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How to Sleep Better: Expert Tips from a Sleep Concierge

Sleep…so important for our well-being, yet remains an elusive dream for so many. The pandemic has caused a surge in sleep-related issues, from more and more people becoming “revenge bedtime procrastinators” to an overall reduction in sleep quality, more than 58% of adults are tired according to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. As hoteliers, you’ve heard the alarm––Conde Nast Traveller just named “sleep tourism” one of the hottest travel trends for 2023––rising to the needs of the sleep-deprived with new and improved “Sleep Concierges,” AI-powered beds and even an entire hotel themed around sleep by Swedish luxury-mattress maker Hästens.

Yet, despite selling a good night’s rest for a living, you may be struggling with your own sleep post-pandemic. Maybe you’ve even committed to getting more sleep as your New Year’s resolution. With that in mind, we’ve spoken with one of the version 2.0 “Sleep Concierges” and some readers who have successfully revamped their sleep routines to help you rest better.

how sleep is related to gut health

London’s luxe The Cadogan, a Belmod Hotel has engaged hypnotherapist and sleep expert Malminder Gill as a “Sleep Concierge” for guests of the property, including a recorded meditation and the opportunity to book a one-on-one session. The hotel also offers a choice of weighted blankets, pillows, and pillow mists, all recommended based on individual sleeping preferences.

Malminder, what trends are you seeing in relation to sleep issues post-pandemic?

Malminder Gill, hypnotherapist and sleep concierge
Malminder Gill, hypnotherapist and sleep concierge

The pandemic has shifted sleep for many, there are many possible factors for this from changes in schedule, diet, or added stress. I have noticed the ongoing trend in bio-hacking for sleep and general health take a firm footing––more clients are wearing the Oura ring or are tracking their sleep through other methods. (For people that don’t know the Oura ring, it is a sensor ring that monitors your body by measuring 20 biometric signals and connects to an app on your phone.) Ironically, although this provides useful information, I am finding that it can increase anxiety levels and add further stress to sleep better. I have been discussing the link between gut microbiome and sleep too, educating my clients on their overall health.

Wow, I’d not even heard of that device, though I have seen people use their phones to track sleep. Tell me more about the gut microbiome's relationship to sleep.

Our guts do more than process food, transform it into energy and remove waste matter. Many researchers believe the gut is the body’s second brain. In fact, the gut is home to what’s known as the enteric nervous system. It is here where the brain and central nervous system connect, and the gut serves to regulate vital body processes.

The gut is home to all sorts of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. Research shows that a third of our microbiome is the same as everyone else’s. However, two-thirds of the microbiome is entirely unique to you. Genetics, diet, environment, and your personal lifestyle all play a part in determining your own microbiome. When you consider there are around 1,000 different types of bacteria in your microbiome, there is a lot under your control that you may not even think twice about normally! Fortunately, you have a lot of power in creating a well-balanced microbiome that not only does your body good, but can help your sleep, mental health, and well-being too.

The relationship between your microbiome and sleep is complex. However, multiple studies indicate that there is a two-way street when it comes to gut and sleep health. An unhealthy gut composition can lead to poor sleep and even cognitive decline. Similarly, insufficient sleep can lead to a decrease in beneficial gut bacteria and a decrease in insulin sensitivity too.

Consequently, there can be a cycle between poor gut health, leading to poor quality sleep which can then further affect the microbiome.

On the other hand, research by Kent State has shown that a beneficial microbiome leads to higher-quality sleep, and better cognitive flexibility, helping to reduce age-related cognitive decline. Due to its complexity, it is still a matter that is under rigorous research, but what we know so far is that just like our sleep, our guts are regulated by the circadian rhythm and when this rhythm is disrupted our microbiomes suffer too.

Sounds complex, however, everyone can probably relate to feeling stress in the pit of their stomach. How does the gut affect anxiety?

It is perhaps no surprise that the gut can play a part in improving our anxiety. After all, as you say, most people feel stress, anxiety, and worry manifest through their core––a knotted stomach sensation, nausea, and an upset stomach. Researchers have found that beneficial bacteria through probiotics can help to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety too. In one study, probiotics were given to those with exam stress. While the participants still reported stress in the build-up to their exams, they experienced less difficulty falling asleep despite upcoming exam nerves. Furthermore, their slow-wave or deep sleep was strengthened, and the participants reported feeling more refreshed and rested. Bottom line: beneficial bacteria may be able to prevent the anxiety/poor sleep cycle in its tracks.

As more research is conducted into the area, we may find further links to how the gut can really play a part in our well-being. If you’re looking to improve your sleep and reduce stress and anxiety, it could be well worth paying attention to your gut and creating a healthy microbiome balance.

How can people improve their gut microbiome?

  • Focus On Plant-Based Foods. Having a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is considered the foundation of healthy living. Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients as well as full of fiber which can really help to improve gut health. When shopping, focus on ‘eating the rainbow’. Pick colorful produce that will be full of microbiome-boosting benefits. The more variety you have, the better diversity of good bacteria in the microbiome. It’s the perfect excuse to try new things!

  • Stay Clear Of Pesticides. Pesticides used in conventional farming techniques can impact the healthy bacteria in our microbiome. Opt for organic produce and those free from pesticides. This can help to ensure we protect all of the good bacteria in our bodies as much as we can.

