Lack of Sleep is Hurting Our Industry. We can Change That.

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You and your team probably aren’t sleeping correctly. Lack of quality sleep is doing more physical and psychological damage than you realize, and our industry is deeply afflicted.

Healthy Hospo, a not-for-profit community-interest company founded by Tim Etherington-Judge, wants to help create a happier, healthier hospitality industry. One of the keys to accomplishing this goal: hospitality professionals developing healthier sleeping habits.

We make food and eating a priority in our lives, yet too many of us don’t have that same relationship with sleep. That’s interesting and unfortunate, given that we spend a third of our lives sleeping

Sleep also happens to be our most effective form of medicine. It helps our bodies and minds recover from physical and psychological stress. Sleep is the foundation of good health, and it’s easy (once healthy habits have been developed) and free (once you’ve transformed your bedroom into a cave—more on that later).

Sleep Duration & Quality are Important

The hospitality industry may look like smiles and great times from the outside but it’s stressful and hard on the human body. Hospitality professionals are often subjected to working—and therefore living—chaotic hours. Tim and Healthy Hospo were awarded a $12,000 grant from the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation to study hospitality industry sleep habits. They then designed the first-ever dedicated sleep program which has already rolled out in New Zealand and Ireland with plans to go global as soon as possible.

But back to the importance of sleep. As Tim explains, every animal on Earth sleeps, in some form or another. There are fish that sleep one hemisphere at a time so they can continue swimming. Even insects sleep.

Tim also points to professional tennis player Roger Federer as an example of the importance of sleep. To recover from the rigors of competition, Federer is said to try to sleep 12 hours per day when competing.

Some sleep and health experts have gone so far as to compare lack of sleep to a cancer-causing agent. These experts claim that not getting 6 of hours sleep each night is like a Group 2A carcinogen. That’s because a lack of sleep can lead to a reduction in the natural cancer-killing cells the human body makes by 70 percent.

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Then there are the effects on the brain. At a certain point, the brain becomes incapable of forming new memories if a human doesn’t get enough sleep. If a person deprives their brain of sleep for too long, it isn’t like it just keeps operating as normal—their brain will enter REM sleep, while they’re awake. That means the person will experience hallucinations as they go about their day.

Sleep Survey

To determine how our industry is sleeping, Healthy Hospo applied the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) questionnaire to 842 hospitality professionals. Of the 842 respondents, 632 were bartenders, bar managers or brand ambassadors (owners/operators and barbacks were also included in the survey). Bartenders represented 43.8 percent of the respondents, 31. 6 percent were managers, brand ambassadors 11.6 percent, owners/operators 10.9 percent, and 2.1 percent of respondents were barbacks. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents were male, 33 percent were female, they ranged in age from 18 to 74 (52.2 percent were 25 to 34), and they were from 40 different countries.

With the PSQI, the higher a person scores, the worse off they are. People who score a 5 should seek medical attention immediately. The highest score Healthy Hospo encountered was a 7.2, a male night shift worker.

Overall, subjective sleep quality for most respondents was poor. Most respondents (43.2 percent) were only sleeping 5 to 6 hours, and most reported experiencing sleep disturbances. Sleep duration was poor for most respondents (43.2 percent) and almost half (46.5 percent) reported some manner of daytime dysfunction. Less than three percent of respondents—just 23 out of 842—were getting the recommended 8 hours or more of sleep.

Hours vs. Cycles

Now, about that recommended 8 hours of sleep… Tim disagrees with it. He finds it impractical for our industry (and others) because most hospitality professionals aren’t 9-to-5 shift workers. The greatest contributing factor to the impracticality of 8 hours’ sleep and this industry is a person’s circadian rhythm.

As Tim says, civilization happens much faster than evolution. We may have computers in our pockets, we may have invented robots that flip burgers, but we’re still set up to operate via our original sleep-wake cycle. We’re not certain why—and by “we” I mean scientists, biologists and sleep experts—but humans go through all our REM cycles during every 90 minutes of sleep.

So, it makes more sense, Tim says, for us to think about sleep in terms of cycles rather than hours. Our bodies and minds are going through peaks and valleys of needing sleep and being awake constantly throughout the day. Interrupt cycles while sleeping—sleep disturbances—and the cycles restart from the beginning.

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Some cultures have recognized the awake-sleep peaks and valleys, says Tim, and that’s why the afternoon nap exists. Two countries that have traditionally honored the afternoon nap, Spain and Greece, have very low rates of heart disease, traditionally speaking. However, in parts of Greece that have started to eschew the afternoon nap, heart disease is increasing. There may be other contributing factors but Tim believes the rejection of the afternoon nap—and presumably the messing up of circadian rhythms—is a culprit.

Circadian Rhythms

So, what’s going on with the human body in a circadian rhythm, and when is it happening? According to information provided by Tim, this is what can occur in one chronotype:

  • 6:30-8:00 AM: Rise in body temperature, bowel movement likely, melatonin secretion ceases, testosterone secretion starts, and high alertness
  • 2:00-3:30 PM: Cardiovascular efficiency, muscle strength, reaction time and coordination at highest levels (so this would be a great time to work out)
  • 9:30-11:00 PM: Bowel movements suppressed, highest body temperature reached and highest blood pressure
  • 3:30-5:00 AM: Deepest sleep and lowest body temperature

A chronotype is the type of biological clock affecting a person. Each of us is affected by the 24-hour clock differently. Two major types of human chronotypes are the Morning Lark and the Night Owl. A Morning Lark:

  • goes to sleep between 9:00 and 11:00 PM;
  • wakes naturally between 5:00 and 7:00 AM;
  • loves mornings and loves breakfast;
  • is most alert at midday;
  • experiences less daytime fatigue;
  • doesn’t like jetlag;
  • doesn’t like shift work.

