Written by: Allyson Hoffman
Updated March 10, 2021
If you have trouble sleeping in hotels, you’re not alone. Most people report that they sleep worse in a hotel (1) than at home. Sleeping while traveling can be difficult for many reasons. You might miss the comforts of home, pets, and partners. Perhaps you have to deal with jet lag. You may experience travel insomnia due to stress (2), particularly if you’re traveling for work rather than a relaxing vacation.
But did you know that your biological drive to survive is one of the reasons it’s difficult to sleep well in a new location? This phenomenon is called the “first-night effect.” Researchers have found that your brain goes into a night watch mode (3) for the first night you sleep in new surroundings. Instead of fully settling into sleep, your brain remains partially active throughout the night. The purpose is to take notice of your surroundings, stay alert, and keep you safe. Unfortunately, this means that strange sounds or disturbances can wake you up easier.
While this effect does make hotel stays less relaxing, there are some simple steps you can take to make yourself a home away from home. We’ve rounded up the best tips for sleeping well in a hotel.
Do Your Research Ahead of Time
Choosing a hotel with an excellent mattress might make it easier to get a good night’s sleep. What kind of mattresses does the hotel you’ll be staying at have? Do different rooms offer different beds? With research and preparation, you might be able to make some adjustments.
Most hotel beds have a medium firmness level. This firmness appeals to most sleepers, but people who weigh below 130 or above 230 pounds may find it too firm or too soft for comfort. If you need an extra soft or extra firm bed to get a good night of sleep, consult with the hotel management before arrival to see what options are available. Most people also sleep better on a bed the same size as or larger than what they use at home, as a smaller mattress can feel confining or uncomfortable.
Bring Your Own Pillow
An uncomfortable pillow is one of the most common factors in a poor night’s sleep at a hotel. If your comfy, at-home pillow is portable, bring it with you. If not, take note of the firmness and composition materials. You may be able to request a similar type of pillow at your hotel. You can also put an extra pillow between your knees. This can provide additional comfort, particularly if your mattress is too soft or firm for your sleeping position.
Make Sure the Room is the Right Temperature
A too-high room temperature is another common cause of poor hotel sleep. When you arrive at your hotel room, turn down that thermostat. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use Blackout Curtains
A dark room is an essential part of a soothing sleep environment. Most hotels have blackout curtains in their standard rooms. Be sure to use them, as they can prevent outside light from getting in and disturbing your sleep. If your room does not have blackout curtains, ask the hotel management if it’s possible to get them or to transfer to a room with them. You can also bring along an eye mask to block out light.
A quiet environment helps you sleep better. When booking a hotel room, request one far away from noisy areas. These may include elevators, housekeeping storage closets, and vending and ice machines. Keep in mind that the higher up you are in the building, the further away from street noise you’ll be. While a street view may be beautiful during the day, it may become noisy at night. You might want to sacrifice a good view for better quality sleep.
Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can be lifesavers at bedtime if your hotel is noisy. A portable white noise machine or white noise app can also help block out unfamiliar sounds. Don’t have one? Turning on the bathroom fan is an easy way to create white noise.
Bring a Relaxing Scent
If you have a favorite smell you use at home, consider bringing it with you. Essential oils can make your hotel room feel a little homier. Some scents, such as lavender and vanilla, may even help you relax (4). If you bring your own pillow, the scent of your detergent may also be familiar and therefore comforting.
Adjust to the Destination Time
You’ll want to keep your regular sleep-wake schedule in line with the local time. You might want to adjust your sleep schedule to match your destination time (5) a few days in advance to make the transition easier. You can also keep your schedule full during the day to avoid the trap of taking a nap. A nap during the local daytime can make it difficult to sleep at night.
Follow Your Home Bedtime Routine
How do you unwind before bed at home? Try to do the same at the hotel. Take a warm shower or bath. Do a quiet, relaxing activity such as reading or meditating. Try to put your electronics away an hour before bedtime to help your body wind down, since blue light from phones, TVs, computers, and other electronics can disrupt your circadian rhythm (6) and make falling asleep more difficult. If you have sleep apnea, be sure to bring your CPAP machine with you.
Getting a good night’s sleep away from home can be challenging. However, you can make the process easier by keeping these hotel travel tips in mind the next time you jet-set. When you make a good sleep environment and follow proper sleep hygiene, it is possible to sleep well in a hotel. You might even sleep so well you’ll want to make adjustments to your bedroom at home.
- https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15022250.2015.1074938 Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32477203/ Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)30174-9 Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/aromatherapy-pdq Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/circadian-rhythm-sleep-disorders Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01413.2009 Accessed on February 28, 2021.