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Away on business

Less sleep leads to less work.
Image: Sleeping
People often get less sleep on the first night in a strange place than on subsequent nights in the same locationGetty Images
/ Source: Reuters

The most trying business trip may be the one that puts the traveler in a different town night after night, fighting for sleep in strange spaces.

Hotel hop-scotch not only takes its toll on travelers in terms of stress and hustle, but it may also have a hidden cost - lost productivity caused by loss of sleep.

Part of the problem is the "first-night effect," said Michael Breus, a sleep expert who co-founded Atlanta-based Sound Sleep LLC, which provides information on sleep disorders and problems.

It has been documented in a laboratory setting that people often get less sleep on the first night in a strange place than on subsequent nights in the same location, he said in an interview. Also, there is an "on-call effect" in which the traveler worries about getting—or not getting—a wake-up call, or otherwise feels that disrupted sleep is inevitable.

One study has placed a $45 billion annual price tag on all forms of sleep deprivation in the United States, including lost productivity, health-care bills and traffic accidents.

While it may not be possible to put a price on what tired business travelers cost their employers, experts seem to agree they lead to lost productivity on the road, Breus said.

The problem has led to a series of lodging industry programs to make rooms more sleep friendly.

"The fundamental value we provide is a place to sleep," said Kevin Kowalski, vice president of brand management for Crowne Plaza Hotels. While the comfort of the bed is important, is it but one factor in the total environment of noise, light and other factors, he added.

"We're focused on corporate meetings," Kowalski said. "We want to make sure our business travelers and meetings participants are fully capable, ready to go and charged up."

Crown Plaza, in consultation with Breus, is nearly finished with a "Sleep Advantage" program for all of its properties in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The rooms involved have not only been given new beds, with sheets and blankets in calming colors but also have soft night lighting, a sleep kit including ear plugs and an eye mask, drapery clips to keep out slivers of light and a compact disc with natural sounds designed to promote relaxation.

In addition, at least one floor in each hotel is designated as a "quiet zone" for Sunday through Thursday nights.

To reduce anxiety about possibly oversleeping, guests are also told their room is free if they fail to get a requested wake-up call. Kowalski said he trusts the honesty of guests not to abuse that offer. To be sure, some automated systems can verify that a wake-up call was made.

Another sleep expert, Mark Rosekind, president of Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, California, found in a 2003 study done for Hilton Hotels that travelers start out in the hole because they sleep less the night before a trip and that, on average, they get about an hour's less sleep than they think they do on the road.

That study also found that exercise on the road helped counteract sleep loss by enhancing performance. It was Rosekind's company that placed the earlier mentioned $45 billion cost estimate on U.S. sleep loss.

Sleep enhancement programs have become commonplace across the industry in groups of hotels as well as independent properties. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts said last year that it was spending $75 million on more than 70,000 new beds in 200 properties across North America.

Some hotels are so proud of their beds that they offer to sell them to their guests.

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons hotel, says its bed sales have been running steady at about 200 a year. Some have been shipped overseas, and one man bought three - one each for his homes in Chicago, Des Moines and New York City, spokeswoman Susan Maier says.

Prices for mattress and box spring sets run from $1,200 for a twin to $1,700 for a king-size.