Sleep expert Rebecca Robbins

New Benjamin Hotel guest room

Over a decade ago, The Benjamin Hotel in Midtown Manhattan promoted the importance of good sleeping habits by introducing one of the industry’s first Sleep Programs. That included a full-time Sleep Concierge, special attention to jetlagged guests, and a comprehensive pillow menu offering everything from organic filling to embedded speakers for iPods.

In October, The Benjamin partnered with sleep expert Rebecca Robbins, co-author of Sleep for Success!to teach the entire hotel staff about how to sleep better and why it’s important. She says the consequences of consistently poor sleep are widely underestimated throughout the hotel industry, which is in an opportune position to advance knowledge of good sleeping habits and well-being in general.

The partnership coincides with the unveiling of newly renovated guest rooms, the final phase of a $10 million renovation. The rooms were redesigned to facilitate better sleep, including neutral palettes and curtains/blinds designed to block out light and noise.

“I love what The Benjamin has done before and its mission toward sleep,” says Robbins, who conducts sleep research at Cornell University. “The executive team at the hotel got in touch with me and said, ‘We’ve always had an interest in sleep, but we really want to make sure what we’re doing is grounded in research.’”

The thrust of what Robbins calls “Sleep Hygiene” is based on four behaviors that induce a more fitful night’s rest:

  • Commit to meet your personal sleep need, between 7-8 hours for most adults
  • A consistent bedtime is “critical” seven days a week
  • Pay back any sleep loss
  • Aim for long, uninterrupted blocks of sleep

Everyone understands that poor sleeping habits result in lackluster behavior during the work day, including irritability, depression and heightened anxiety. But Robbins says that fewer people realize how a lack of sleep also causes us to gain weight. When most of us have less than seven hours of sleep on average, that produces higher levels of the ghrelin hormone in our stomach lining that plays a pivotal role in boosting our appetite.

Regularly missing our required shut-eye also affects intelligence.

“Our cognitive performance is another key factor here, we’re operating well below our peak without adequate sleep,” explains Robbins. She says there’s a “mountain of research” showing lost productivity in the workplace due to sleep deprivation, estimated at $63.2 billion yearly in the USA, according to Harvard Medical School.

This is the type of information that Robbins is sharing with The Benjamin’s staff so they’re better equipped to answer questions from guests, such as why there’s no chocolate on the pillow at turndown.

“Chocolate is the worst thing you can eat before going to sleep because caffeine is a stimulant—it’s one of the three cardinal sins,” says Robbins. “Here’s something regarded as a hallmark of hospitality but it couldn’t be more deleterious for our sleep. It’s a huge no-no.”

The other two pre-bedtime sins are staring at any type of video screen and not managing stress well.

Robbins also works with corporate groups at The Benjamin. She first asks attendees to fill out a pre-arrival questionnaire so she can customize the topics of conversation. Then during the program, people are encouraged to share their own experiences, which usually relate to other people in the group. Robbins explains that it’s a strong teambuilding exercise because we all sense how the crunch of media and tech have affected our sleep patterns. Those shared feelings provide a common ground for engaged conversation that continues well past a meeting or conference.

Due to the success of the group sessions and staff training, The Benjamin decided to roll out similar educational opportunities for individual guests. There is now a copy of Sleep for Success! in every room for guests to study. And, upon availability, the hotel can set up in-room Skype calls between Robbins and hotel guests to address individual sleep habits.

“Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Robbins. “Hotels are in the business of sleep but there’s a lot of great strides they can make to help people sleep better.”

Greg Oates covers hospitality trends and next generation hotels. He has participated in 1,000+ hotel site inspections in over 50 countries.

Tags: health, nyc
Photo Credit: Sleep expert Rebecca Robbins Rebecca Robbins