Snacks, Snooze, Repeat

My wife and I are adjusting our sleep schedules several days ahead of an upcoming trip to Europe. The first night we went to bed an hour earlier than usual, the next night two hours earlier, and so on. Our destination is eight hours ahead of Colorado, so who knows if this fool-the-body ploy pays off when we get there. It’s all about fending off Mr. Jet Lag.

Courtesy of lifehacker.com

Sleep – quality sleep, that is – depends on almost too many factors to count. You’ve heard the guidelines before.  Do you go to bed at the same time every night? Do you get a minimum of seven hours?  Do you have a comfortable mattress? Is the room temperature cool-but-not-too-cool?  Can you “black out” your bedroom, including every light except the little green one on the smoke alarm? And speaking of light, do you wind yourself down well before bedtime, without screens or headphones or anything else to keep the brain humming?

The list goes on, of course. What did you have for dinner; when did you have dinner; did you have alcohol or dessert too close to bedtime; did you take any meds; how and when did you exercise – they all mess with sleep. And if your sleep really is a mess, you have a convenient excuse in any one or more of these factors.  But hang on.  Someone (or some-ones) claims to have a better approach now.  What if your quest for quality sleep hinged on only one factor?

Meet the latest trend in sleep aids: “pre-bedtime” snacks!  Choose from a pint of ice cream, a handful of chocolates, a creamy drink, and others.  They’re all concocted to show you the way to better sleep.  Nightfood’s ice-cream pints are carefully advertised as “sleep-friendly”.  Nestle’s “Goodnight” candies subtly recommend you “enjoy… 30-45 minutes before you’d like to drift off to dreamland”.  Som Sleep’s products innocently ask you to “drink 30 minutes before you are ready to sleep”.

Am I the only one in the room with a terrified look on his face?  I can hear myself already.  “Time to go to bed, honey…. oh wait!  You forgot your delicious pre-bedtime snack.  Don’t you want a good night’s sleep?”  After reading a little about these “foods”, my first thought was not, “how do they taste?”  My first thought was not even, “I wonder if they work?”  NO; my first thought was, “won’t they become psychologically addicting?”  Think about it.  Doesn’t really matter what’s included in the ingredients (i.e. melatonin, magnesium, glycine).  Doesn’t even matter how much you consume.  Rather, if you decide you’re suddenly getting a better night’s sleep, won’t your pre-sleep snacks turn into pre-sleep dependence?  Snacks.  Every night.  For the rest of your life.

For sheer entertainment value, visit the websites and peruse the product claims.  Nightfood says they’ve “removed/minimized stuff that in most other ice creams can be sleep-disruptive” (namely sugar and fat).  Nightfood also says their product “… does not contain sleep-aid substances or drugs.”  Finally, Nightfood does not suggest people eat ice cream as a sleep-aid.  O-kay, anyone else utterly confused?  I can get past an ice cream with no sugar or fat (not that I’d ever eat one), but if Nightfood doesn’t contain sleep-aids and I’m not even supposed to eat Nightfood as a sleep-aid, doesn’t it kinda-sorta lose its purpose in life?

The sad reality is that one-third of us get less than the recommended daily minimum of sleep.  Probably another third is too attached to their handheld devices; brains revving day and night.  The rest of us – save those few quality-sleepers – are getting something else wrong.  But if that’s the truth, instead of snacking on chemicals (er, “food”), why not just adjust a sleep factor or two and see if you can do better?

Despite my soapbox, maybe you’re still looking for the quick fix (to take up pantry space beside your 5-Hour Energy Shots).  Guilty as charged?  Go ahead then; buy into the hype.  As Nightfood jingles, “…turn on TV, grab spoon, do your thing, sweet dreams!”  You can almost see the company’s founders sleeping – er, laughing, all the way to the bank.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “A Late-Night Snack to Help You Snooze?”

It’s All in the Cards

Back in the Boy Scouts, my troop-mates and I memorized statements designed to make us better young men. The Boy Scout motto was, “Be Prepared”. The Scout slogan: “Do a Good Turn Daily” (help others). The Scout oath – several sentences stated with a raised right hand (fingers forming the Scout sign) – included obedience to the twelve points of the Scout law. Recently I’ve been thinking about Point #2 of the Scout law, Loyalty; showing care for family, friends, and country.  But what about care for merchants?

Customer loyalty programs – those structured marketing ploys designed to tempt continued shopping at particular businesses – are standard retail procedure these days.  The use of plastic and punch cards, account numbers, or scanned apps is as common as pulling out your Visa.  I get suspicious when a merchant doesn’t have a loyalty program.  It’s all about the points, and the allure of discounts or freebies through accumulated spending.

American Airlines, credited with starting the first full-scale customer loyalty program in modern times (1981), had no idea its “frequent fliers” would become the trendsetters for countless programs to follow.  But the drive for customer loyalty started way before AA.  Anyone who remembers pasting S&H Green Stamps into collection books, clipping Betty Crocker coupons straight from the product box, fishing prizes from Cracker Jack caramel corn, or joining the Columbia House Record Club (“8 CD’s for a penny!”) has dipped their toe into the customer loyalty pool before.

I took a quick inventory of my own customer loyalty and the numbers surprised me.  I carry eight cards in my car.  I have another eleven apps on my phone and another ten on-line accounts.  That’s 29 unique programs, and over 30 if I include the couple of credit cards where my swipes eventually equal cash back.  For someone who rarely shops on impulse, that’s more attention to spending than I’d care to admit.

If I did a little spring cleaning, I’d likely reduce my loyalty programs by one-third.  Many sit gathering dust because I haven’t used the merchant or service in years.  Others accumulate points at a snail’s pace.  Fill my inbox with special sales alerts or saturate my voice mails with pleas to “buy now!”; it won’t matter.  I purchase on my own terms.

Here are two recent loyalty experiences; the reasons I chose this topic today.  Last September we took a weekend trip to Aspen, settling for a Westin hotel in nearby Snowmass (Aspen is over-the-top expensive to us commoners).  When I went to Westin’s website for the booking, I discovered their loyalty program (Starwood) was merging with Marriott Rewards (now Marriott Bonvoy).  Hallelujah – my Aspen getaway gets me points! But not so fast.  Logging into Marriott Rewards, the home page alerted me to the fact the program merge was still in progress, and a Westin stay might not result in Marriott points.  Long story short, I called the hotel, spoke to the front desk, and had them book the reservation for me instead.  Yep, you can still do it the old-fashioned way.  And you still get points.

My other recent loyalty experience involved Nicholas Mosse Pottery (Kilkenny, Ireland).  Mosse makes beautiful handmade plates and bowls and the like, and we’ve been collecting a few pieces at a time since visiting Ireland a few years ago.  Points for me (ha) for joining the Mosse loyalty program from the get-go.  Just this week they alerted me me to my quietly-amassed rewards.  I then purchased a $70 plate for virtually nothing.

My Mosse experience is the perfect example of my casual approach to customer loyalty.  I don’t keep track of points until they equate to something significant.  Sure, I favor certain products and services, but I’d still favor Marriott or Starbucks or Costco without their loyalty programs.  For someone who tracks every penny, there’s something very satisfying in the surprise of unexpected discounts.  That’s how it works best for me.

Here’s my advice.  Don’t let customer loyalty programs drive your spending habits.  If you do, the merchant “wins”, because you’re likely spending more along the way than whatever discount or freebie you end up getting.  Loyalty = showing care; yes, but with retail that should only mean preferring one store over another.  Despite what they’d have you believe, it’s not all in the cards.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and from the Wall Street Journal article, “Inside the Marriott-Starwood Loyalty Program Turbulence”.