking the issue seriously, says sleep physiologist Dr. Guy Meadows, clinical director of the Sleep School in London ( and author of The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night.

“We’ve still got a long way to go to create the cultural shift we need to fully appreciate the importance of sleep,” Meadows says. “But when we speak to HR departments of top companies, improving the sleep of employees is now as important as reducing stress – and the two tend to go hand in hand.”

Meadows runs a program called “Sleep to Perform,” which provides company-wide sleep-need assessments, seminars, webinars, and one-on-one coaching for those staff who need it most. It’s no surprise that they are often frequent travelers.

MartinSinclair, a contributor to our forum, writes: “Sleeping problems have affected me for the past 30 years of travel. My solution up until April 2013 was to take sleeping pills, which I fortunately recognized as being a serious problem. I kicked the pills 100 percent and now conquer sleep problems with yoga.”

Ellis says the problems can continue when you get home. “It can take as little as two weeks of disrupted sleep to trigger a long-term sleep disorder,” he says. “So even at home, you wake up in the night or find it hard to drop off.”

What can you do if your job is ruining your sleep? According to research from the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, nearly nine million Americans turn to prescription sleep Aids for help.

Meadows says: “People who come to the Sleep School have had insomnia problems for 10 years on average and I’d say 90 percent have tried five or six types of medication to help them sleep. The catch-22 is that they become dependent and feel they can’t sleep without them, even though they realize they’re not sleeping well.”

Last year, a University of California study found that even occasional use was as bad for your health as smoking, raising the risk of early death at least 3.6-fold.

Meadows doesn’t think sticking to a “wind-down” routine helps. “Sleep is a natural physiological process that can’t be controlled, and relying on unnatural night-time rituals or props – such as warm baths, pills and alcohol – can fuel sleep anxiety. You can lie there thinking: ‘I’ve had my bath and done my deep breathing and still can’t sleep, so what’s wrong with me?’”

It makes sense, he says, to avoid late-night caffeine and alcohol, and to try to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day (travel permitting). But acceptance is the critical key – the irony being that it’s only by giving up the struggle to sleep that we are able to sleep better.

“It’s about changing your relationship with your thoughts about sleep,” he says. “Rather than trying to control your anxiety about lack of sleep, allowing it to be there allows it to freely pass.”

Meadows says labeling your thoughts (“there’s that old fear that I won’t be able to cope tomorrow”) allows you to step back from them, rather than allowing them to affect you.

“Most clients resolve their sleep problems within three months,” he says, although he points out that once you have them, it tends to be for life. He explains that insomnia remains in the memory like anxiety does, so during a heatwave, for instance, you’ll be affected more than most as it can trigger your old thoughts and beliefs.

Making an effort to upgrade your sleep is an investment in your health and mental well-being, both now and in the future. There’s also another welcome pay-off – you’ll become more efficient. As Meadows puts it: “Sleep is still the most under-rated performance enhancer out there.”


Hotels and airlines are fast recognizing the importance of sleep to their customers. Here are some of the ways they are trying to improve your rest.

Better Beds 

Starwood’s Westin brand was a pioneer in sleep quality, introducing its “Heavenly Bed” concept in 1999. Now it has a store selling custom-designed mattresses (about $2,395 for king size), pillows and 400-thread count cotton linen (sets from about $1,400).

Four Seasons has upgraded its beds with a custom-designed mattress that includes a “Gel Touch” foam center to absorb heat and regulate body temperature. Like Goldilocks, guests can also choose from a soft, medium or firm mattress topper. The new beds are available in most US hotels, while the international roll-out should be completed over the next few years. You can also order one to take home.

Etihad Airways collaborated with the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi to develop its new sleep program. It now offers first class passengers all-natural mattresses sourced from the Hevea rubber tree, 100 percent cotton bedding and down duvets.

Prescription Pillows 

There’s a reason behind the trend for hotel pillow menus - sleep specialists believe the wrong pillow height throws the spine out of alignment and can lead to restlessness. One solution is buying a bespoke pillow online, designed by sleep guru and osteopath Sammy Margo, by filling out a questionnaire about your sleeping position, body size and preferences. £15 ($23),

Alternatively, make the most of the sleep menu offered by most premium hotel brands. At the Dorsett Grand Labuan in Malaysia, you can choose from a water pillow, a magnetic pillow or one that plays music. 

