HotelTravel TipsCan't sleep the first night in a hotel

Everyone knows the feeling of looking forward to a nice rest in a hotel after a long day of traveling. You check in, find your room, set down your things, and get ready to jump into bed. You lay your head down, wait, and… nothing. You can’t get to sleep. It makes you wonder why you can’t fall asleep the first night in a hotel (a question that also keeps you awake).

One of the most common reasons for not getting a good sleep on the first night in a hotel is the first night effect. Your brain is aware that it’s in a new place, so half of it stays alert to “watch” for danger. This plus issues like lighting, jet lag, and outside noises can influence your rest.

Here, you can find out more about the issues that can cause you to wake up more tired than usual after a night in a hotel. Then keep reading to discover 10 great tips that you can use in hotels to sleep better. You might even want to introduce them into your home life for deeper relaxation in your day-to-day life.

The First Night Effect: Why You Can’t Sleep the First Night in a Hotel

No matter how comfortable you are with traveling, the first night in a new place can always be difficult. This is because of the first night effect (FNE) – a phenomenon that scientists have studied and that seems to affect most people. 

To put it simply, your brain stays alert so that it can be aware of any potential threats. You are still able to sleep because only one side of your brain is active, but you can wake up a lot more tired than usual. For some people, it’s hard to shut down their thoughts at all, leading them to a long night of restlessness and frustration.

There are some ways to ease FNE, but first, here are some other reasons why you might be sleeping badly on your first night in a hotel.

Common Discomforts that Can Stop You from Sleeping

On top of the first night effect, you have all the other little (or large) discomforts that can influence your sleep. When you’re used to sleeping in one environment every night, a new one can throw you off your rhythm.

New and loud sounds are a big problem for most people. Your home might be in a rural area or in a quiet building. Hotels tend to have guests returning at all hours of the night. You might hear them outside the hotel as they arrive, in the hall outside your room, or even in their rooms if they’re nearby.

Harsh lighting coming through the windows or under the door from the hall can also make you more alert. You might also feel restless about the possibility of hidden cameras exist in your room. Or maybe it’s something as simple as new scents or different sheets and pillows from your own.

Lastly, if you have jet lag, the FNE might not even be able to take effect. Your natural rhythm is in another time zone so you’re just not ready to sleep.

How to Deal With It: 10 Tips to Fix Sleeplessness

Now that you know what might be keeping you awake on your first night in a hotel, here are 10 tips for easing these problems and making you more comfortable. Try to adapt them to your own rituals so you feel as much at ease as possible. A better night’s sleep is sure to follow.

1. Play Restful Sounds

Creating the right atmosphere is very important for sleeping well. To block out unwanted noises from outside your room, try playing some restful sounds on your phone. This is even more important if you stay in an airport hotel without proper soundproofing. There are many options to choose from. You just need to find what’s right for you.

A chill music playlist can be a great choice. Stick to instrumental music or even songs in other languages. Lyrics that you understand can catch your attention and lure you away from sleep. Natural sounds like whalesong or forest noises can also be great. Finally, check out tracks with colored noise, like brown noise. It’s similar to white noise but more relaxing. There are several 10-hour black screen videos on YouTube that are perfect for getting some rest.

2. Meditate

Another set of sounds that can lull you to sleep are meditation tracks. They can gently guide you to a more relaxing place. Meditation can help you avoid unwanted thoughts of wanting (“I want to sleep but I can’t”) and of aversion (“I need to get away from those noises outside”).

You can also find guided tracks specifically to help you relax and fall asleep. As you become more relaxed, you might slip into sleep without even realizing it. Also, feeling more comfortable and unthreatened in your hotel room can ease the first night effect.

3. Choose the Right Lighting

Harsh, unwanted lights from outside your room can really dampen your feeling of comfort and stop you from falling asleep. Maybe the lighting is subtle but is blinking or is just too different from your normal setup. You’ll need to try to get as close to how dark your own room is as possible. Try to shape the hotel room’s curtains the best you can, and put a towel under the door if there is light coming from the hall.

Some people might benefit from bringing a night light on their trip. Despite making the room a bit brighter, the light can be more constant and relaxing than whatever is coming from other sources.

4. Make the Bed More Comfortable

Uncomfortable sheets, blankets, comforters, and pillows are a recipe for a disastrous night’s sleep. And while it’s unlikely that hotels will have different types of bedding that they can give you, you can at least ask and see what they can do. Maybe you need to change the blankets to heavier or lighter ones. Maybe an extra pillow will make the difference. Even budget hotels are able to accommodate these requests, so don’t be shy to ask.

While it’s not the most convenient option, you can also try bringing your own bedding with you. Softer sheets might be the answer, and many people can’t sleep well without their own pillow, even if the hotel has luxurious beds. Try out these different suggestions and get closer to what makes you comfy and, hopefully, drowsy.

5. Breathe in Soothing Scents

Hotel rooms can smell strange and that can throw off your sleep. They don’t necessarily smell bad, just different. Bringing a comforting scent with you can help you feel more at home and help you drift off. These can be in the form of perfume, essential oils, air fresheners, and more.

Some good choices for scents that enable relaxation are lavender, rose, jasmine, chamomile, and bergamot. Find your favorite and fill your hotel room with a nice fragrance before bed.

6. Take a Relaxing Shower or Bath

Another great way of getting cozy and filling your room with a nicer scent is by taking a warm shower or bath and using fragrant shower gels, shampoos, and body lotions. Your body will feel less tense and the ambience of the room will be more relaxing. The perfect combination for a good night’s sleep.

7. Drink a Relaxing Cup of Tea

If you know you’ll likely have trouble sleeping on your first night in a hotel, try to avoid heavy foods, sugary drinks and snacks, caffeine, and alcohol. All of these things will make sleeping more difficult. Instead, stick to light meals and finish off your night with a comforting cup of tea.

Some of the best flavors are chamomile, lavender, and peppermint. Of course, don’t drink too much right before bed. No matter how comfortable you get, you’ll probably wake up needing to use the bathroom.

8. Try Sleeping Pills

No matter how comfortable you are in your room, you might still be overly alert. Sleeping pills can be very useful in these situations. You can get prescription medication or, if you prefer natural remedies, find pills that are made without pharmaceuticals. They tend to have herbs like chamomile and lavender (you’ve probably noticed the pattern with these plants) and other agents that will ease you to sleep.

9. Give Up and Reset

Sometimes the best way to fall asleep is to give up trying and go do something else. Take an hour to read or meditate, take a shower, or even go for a stroll around the hotel. If there is a spa or pool, see if you can unwind there. Once you feel like you’ve let off some steam and have become less anxious and more relaxed, head back to bed and try again.

10. Change Rooms

You have seen many ways to make your room’s vibe more relaxing and to settle yourself before sleep. However, sometimes the environment is too disturbing and you need to get away from it. Noisy room neighbors are a good example of something you can’t control but that can give you justification for changing rooms.

Go down to the reception area or call from your room and explain the situation. Most hotel staff will be more than happy to find you a new room (when available) and help you get settled. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, take a look through our article on simple ways to ask for a room change. It will help you see how common this is and make you more confident. Once you’re in your new room, take the rest of these tips and get ready for a restful sleep.

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