  • Look For Prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food for the bacteria in your microbiome. There are many ways to consume prebiotics. For example, onions, garlic, apples, bananas and artichokes are all excellent sources of prebiotics.

  • Consider Your Pre-Bed Snack Carefully. Our willpower is a finite resource and is usually at its lowest at night. This means we are more likely to give in to unhealthy cravings before bed. If you tend to be hungry at night, having a go-to snack can help you to resist unhealthy temptations. To look after your microbiome, consider an easily digestible snack. Wholegrain cereal and milk may be how you start the day. However, this can be a great snack before bed too. So can a slice of wholegrain toast with nut butter, or a banana.

Great food for thought! What are your general tips for improving sleep?

Practice sleep hygiene. Look at your current lifestyle and keenly observe your circadian rhythm. Make your pre-sleep routine enjoyable and relaxing and realistic both in terms of time and activity. Get natural light into your eyes first thing in the morning, this helps to set the circadian rhythm.

With that in mind, we spoke with two herteliers who successfully revamped their sleep schedules.

Emily Penfold Dailey, Founder & CEO, PenDailey Consulting
Emily Penfold Dailey, Founder & CEO, PenDailey Consulting

Emily Penfold Dailey, Founder & CEO, PenDailey Consulting, worked her way up in operations and hotel marketing. She began her career with Marriott and had stints with Greenwood Hospitality overseeing marketing for 26 hotels and 24 F&B Outlets, and most recently she was Vice President of Marketing for First Hospitality, where she ran marketing for more than 50 hotels and restaurants.

My ideal sleep is 8-9 hours a night. I’m a natural night owl which pretty much rules out a full night's sleep, especially when I was working for various hotel companies in-house. While I don’t have a solid morning ritual I now have a very steady evening ritual. I put my phone to bed on its charger in my office. Then vitamins, wash my face (twice), brush my teeth, and journal. In the evening I only have a bedside salt lamp and a Moroccan lamp in my room which cast really warm amber light I also don’t have a TV in my bedroom and rarely take my laptop in there. I’ve really tried to cut down on blue light in the evening. I keep a scratch pad on my bedside table as well and all of that has really helped cut down on the midnight stress sessions.

My ideal morning ritual which I do about half of the time is feeding my animals, taking the dog in the garden, brushing my teeth, scraping my tongue, having a 15-20 minute meditation, and having tea and breakfast. Bonus if I get a walk or yoga in.

Dr. Susan Fleming Cornell University
Dr. Susan Fleming, entrepreneur in residence at Cornell University, corporate director, angel investor, and executive educator.

Dr. Susan S. Fleming, is an entrepreneur in residence at Cornell University, corporate director, angel investor, and executive educator. From 2010 - 2018, Susan was a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, teaching women in leadership, entrepreneurship, and negotiations. She began her career on Wall Street where she was a Partner of Capital Z Financial Services Partners, a $1.9B private equity fund focused on investing in financial services firms, and an Analyst at Morgan Stanley.

Over the last five years, I have started to make sleep a big priority and it has been a game changer in terms of my quality of life. Just for context, I was always the person who would pull all-nighters for work, sometimes several nights in a row (in my investment banking days especially), and even later, in my 30's only got 5-6 hours a night as I tried to juggle an infant, doing a Ph.D., serving on several boards and helping my now-ex-husband start a business. Looking back now, that time is somewhat of a haze.

Now that I consistently get good quality and enough sleep, I realize on the rarer occasion that I don't, how much it affects my mood, patience, diet, and focus. My biggest tip is consistency–the timing of when you go to sleep and the routine you follow.

Timing. Because my son is with his dad every other week, I used to stay up late when he wasn't with me and then try to get to bed earlier when he was with me, as I have to get up earlier those weeks to get him to school. That just never worked–my body didn't like shifting back and forth and I often couldn't get to sleep the weeks I had him and woke up exhausted. Now, I go up to bed at around 10 pm every night, am asleep by 11 pm, and usually wake up on my own by 7 am even when I don't set an alarm.

Routine. I have a routine that I follow every night. My butt is in bed by 10 pm or so. I start winding down, either watching some streaming show or reading a book until around 10:45 pm, go to the bathroom one last time, and then take 3mg of melatonin. As soon as I take it, I turn off the light. I also put on a large box fan for white noise (mostly for my dog, but I've found it helps me too). If I'm really worn out, I just lay down and go to sleep. However, most nights, I put a cooking show on my iPad (Chopped is my go-to) and turn the volume down low. I know they say screen time at bed is bad, but for me, halfway watching and listening to something distracts me enough to keep me from starting to think of things I need to do the next day, etc. I often joke that it takes me 2 weeks to watch an episode of Chopped because I'm usually asleep within 5-10 minutes.

Outside of consistency of routine, I've learned that if I drink more than one glass of wine after 8 pm, I will go to sleep fast and then wake up and not be able to go back to sleep. Also, if I am super stressed about something, I'll also wake up in the middle of the night. When that happens, instead of just laying there and stewing, I usually do something to distract myself (like watch a show or read) and that helps me get back to sleep and sometimes another melatonin. Final tip: don't drink caffeine late in the day.

Bottom line: the importance of sleep cannot be overstated. It is essential for our physical and mental well-being and impacts everything from gut health to mood. Experiment with ways to improve your diet and daily routines for better rest.

For more tips on “sleep hygiene” read Give it a Rest: 7 Tips for a Better Sleep


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