Diet Plans

What you consume throughout the day can improve your sleep quality by regulating your blood sugar levels. At London’s Corinthia hotel, a sleep menu devised by nutritional therapist Jeannette Hyde includes a turkey burger with Beenleigh blue cheese and baby spinach, which is rich in tryptophan, used to make the sleep hormone melatonin, and magnesium-rich choices such as warm asparagus with orange hollandaise sauce, roasted sunflower seeds and golden berries, and baby red chard to ease muscle tension. It’s available to guests who opt for the two-day “Sleep Retreat,” which also includes a spa treatment.

Sleep Coaching

Crowne Plaza offers guests free podcasts from sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski.

At Champneys’ UK resorts, Jason Ellis from Northumbria University holds specialist retreats throughout the year to look at your personal barriers to better rest, identifying your ideal bedtime and working out how much sleep you really need.

Power-Nap Pods

Singapore Changi airport has free rest areas with reclining seats.

Abu Dhabi International airport’s Terminal 3 has egg-shaped “Go Sleep” pods that can be rented by the hour for Dhs 30-48 ($8-$13). They feature a chair that converts to a flat bed and secure storage for luggage, WiFi and power points.,

Dubai International Terminal 1 has ten soundproofed “Snoozecubes,” bookable by the hour for Dhs 65 ($18). The units include a full-size mattress, TV, WiFi and flight updates.

Moscow Sheremetyevo’s 40-square-foot “Sleepboxes” house up to three bunk beds, bookable by half-hour periods.

“Napcabs” at Munich Airport and “Sams Snooze at my Space” pods in Terminal 3 of New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International are bookable by the hour, while Yotel cabins in Gatwick South Terminal and Heathrow T4 can be booked for four hours., 

Sleep Concierges

At London’s Montcalm hotel, sleep concierges are on hand to help you choose the right pillow to suit your sleeping position, bring you a bedtime drink, or ensure your room is the perfect temperature and level of darkness.

New York’s Benjamin hotel will set up a white noise machine to drown out background sound, and arrange a sleep-inducing pre-bed spa treatment.

At the Westin New York at Times Square, you can opt for a “rest well call,” which will remind you when it’s time to go to bed.

Quiet Floors

More and more hotels are creating business-only or quiet floors. Crowne Plaza properties have allocated zones from Sunday to Thursday with no children or leisure guests allowed. Rooms also include soundproofed walls and headboards, anti-snoring pillows and white noise machines.

Weird Science

Delta Air Lines recently showcased a “photon shower” prototype created by University of Oxford neuroscientist Russell Foster. The light-filled cubicle is designed to instantly reset your body clock and eliminate jet lag., 

British Airways has tested a “happiness blanket” that connects to neuro-sensors that measure passengers’ brainwaves and changes from red to blue depending on how relaxed they are. The idea is that cabin crew could alter their routine according to a passenger’s mood.


The latest gadgets and apps can help you to control the length and quality of your sleep

By Caramel Quin

Sleep Genius

Free (iOS and Android)

As well as tracking your sleep, Sleep Genius uses your smartphone’s accelerometer to measure your movement. It will play soothing sounds to lull you to sleep, gently wake you over the course of five minutes, and offer relaxation exercises when you’re feeling stressed. 

Sleep Cycle

Free (iOS and Android)

By tracking your sleep via your phone’s accelerometer, you can analyze how you slept in detail, and the alarm can wake you at the optimum point. It also records the percentage of sleep quality and average time in bed.


Free (iOS)

An intriguing app that claims to be able to help you choose what you dream about and even support lucid dreaming. It monitors your sleep like other apps, but then plays your chosen soundscape – from “peaceful garden” to “wild west” – when your subconscious is most suggestible. 

Sleep as Android

Free (Android)

This tells you when it’s time for bed, helps you drift off with soft sounds, tracks sleep phases, then wakes you with natural sounds while you’re in a light sleep phase. It detects snoring and makes clicking sounds to encourage you to stop. 

Relax Melodies

Free (iOS and Android)

This app lets you combine sounds and melodies to create your own relaxation soundtrack. Experiment to find the mix that’s best for you – whether that is thunder or monks chanting, a flute or a cat purring. It sounds quirky, but many insomniacs swear by it.

Sleep Time

Free (iOS and Android)

A sleep tracker app with cycle analysis software developed with Stanford University, what makes this app stand out is its audio. Choose from a range of natural soundscapes to lull you to sleep or rouse you when you’re snoozing – you choose the 30-minute window in which you’d like to be awakened.

