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Explaining the rise of sleep tourism

Fast becoming one of the biggest trends in the wellness industry, more and more travellers are foregoing itineraries jam-packed with activities in favour of pillow menus and an early night.

A holiday can be many things; for some, it involves exploration, adventure, and trying local cuisine. For others, it’s an opportunity to sit back and relax, to do nothing but lounge by the pool for a week or two before flying home.

Taking relaxation to its extremes, a new wellness trend known as ‘sleep tourism’ has consumers prioritising their shut-eye above all else, serving as a new variation on the conventional holiday.

Think, foregoing sightseeing in favour of stays that provide every conceivable sleep amenity one can imagine.

To paint a better picture, swanky hotel chains are now geared up to be great places for a kip, with top-of-the-line mattresses and luxurious cocoons where you ‘check in to tune out’ to hand, as well as whole retreat offerings where you fork out thousands to ‘master everything there is to know about the art of sleep.’

Giving rise to a new type of travel, it caters to the fact that restorative sleep eludes so many of us.

In the UK, one in seven Brits get less than five of the recommended eight hours a night and in the US, one in three adults don’t catch enough z’s either, with between 50 to 70 million Americans suffering from chronic wakefulness disorders.

Globally, record numbers of people searched ‘bedtime routines,’ and ‘why am I so tired’ in 2023, according to data released by Google Trends at the end of the year.

‘There is no doubt that sleep-focused holidays are one of the biggest trends in the wellness industry,’ consultant Jules Perowne tells Condé Nast Traveller.

‘It is no longer enough for a hotel to just offer wellness on the side; they need to embrace it by offering a more holistic approach to wellness, with a specific goal in mind – and the most in-demand goal currently is improved and enhanced sleep.’

As she explains, rather than opting for itineraries jam-packed with activities and very little breathing room factored in, more and more travellers are seeking proper slumber, with hospitality embracing sleep as the main event instead of just as an afterthought on the back of this.

As opposed to all-inclusives, which you’d assume are in the same vein, the breaks this cohort are taking include everything from pillow menus, sleepy teas, and bath salts to more comprehensive multi-day programmes guided by specialists and clinicians.

For example, where one resort in Miami has a Bryte bed – a $6.3k AI-assisted mattress with smartphone connectivity – in each of its 150 rooms, another offers a ‘Mastering Sleep’ package with doctors, dieticians, and spiritual providers for $8.8k per person. No wonder the sector is expected to grow by 8% (over $400bn) by 2028.

‘Sleep is becoming cool. The days of “sleep when you’re dead” are over, people want to love their lives at maximum volume and to do that they need to sleep properly,’ Charlie Morley, the brains behind a London hotel’s AI lucid dreaming experience, tells Dazed.

Within five minutes and at £50 a pop, ‘Room to Dream’ promises to help guests unlock their subconscious through a VR headset and a combination of other meditative techniques.

This use of emerging technology could be considered ironic given that our screen time is partially to blame for our poor sleep quality in the first place, but who am I to judge? Especially when you take into account that the primary driver of this phenomenon is to escape reality.

‘People often associate travel with decadent meals, extending their bed times, the attractions and the things you do while you’re travelling, really almost at the cost of sleep,’ Dr Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher who believes that the pandemic is behind the boom, tells CNN.

‘Now I think there’s just been a huge seismic shift in our collective awareness and prioritisation of wellness and well-being.’

This shift that Robbins refers to is best represented by the Hilton Trend Report, a survey of over 10,000 travellers from nine countries, which found that the top reason people want to travel in 2024 is to ‘recharge’ and deal with the burnout they’re experiencing more prevalently as a result of the pressures posed by climate change, inflation, and armed conflicts that only appear to be getting worse.

However, while this is understandable, and insomnia-causing stress and anxiety is increasingly on the up, I can’t help but worry that the sleep market is simply another profit-chasing expedition that aims to commercialise an inherently natural part of being human.

This being said, improved and enhanced sleep does have numerous positive effects on our physical and mental health, so perhaps I should be less cynical and give this fad a try.