Trying to sleep in an industry that never sleeps: the hospitality industry

April 24, 2024
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As someone who has been plagued by insomnia throughout my life, I know that sleep can be elusive for just about anyone. It’s the secret to our well-being that comes naturally to some, and that others rarely get a taste of. One of the primary issues with the way discussions and research around sleep are presented is the underlying assumption that all factors associated with achieving quality sleep are within our control. Sleep is indeed one of the most important contributing factors when it comes to our mental health. But what happens when sleep schedules are out of our control?

Working in an industry that never shuts down is likely one of the most understated mental health challenges that employees and managers in the hospitality industry face. While most industries tend to fade out by sunset, the hotel industry operates around the clock - presenting its workforce with a unique set of challenges when it comes to their well-being. 

Dealing with Changing Working Hours

Unlike traditional nine-to-five careers, hotel managers and employees are often required to work in shifts that extend into late nights, early mornings, weekends, and even holidays. These unconventional schedules can disrupt personal lives, strain relationships, and affect overall well-being. Prevalence of sleep disorders among individuals with irregular shifts are high, yet research on this population remains surprisingly scarce. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is highly effective for treatment of insomnia or difficulty sleeping, and preliminary research has found it to be transferrable to shift work. In a nutshell, CBT-I consists of changing unhelpful thoughts associated with sleep, creating and maintaining a healthy sleep routine, and reducing overall time spent in bed. One of the tenants of CBT-I, however, proposes that individuals go to sleep at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning (often referred to as a sleep window) – which is largely impossible for the hospitality industry. 

For individuals with varying shifts, it has been proposed that, whenever possible, they find the longest possible overlap between the times they spend in bed in each 24-hour cycle. And while a steady routine can be difficult to come by in the hospitality industry, the key is going to be seeking out the elements of CBT-I that are within control. For example, CBT-I requires that individuals who are struggling to fall asleep spend no more than 15-20 minutes in bed before exiting the bedroom. This creates an association of the bed as being a place where sleep takes place – not wakefulness. As this association is strengthened over time, time between hitting the pillow and falling asleep is diminished.

Perpetual External Pressures and High Stress Levels 

Managers in the hospitality industry are faced with constant pressure – from high employee turnover, to meeting customer demands, to reputation management. And while we talk about sustainable hospitality, sustaining the health and well-being of employees and managers is too often overlooked. High levels of stress can be detrimental to sleep, impacting how long it takes us to fall asleep, and fragmenting sleep as well. 

Finding ways to manage stress in our day-to-day is going to be critical – and these are the types of things we work through in our 15-minute Nurau experiences. But incorporating stress-management strategies into our pre-bedtime routine can be extremely helpful as well. Sleep hygiene refers to creating a healthy set of habits that are conducive to sleep – just like physical hygiene consists of healthy habits that promote our physical health. Every individual’s routine can look different, and it’s worth experimenting with what works for you. This might look like a regular bath, followed by a cup of tea and unwinding with a good book. The key here is going to be consistency – we want to teach our brain that this routine is the catalyst for sleep.

Psychological Distress and Emotion Management

Let’s face it: regulating emotions and putting on a friendly and accommodating demeanor, even in the most challenging situations, is far from easy. And this constant need to present a positive image can also contribute to high levels of stress and exhaustion. We need to be honest about the reality that in the hospitality industry, so much of your day-to-day is out of your control. So how do we effectively manage our emotions, and take control of our mental health and sleep under these circumstances?

Cognitive reframing is a technique that involves changing our perception of a situation, when we can’t actually change the situation itself. So while the flurry of action occurring around you may not be within your control, there is still one question we can arm ourselves with: How can I change my perception of this situation causing me psychological distress? Our perception of a situation is often at odds with the facts of a situation, so it’s important we practice distinguishing between the two. One way to practice cognitive reframing can be to:

1) Figure out what the trigger is – what exactly is causing you psychological distress?

2)State the negative thought you notice occurring – try writing it down in one clear, concise sentence.

3)Write down the impacts of that negative thought – how is it impacting your emotions, your relationships, your performance, your sleep?

4)Provide potential disputations – alternative thoughts that could challenge that original belief.

5)Take a step back and reflect – what effects did that disputation have on your thoughts and emotions?

Cognitive reframing is actually one of the key tenants of CBT-I as well. It consists of addressing unhelpful thoughts and beliefs around sleep, and challenging them with more helpful and realistic thoughts. If changing shifts tends to lead to a rocky period of sleep, it can be extremely anxiety-provoking – making sleep all the more elusive. Thoughts like “I’m never going to get enough sleep, and “I am going to be exhausted tomorrow” may need to be challenged with disputations like “even when I only sleep a few hours, I always make it through the day.” And as we confirm these new, healthier thoughts over time, anxiety around sleep dissipates.

While the hotel industry offers a world of opportunities and excitement, the challenges it faces can make taking care of your health especially difficult. Prioritizing your mental health and well-being is going to be essential to getting enough sleep – and this works as a positive feedback loop. Managers in the hospitality industry are faced with a unique set of trials and tribulations – and are required to support their teams through this as well. In an industry that never sleeps, there’s really nothing more critical than prioritizing your mental health and getting the rest you need.



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