Still Awake? Read This, Then Turn Out the Light

Terry Cralle says she knows all about “sleeping your way to the top.”

OK, let’s be more precise. Cralle is a coauthor of a book titled Sleeping Your Way to the Top: How to Get the Sleep You Need to Succeed. I encountered her—wide awake—not long ago at a travel industry trade show where she was cohosting a presentation on sleep deprivation and business travel.

For many hard-charging business travelers, the sort who are on the road 40 or 60 nights a year or even more, “sleep is not really much of a priority, and it should be,” she says.

You and I could be among those who pride ourselves on hitting the ground running at first daylight, no matter what hour we went to bed. We’re adept at maintaining a prudent diet and fitting in a workout at the hotel gym, but the idea of ensuring a solid night’s sleep is secondary. That attitude reflects “a culture that devalues sleep” as a waste of what could be productive time, says Cralle, a registered nurse and frequent traveler and lecturer who specializes in clinical sleep wellness programs.

The ability to work productively in flight has always been a major selling point for business jets, of course. Stressing the importance of sleep, on the other hand, “is almost regarded as a character flaw,” Cralle says, rather than a proven necessity for optimal functioning.

Some recent business-jet innovations do reflect a recognition of sleep’s value. Bombardier promotes its high-tech Soleil cabin lighting on its new ultra-long-range Global 7500 aircraft as a high-tech aid for “stimulating or suppressing the production of melatonin—the body’s sleep hormone—to help synchronize a traveler's circadian rhythm to the time at their destination.”

Cralle’s co-presenter at the trade show was Bryan Paul Buckley, a sleep psychologist who hit middle age realizing that his youthful disdain for shuteye, “sometimes made me about as sharp as a bowling ball” on the road. His book, Elite Road Warrior: Six Energy Habits to Master the Business Travel Life, chronicles a journey into wellness with advice and pithy quotes, such as this from the leadership guru Michael Hyatt: “The more tired I am, the dumber I get.”

Cralle and Buckley’s sleep presentation was among dozens of workshops and educational panels at the Global Business Travel Association’s five-day annual convention in Chicago in August, which 7,100 business travel buyers and sellers attended. The panel was at mid-afternoon on a Sunday, so the audience was reasonably awake, including those who had indulged in the opening round of corporate parties the previous night.

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During the session, Cralle called the common idea that just a few hours of sleep enhances productivity “a colossal myth.” Only a tiny percentage of people are true “natural short sleepers” who can get by on less than five hours a night, she said, citing sleep research.

“So how do you leverage the power of sleep on the road?” asked Buckley, who had lugged a rollaboard on stage as a prop. Cralle slumped theatrically as he removed bricks from his rollaboard and stashed them, one by one, into a backpack she had on. The bricks were actually made of foam rubber, and Buckley said they demonstrated a point made by William Dement, the pioneering Stanford University sleep researcher: “Every hour you’re awake, you put one brick into the backpack. By the end of the day you’re carrying 16 bricks. For every hour you sleep, you remove two bricks. When all 16 bricks are removed—eight hours—you start fresh the next day.”

That visual aid made sense to me, and also to Wendy Lue, a young travel manager at Lyric.com, a San Francisco startup specializing in luxury short-stay apartments for business travelers. After the presentation. Lue told me she had gained a lot of valuable advice, such as a tip about packing two days before a trip to ease last-minute stress.

“I would definitely do some of those things if I could,” she said, as she hurried off to another meeting. “But to tell you the truth, I just don’t have the time.”

As for me, I walked back to my hotel and took a nap.

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