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In search of a good night's sleep

By Nick Easen for CNN

Consolidated sleep, rather than catnapping is best for the body when traveling.
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(CNN) -- Sleep is one of the main concerns on the minds of business travelers when they fly across oceans and bed down in unfamiliar cities.

With a rebound in travel budgets and heightened competition among airlines, many carriers have revamped their front-of-the-plane cabins with flat, or nearly flat, beds and better service.

Hotels are playing their part by providing improved beds, natural lighting and more relaxing environments.

Yet there is little doubt that frequent business travel -- defined as six or more business trips annually, each lasting at least three days -- still causes sleep disorders.

In a recent online CNN poll of nearly 700 voters, 80 percent said they have problems sleeping when they travel. (View QuickVote)

Last year's U.S. National Business Travel Monitor found that 51 percent of 2,500 executives on the road said they did not get enough sleep on business trips.

"The best advice is change your watch as soon as you know you are going into another time zone. It is a mental thing and you start thinking in that time," Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim of The London Sleep Centre told CNN.

"(When travelers) are sleep deprived, it is very much like having an overdraft that you pay into. You either pay in one lump sum, or pay in steady sums -- this way you pay off the debt."

Ebrahim believes travelers should conform to their new time zone within a couple of days and consolidate their sleep instead of catnapping. Regular bed times and exercise also help.

Problems occur not just in the air, but also on landing -- compounded by late flights, missed connections, time zone changes, differences in altitude, temperature and humidity.

Psychologists have now developed two phrases for travel related sleep problems: the "first night effect" occurs when trying to sleep in an unfamiliar environment.

Then there is the "on-call effect," which is caused by the constant worry that something will disturb your sleep -- such as anxiety over hallway noise, a call from the boss or the hotel wake-up call.

Sleep sells

Realizing that a good snooze can sell services on a business trip, hotels and airlines have invested in this area.

Qantas, which unveiled a multi-million dollar revamp of its business class last September, has installed mood-lighting systems in its planes -- pale pink for morning, midnight blue at night. It says the system helps passengers go to sleep and wake up more comfortably.

Some hotels now designate at least one floor as a "quiet zone" on Sunday through to Thursday -- prime time for business travelers who do not want to be disturbed with unwanted noise.

Other have nightlights or lighting strips that provide soft illumination to help guests navigate in an unfamiliar room during the night.

-- CNN's Meara Erdozain contributed to this report

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