MotionX 24/7

$0.99 (iOS)

This does all the sleep sensing offered by other apps, but also uses the iPhone camera to measure your pulse optically from your fingertip – finding correlations between your sleep pattern and resting heart rate.


Free (iOS)

A clever app from the University of Michigan that calculates how to tackle jet lag before and after your journey, by using light and darkness to support your body’s natural circadian rhythms. Tell it where and when you’re traveling and it will create a schedule of light, dark and sleep for you.


Free (iOS and Android)

This tracks data including sleep time, waking time, hours of sleep and your “current debt” – the hours of rest you’re missing out on. Unusually, it records sound, too. There’s a graph of noise levels – tap it to hear the audio – proving finally who snores and who talks in their sleep.


$80 (iOS only)

If you’re sleeping badly, the problem may be holistic. This pricey app (full kit sold for $100) requires a Polar H7 heart rate monitor and uses Stanford University’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia to look at thoughts, routines and emotions by day, alongside sleep logs.


Withings Aura


Withings already offers the Pulse wristband for tracking your activity day and night, including sleep. But the new Aura pair of devices goes further, obsessively poring over every detail of your night. The sensor slides under your mattress and monitors your body movement, breathing cycles and heart rate. The bedside device measures noise, temperature and light levels, and works as an alarm clock, using colored LEDs to lull you to sleep and wake you naturally. You can listen to music stored on your phone. All the Aura sleep data can be examined in an app (iOS only) alongside data from other Withings wellness gadgets.

Jawbone Up 24


This slender activity-tracking wristband monitors your exercise and sleep, and then makes the data available in an app (iOS and select Android devices). Some clever features make it particularly good for tracking sleep. If you forget to press the sleep button when you go to bed, you can use the app the following day to tell it when you went to bed, so your records won’t show you pulling a 36-hour day with a strange lull of inactivity in the middle. The app also lets you set yourself goals such as going to bed by 11 PM every night for a week, and motivates you to achieve them.

Basis Peak


This health tracker watch measures heart rate, perspiration, skin temperature and motion – giving insight into your sleep, stress levels and fitness—all via an app (iOS and Android). It tracks sleep in detail, using an optical heart-rate sensor and 3-D accelerometer, turning on when you nod off. It claims to be the only band capable of detecting REM sleep (our dream state) as well as the depth of your slumber, tossing and turning, and any interruptions. Each morning it gives you a sleep score and graphs of your night’s sleep.

Garmin Vivofit


This is another sleep-tracking wristband, but one that has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. It uses watch batteries that last for over a year – most activity trackers need recharging once or twice a week. It is also waterproof. Press a button to enter sleep mode and it tracks your movement overnight, producing a graph of your sleep each morning. It’s a good choice if you use other Garmin fitness products, as they all work with the same Garmin Connect mobile app (iOS and Android).

Polar Loop


Polar, which is best known for its heart-rate sensor chest straps, has come up with its own wristband that promises to track your activity day and night. When you lie down and your body movements slow, it automatically starts tracking your sleep. In the morning, use the Polar Flow app (iOS and select Android models) or visit the website for a breakdown of how restful your night was. The sleep insights are less detailed than some wristbands, but the Loop is waterproof and pairs well with other Polar training gadgets.




Philips’ Wake-Up Light boasts a “colored sunrise simulation.” Choose the time you want dawn to break, then awake to light that shifts from red to warm orange to bright yellow, and how quickly, too. Select your virtual sunrise from 20 to 40 minutes. Sync the light to five natural sounds like “birdsong,” or FM radio. Has two separate alarms and a snooze button to doze for another nine minutes. At this price, too bad you can’t connect a smartphone or memory card to wake up to your own music.

Oregon Scientific illumi


The Oregon wake-up light connects to a smartphone via USB, not just to play music but also to control the Illumi—using a smartphone app Illumisleep (iOS and Android). The app uses your phone’s built-in accelerometer to track your sleep, and the light can be set to wake you at the optimum time in your sleep cycle instead of a precise moment. Wake to FM radio, smartphone music or a choice of six soothing moods: combinations of sounds and colors, including a sunlight simulation.

Pure Twilight


Choose a sound to wake up to: DAB or FM radio, built-in lullabies, or relaxing sounds like “forest” or “wind chimes.” Sound quality and user interface are superb. Has six LEDs for a glowing nightlight, dawn simulation, colored mood light or bright reading lamp. Has four different alarms; a USB slot allows music from your smartphone and to charge it (or a Kindle). A 21st century clock radio.

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