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Sleeping In a Hotel Room

The very first night in an unfamiliar setting always results in not-so-great sleep. While it’s never going to be as comfortable as sleeping at home, you can make a lot of wise decisions to help you sleep soundly in a hotel. Many people who struggle with sleeping in hotel rooms are on a stressful business trip or traveling with family.

Still, there are a number of tricks you can pull to ensure you get a good night’s rest – from choosing the flight time wisely to finding the quietest room in the hotel. Read on to see how you can overcome all those problems that keep you up at night in a hotel.

Tips for sleeping well in a hotel room

Flight time and jet-lag

Keep the time zone of the place you’re visiting in mind and try not to take the “red-eye”. Flying overnight will leave you exhausted and stressed out both of which make it hard to plan your sleep time. When it comes to jet-lag, take a look at the time difference and start changing your sleep schedule little by little one week before the flight. For example, you can start by getting up 15 minutes earlier every couple of days until you bridge at least some of the time difference. 

Make sure it’s quiet

Hotels are known to have thin walls and if you’re close to stairs, elevators, or ice machines you won’t have a quiet night. The easiest noise-canceling option is buying some earplugs but they are not always enough. Ask for a quiet room when booking. The quietest ones are in the middle of a hallway, on an upper floor – that’s where they are away from all the typically busy and noisy places. Request a room several levels above the bar or other shared/public spaces. Avoid rooms close to dumpsters, parking lots, and swimming pools. Make peace your priority if you really need to sleep well and don’t be reluctant to call the reception and report noisy neighbors. 

Pillows matter

Some people are fine with sleeping on almost any pillow but others may have a problem with it being too hard or too soft. Sometimes your sleeping position makes certain pillows almost unusable – for example, a back or a stomach sleeper needs a flatter pillow than a side sleeper. There are hotels that offer pillow options and if you struggle with pain or have a condition that requires a special pillow, go ahead and ask for it. If you can’t get a special pillow, you can try to bring yours from home.

A dark room equals longer sleep

Hotels often have good blackout curtains that should be sufficient for a good night’s rest, but it doesn’t have to be the case so it’s best to ask whether they have quality curtains. Just to be safe, you can bring a sleep mask with you.

You deserve a cool room (and a warm shower)

Temperature is important for proper sleep so check whether your A/C is working properly as soon as you get in the room. Keep it cool – around 65°F is recommended. A cool room helps us reach deep sleep which results in waking up well-rested. Another thing that helps better sleep is a warm shower about an hour before sleep. Now you may ask, why is the room supposed to be cool and the shower warm? First, a warm shower relaxes you. Second, you need your core body temperature to drop for good restorative sleep (core temperature is the temperature of your vital organs). As your body temperature rises in the shower, the blood vessels in your arms and legs dilate in an attempt to cool you down. As you step out of the shower they’ll remain dilated, making your core temperature gradually lower. This drop is what makes you sleepy and helps you sleep well. A cool room helps your body thermoregulation by preventing overheating.

Stick with your bedtime routine

If you have a good bedtime routine that works well for you, don’t change it. Stick to it as much as possible – whether it is reading a book, a prayer, planning your day, or whatever it is that you do. Just try to stay away from electronics.

Smartphones and tablets are a no-no

Screens emit blue light that our brain picks up and then acts almost as if you were exposed to actual sunlight. LED and screen lights suppress melatonin; a valuable hormone that helps you fall asleep, stay asleep, and it even kills cancer cells while we sleep (scientists argue that most completely healthy people have had cancer cells in their body at some point but a healthy immune system wipes them out). It’s not only about lights – reading news and being on social media increased wakefulness and anxiety and you’ll have a hard time falling asleep after such a “treatment”. Instead, finish all your calls and emails well before bed and keep yourself occupied with something else.

Meals, drinks, and pills

Avoid heavy meals – sleeping comes much better when your stomach is not burdened. Make sure you have the last cup of coffee before 2 pm to allow enough time for caffeine to leave your system (it takes about 12 hours). Caffeine can disrupt or delay your sleep even hours after consuming it. Alcohol, although it’s a popular “remedy”, is not a good idea. It does knock you out, but that’s all it does – knock you out. Not provide you with quality sleep – it actually deprives you of REM sleep and causes frequent wakings.

Some people will opt for another “remedy” known as sleeping pills. More and more research tells us that they are not only partially effective but can, in fact, be dangerous. Sleeping pills also knock us out without offering the healing properties of sleep. They can be a quick fix but they also may become one of your bad habits. If you need some help with falling asleep, try taking a melatonin pill or drink chamomile, mint, or other calming, non-caffeinated tea.

Make it familiar

People usually can’t fully relax the first night in a completely new space. This also means they’ll have poorer sleep – known as the first-night effect. You may be able to lessen this initial discomfort by bringing things that remind you of home. It could be your pillowcase which provides you with familiar texture and smell. Do your best not to change hotels too often because every change bears a new first night’s light sleep. If you absolutely have to do it, check if it’s possible to stay within the same hotel chain because that will give you at least some kind of familiarity – most chains have the same standards for each hotel, including using the same mattresses.

The first-night effect explained

We don’t sleep with one eye open when we slumber somewhere for the first time but we do sleep with one half of the brain partially awake. Scientists believe this response to a new environment increases safety and chances of survival.

The first-night effect happens in almost all people, where their left side of the brain doesn’t sleep as deeply as the right side. Sleep scientists have known for over 50 years that people sleep poorly on the first night in a new place – and that’s why they wouldn’t use polysomnogram (sleep study) results from that night. However, until 2016, they didn’t know what exactly was going on in the human brain. 

It was a big surprise when they found out that our left hemisphere doesn’t emit the same deep-sleep-related waves as the right hemisphere. When they played a series of monotonous sounds with one higher-pitched, deviant sound, the left hemisphere responded to the sound while the right hemisphere slept soundly. Then the researchers played a strong sound only to one ear and the subjects would wake up more easily when the sound was played into their right ear (which is associated with the left hemisphere).

Although a great (and amazing!) survival technique, light sleep is not so welcome when you have an important presentation the next day and really need the rest. This is why it is advised to book the hotel at least two nights before your big day if possible.

Additional resources

  1. Hotel Sleep Tips from Frequent Travelers. https://www.sleep.org/articles/hotel-sleep-tips/
  2. 5 Tips for Better Sleep in a Hotel Room. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201904/5-tips-better-sleep-in-hotel-room
  3. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of cancer. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503661/ 
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