What can you expect from a holiday focussed entirely on meeting your sleep needs? Hotels are boasting a range of fairly standard sleep enhancing amenities including pillow menus, weighted blankets, and silk eye masks. But the more you’re willing to spend to catch some z’s the more elaborate it gets. From smart mattresses that control your temperature throughout the night and store your individual sleep preferences, to consultations with the hotel’s resident sleep expert.
Sleep tourism didn’t exist until a few years ago, but now many high-end hotel chains and resorts are cashing in on people’s desire for sleep retreats. So why the dramatic increase? The optimists believe we’re re-prioritising our well-being, of which sleep is fundamental. People who previously focused on decadent holidays of overindulgence are now using holidays to reset and practise some self-care, so the theory goes. It may not be coincidental that this is happening in the wake of a global pandemic. The pessimists on the other hand, would argue that people are just tired. We’re still living in an endless ‘hustle’ culture, where we’re so busy we need to go on holiday in order to switch off.
People who just want to get a good nights’ sleep.
For some of us hotels are just for sleeping in. But that’s not always easy when you have loud air con units blasting throughout the night, or you can hear noisy city traffic at all hours. The sleep focused hotel promises a stay that maximises your chances of getting good sleep. You can expect soundproofed, device-free rooms, with earplugs and eye masks for every guest. Most of the hotels currently offering a ‘sleep stay’ fall within the luxury sector, but you could argue that all hotels could, and perhaps should, be getting the basics right when it comes to creating a sleep enhancing environment. Should we pay extra for a hotel that does its best to ensure we sleep well during our stay? Or should we be able to expect that somewhere we’re paying to sleep helps to facilitate that without a high price tag?
The Wellness Experience Extended
The traveller who wants a wellbeing reset and all round pampering experience.
Imagine a wellness retreat with an added focus on optimising sleep. You can expect anything from sleep-focused nutrition advice, to restorative yoga and mindfulness sessions, all geared towards helping your sleep. Some hotels also offer individual consultations with well-being experts, all within a broader wellness package. But can short term sleep-focused travel experiences actually have a long-term impact on a person’s overall sleep, or is this just a sticking plaster for people with chronic poor sleep?
People looking to make lasting changes to their sleep.
This is the most technical of all of the sleep tourism options, where sleep is at the forefront of the experience, but it still feels like a spa break. An increasing number of hotels and resorts have teamed up with sleep experts to provide packages that are solely focused on long-term sleep improvements. Experts will be on hand to analyse your sleep patterns and identify sleep problems and even diagnose sleep disorders. In a high-end luxury environment your sleep will be tracked and analysed with a view to helping you create lasting change in your sleep. This approach recognises that a simple getaway where you focus on feeling rested isn’t likely to change your long-term habits and behaviours around sleep.
Like so much in psychology this depends on a lot of individual factors.
Are you already a good sleeper?
People who typically sleep badly at home tend to sleep better when staying away from home. Simply being in a new environment, away from your usual bed where you often lie awake feeling frustrated, can make sleeping in an unfamiliar bed more restful. But for those people who usually sleep well at home, your sleep is more likely to be disrupted by an unfamiliar environment (Tamaki et al., 2005). If you’re someone who usually doesn’t get enough sleep at home, you’re likely to get more sleep when you’re away from home. But for people who usually get enough sleep, the opposite is true. They’re more likely to get less sleep (Jonasdottir et al., 2022).
This would probably apply to the majority of people considering booking a sleep tourism experience. But will a sleep retreat help? Most people who have trouble sleeping have all sorts of factors in their regular lives that are maintaining their poor sleep. People with chronic poor sleep might also have an undiagnosed sleep disorder, which is unlikely to be resolved by the majority of sleep tourism experiences available. So a sleep retreat might give you a few nights of good rest, but it won’t create any sustainable change. Before you know it you’ll be booking another sleep retreat, and another, and another.
A lot of us are familiar with the experience of anticipatory insomnia. The inability to get to sleep because of increased pressure to sleep. We often experience this when we have a big day tomorrow. An exam or an important meeting at work can really interfere with our ability to get a good nights’ sleep. The same could potentially be true for a sleep-based holiday. The pressure to sleep well when you’re paying for this luxury might in fact be the thing that keeps you awake.
Would I recommend a sleep retreat?
There’s a lot to be said for a holiday that promises to leave you feeling rested and well-slept on your return home. But I can’t get over the idea that holidays should be for more than sleeping. The rise of sleep tourism points to the serious issue of chronic sleep deprivation that so many of us experience in our busy day-to-day lives. Booking a holiday in order to catch up on sleep just feels wrong to me. That said, if it appeals to you and you know what to expect and what you’re hoping to gain from it, I think there’s a place for sleep tourism in today’s world of travel.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and trying out a sleep retreat, here are my top tips for getting the most out of it.
● Do some research. Some of the sleep retreats I reviewed were more evidence-based than others.
● Know what kind of sleeper you are and what your priorities are for the break. Pick your sleep retreat accordingly.
● Don’t expect it to fix your sleep entirely. If you have problematic sleep, think about what’s maintaining it at home and make some changes. Maybe even create your own sleep retreat at home.
Jonasdottir, S.S., Bagrow, J. & Lehmann, S. (2022) Sleep during travel balances individual sleep needs. Nature Human Behavior 6, 691–699., Retrieved August 8, 2022, from
Tamaki, M., Nittono, H., Hayashi, M., & Hori, T. (2005). Examination of the first-night effect during the sleep-onset period. Sleep, 28(2), 195–202.
You can find out more about Dr Nicola on her website The Family Sleep Consultant
If you liked this article check out Dr Nicola’s previous post How can psychology help us to manage jet lag?