This year, people are hanging up their pandemic worries and woes to indulge in luxury trips with this sole aim: to sleep. Turns out, travel is now about where one can get the most restful sleep and not so much about the promises of scenic views. Among the many wellness trends set to dominate 2023, sleep tourism is a top one, according to Conde Nast Traveller UK.
The investment in enhancing sleep quality is not a new story. In 2019, The Pod, a smart bed, hit the headlines and got people talking about expanding sleep technology from gadgets to beds. The AI-controlled bed by Eight Sleep adjusts its temperature independently while you are sleeping to ensure comfortable sleep. The idea for this was simple: we spend a third of our lives sleeping (ideally), so why not make it as restful as possible?
However, over the years, as the investment in sleep technology picked up, so did sleep tourism. Airports now have sleep pods, hotels have luxury suites for sleeping, and people are travelling the world in search of better sleep. This could easily be dismissed as another gimmick by the wellness industry as something done by the wealthy for the wealthy, but it also makes us wonder: how did we make sleep a luxury?
What is sleep tourism?
With the boom of AI-powered beds, sleep consultants—people who help you sleep better—and hotels opening exclusive sleeping rooms, the tourism industry has tapped into the importance of sleep while travelling. After a vacation, one of the first realisations is about feeling rested and getting proper sleep, but who would have thought that would become the main activity for future trips?
Sleep tourism is advertised as travelling to luxury hotels, where sleep is the priority and shiny technology and jargon are used to create an illusion of knowledge and wealth. Hotels such as the Park Hyatt in New York have special suites for "restorative sleep" that use Bryte mattresses, which use technology to help guests "personalize their individual comfort, actively fall asleep faster" and better. It allows sleepers to customise sleep settings for each side of the bed, synchronises sleep sounds with gentle movements beneath the body, and is made up of 90 intelligent cushions to relieve pressure. These mattresses can also be found at the Carillon Miami and the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, according to Conde Nast Traveller.
The renewed attention to sleep is accelerated by the pandemic. According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that surveyed over 2,500 adults, 40% reported a reduction in their sleep quality since the beginning of the pandemic. As a basic principle that drives all industries, when there is a demand, there will be a supply. Lack of quality sleep and transforming sleep into a treat like spa or massage seemed to have led to people indulging in sleep tourism that comes with a basic promise of rejuvenation and is promoted as 'self-care.'
The importance of sleep is well documented, with studies emphasising the link between sleep and health. Recent research has linked sleep quality with heart disease. The analysis of research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference showed that people with insomnia are 69% more likely to have a heart attack. And yet, sleep is often seen as replaceable, something that we can make up for the next day, and an easy procrastination on a chaotic workday until it piles up and consumer capitalism whispers, "You need a vacation to sleep."
The rise of sleep tourism, wherein people travel the world to experience luxurious sleep with technology designed to do just that, signals the need to re-look at our approach towards work and sleep. Those with privilege might be able to indulge in sleep tourism, but what about those who can’t? It’s important to note that normalising sleep as a luxury or a privilege is a problematic path to take, and it encroaches on a basic right. Also, to politely ask, when did we make it okay to pay to get a good night’s sleep?
Also read: The ultimate guide to sleeping better