In contrast, a Night Owl:

  • goes to sleep between 12:00 and 3:00 AM;
  • wakes to an alarm between 9:00 and 11:00 AM;
  • skips breakfast and considers dinner to be the best meal of the day;
  • is most alert in the evenings;
  • takes daytime naps;
  • can cope with jetlag;
  • can handle shift work.

Civilization has, in some ways, sped past evolution, and it’s affecting our sleep quality and waking lives. Rethinking how we view sleep—cycles rather than hours of sleep—could be the key to turning things around, improving our sleep, and making our lives better.

Tim, Healthy Hospo and some sleep experts suggest people getting into a rhythm of 5 90-minute sleep cycles to get quality sleep. Calculating this rhythm is simple: a person determines the time they want to wake, counts backwards 7.5 hours, and that's the time by which they should be asleep. There are apps that analyze a person's sleep quality that use the 90-minute sleep cycle format, like Sleep Cycle. Just be aware that some sleep experts don't recommend people having their mobile phones in their bedrooms when it's time to sleep.

At any rate, a Night Owl who wants to wake at 10:00 AM should be asleep by 2:30 AM. To help accomplish that, the Night Owl should begin unwinding using a sleep ritual around 1:00 AM.

Create a Sleep Ritual

What's a sleep ritual? Think back to childhood. Tim notes that many people were raised by parents who got the ready to go to sleep with a routine. But when we become adults, many of us toss sleep routines right out the window. Tim wants us to develop personal sleep rituals.

A sleep ritual will tell a person’s brain, “Hey, this is what we do before we sleep. Get ready.” Tim recommends starting a pre-sleep ritual 90 minutes before going to sleep. Stop using tech (that’s enough scrolling through Instagram), dim lights (go from light to dark, like we would if we still lived outdoors), go from warm to cool, and take care of bowel and bladder evacuations. Sleep-inducing aromas can be very effective elements of a person’s sleep ritual.

Create a Cave

As far as a person’s sleep space, Tim says it should be like a cave: dark, cool and comfortable. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the ideal sleep temperature for a normal, healthy adult is 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Those with allergies or respiratory problems shouldn’t sleep somewhere with a temperature less than 61 degrees. For people who are sick, disabled, very old or very young, that temperature should be a minimum of 68 degrees.

Tim says that we’ll likely never spend more time with anything in our lives than a mattress. Since we’re all different shapes and sizes, we each need to find the mattress that suits us best. He cautions that “best” doesn’t always mean “most expensive.” In fact, Tim says that quite often, the most expensive mattress isn’t the best for a particular person.

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Ideally, our sleep caves would be best outfitted with a soft mattress with small—or no—pillows. According to Tim, many top athletes don’t sleep with pillows. Most of us, says Tim, sleep on mattresses that are too hard. Luckily, we’re never lived in a time with more mattress and topper options that we do currently. Those who share their bed with another person should sleep on a large bed because, as Tim explains it, cuddling is important but sleep is a solitary activity. If we’re too close to the person sharing our bed, we may get too warm to sleep well. Tim also says that a study found small beds lead to higher divorce rates.

Sleep Positions

How we sleep is just as important as where we sleep. Sleep positions, according to Tim, can be linked back to our primitive instincts. Again, Tim says that we were meant to sleep outdoors. Therefore, sleep position affects our quality of sleep directly. Certain positions would leave us vulnerable if we were to sleep outside in them, and our brains haven’t abandoned our instincts just because we’ve invented indoor living and fancy mattresses.

Sleeping on our backs can result in our brain remaining alert while we sleep. Our vital organs are, after all, vulnerable in this position. We’re also more likely to snore if we sleep on our backs. The brain is alert even during sleep if someone sleeps on their front. This position also requires a person to twist their neck so they can breathe, causing neck problems.

The fetal position is the ideal sleep position. A person’s vital organs and much of the rest of their body is protected and the brain can be its most relaxed. Sleeping on the weaker side so the dominant hand can quickly be used for protection if startled awake is even better. If a person is a back or front sleeper, they can train themselves to become a fetal position sleeper by taking naps in the fetal position.

Create a Wake Ritual

Of course, falling and staying asleep is only half the equation. There’s such a thing as an ideal waking process. Tim recommends getting up and opening the curtains right away. Just like going from light to dark is important for a sleep ritual, going from dark to light is important for a waking routine. A person should drink water to hydrate before consuming coffee. Tim grinds coffee beans by hand as part of his morning ritual, and he suggests working a challenge like a crossword or sudoku into the routine as well.

We spend much of our lives sleeping—or trying to achieve our ideal amounts of quality sleep—so we each need to prioritize sleep. Share this information with your team, get better sleep, and improve performance. With Tim and Healthy Hospo’s help, we can sleep, work and live better.

Follow and support Tim as he participates in and completes 42 marathons in 42 days here. Reach out to Healthy Hospo for a blank template that will help you create your ideal sleep cycle here.

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