Why it’s difficult to fall asleep in hotels - Sleepfolio

Why it’s difficult to fall asleep in hotels

Ever stayed overnight somewhere new, and just not been able to drop off to sleep? You are not alone! This is a problem many of us can relate to. A strange, unfamiliar environment can trigger temporary insomnia. Research indicates that the brain does not fully go into ‘sleep mode’ when you are spending the night in a new environment. This is considered a temporary sleep disorder. People often report waking up after a night away feeling groggy and not well-rested.

During deep sleep, the brain begins ‘slow-wave activity’. This stage of deep sleep is considered essential for memory consolidation. Studies have shown that those suffering from ‘first night effect’ do not show signs of slow-wave activity. Scientists theorise this is an evolutionary response. The brain may perceive an unfamiliar environment as high risk and unsafe, and therefore keep on alert.

This effect has also been observed in other mammals and birds. The brain stays vigilant, on guard for unusual activity, and therefore sleep is not as deep, or as beneficial. This results in a ‘groggy’ feeling, where individuals may feel they have had less sleep than what they have actually enjoyed. When in this state the brain can wake up more quickly if it registers anything it deems to be threatening or out of the ordinary.

Thankfully, this effect tends to only last the first evening. However, this can be a real inconvenience for many of us, particularly business travellers or those taking short breaks.

Sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on our mood and performance, whilst making everything a little less enjoyable! Any sleep issues must be resolved for good overall health. Minimising the first night effect should be a priority. Whether you are travelling for business or pleasure, tackling this issue will ensure you get the best out of your trip.

How you can combat ‘first-night effect’

There are several things you can do to get a better nights rest if you are in an unfamiliar environment. Different strategies will be more effective for some than others, so we would recommend trying a few and finding out what works for you. These include:

  • Give yourself time to adapt to a new environment - Given that the effect wears off after just one night, prepare as necessary. If possible, have a second night booked if you have a big presentation or interview. If you are travelling for pleasure, plan to have a relaxed first day, and save any more strenuous or physical activities for later in your holiday.


  • Don’t stress - Try not to worry about the likelihood of not feeling your best the next day. Stress will only make falling asleep more difficult. Prepare well for your trip to avoid any last-minute stresses such as forgotten items.


  • Spend some time in your room - Familiarise yourself with your surroundings before bedtime by spending some time in your room. Call a friend or read a good book.


  • Turn off your phone and TV - Using screens just before bedtime stimulates the brain, making it more difficult to get to sleep. The blue light from these devices inhibits the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.


  • Stick to your bedtime routine - Whether it’s a skincare routine, brushing your teeth, or a bath, stick to the same routine you would before bed at home. Your brain will associate this routine with sleep, which will make nodding off easier.


  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol - Step away from the minibar! Alcohol and caffeine will overstimulate your system. If your body is processing alcohol, it can’t repair and renew itself, leaving you feeling less rested. Don’t drink coffee after 2 pm. Limit all consumption of coffee, chocolate, soda, sweets and tea.


  • Go to bed early - Anticipate that you might find it trickier to ‘switch off’ in a new place, and go to bed an hour earlier.


  • Ask for a non-smoking room - If you are a non-smoker, unfamiliar unpleasant odours may disturb your rest.


  • Block out noise - Bring earplugs with you, as hotels can be noisy places! Ask for a quiet room wherever possible, away from the lift, and preferably on an upper floor (the reception area is usually the loudest in the evenings!).


  • Bring a sleep mask - This will give you some familiarity while ensuring your room is pitch black. It also ensures you are prepared should the curtains be a little thinner than what you are used to at home! Darkness stimulates the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.


  • Have a light dinner - The hotel buffet might be tempting, but eating a light meal can make falling asleep easier. A full stomach can be uncomfortable and cause a restless night. Avoid foods high in sugar, spice or fat. Eat dinner as early as possible, and avoid snacking.


  • Stay in high-quality venues. Pay particular attention to the location. Check reviews and carry out thorough research before booking your stay in a hotel or B&B. Pay particular attention to comfort, noisiness, and cleanliness. Clean sheets are not only vital for a good nights sleep, but also for good health. Double-check yours upon arrival, and report anything you are not happy with to reception.


  • Keep your room cool - Only stay in hotels/B&Bs which have air conditioning available, and check it works as soon as you arrive in your room. Choose light, cotton pyjamas.


  • Bring your own pillow or pillowcase. Familiar items which you associate with sleep will reduce the ‘first night effect’. Depending on where you are staying, your own pillow/cases may be more comfortable, and better suited to you. You can also ensure they are 100% clean and fresh. This reassurance will make it easier to fall asleep. A familiar feel and scent can be a real comfort. If you have allergies or eczema, this is even more important. An unfamiliar material may irritate you, or you may react to the detergent the hotel uses. Get your portable pillowsleeve made for hotel stays today. 
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