Poor sleep in hotel rooms, or any new place for that matter, is a well documented phenomenon with roots in human evolution.
A sleep study published in 2016 in the Current Biology journal explains what’s known as the ‘first-night effect’. According to Dr. Masako Tamaki, a professor at Brown University, when a person tries to sleep in a new environment, the brain interferes. Essentially, it goes into a kind of alert mode to monitor the new environment for safety.
This is why in sleep studies, the first night’s data is typically useless. Patients simply can’t get to sleep the first night. The same is true when you travel.
If you add jet lag, crossing multiple time zones, or any kind of light or noise to the mix, you’ve got a recipe for terrible sleep—and not just for the first night. If you’re changing rooms or hotels every few days, the end result could be significant sleep deprivation. Not the kind of rest and relaxation you were probably hoping for on vacation.
So how do you hack your hotel room and create an environment that ensures the best sleep possible? Read on to find out.
Hotels should be designed for sleep, right? After all, they’re in the business of helping people get to sleep. Well, sure. In theory. They’re also places where travelers can party and enjoy themselves loudly.
When noise could interfere with your ability to sleep, it needs to be addressed quickly.
The first thing to consider is the location of your hotel room. Requesting a room that’s away from noises like elevators or street noise is important. If you give the hotel a call the morning before you arrive, you can nicely ask for their help choosing a room that’s quieter.
Once you’re settled in, if there are any annoying noises, you can use these tools: earplugs and ambient noise apps.
You may not think immediately about the room temperature affecting sleep, but cooler rooms are better for sleep. Some of the benefits of sleeping in a cool room are:
The first thing to do when you get into your hotel room is to cool it down.
Set the temperature around 65 degrees (between 60 and 67 is ideal for adults). Dig the extra blanket out of the closet, or call down to ask for one.
If you are traveling with an infant, you may want to adjust the temperature a little higher (68 or so) and put them in warm jammies before bed.
Now that you’ve got things quiet and cool, it’s time to address light issues. I need complete darkness to sleep—at home and anywhere else.
If you’re like me, and need total darkness to sleep, here are some cool hacks to make sure the room is dark enough:
Pro tip: invest in a soft and comfortable eye mask. It will be helpful in hotels and also on airplanes.
Pay attention to what works to help you sleep at home. Whether it’s the scent of lavender on your pillow, or following a specific order of tasks like brushing teeth, washing face, then reading. If you normally sleep with ambient noise at home, bring that with you when you travel.
Doing the same things, smelling the same scents, hearing the same sounds can make the environment feel familiar and help you sleep.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.