Do you find it difficult to sleep in hotel rooms?
You’re not alone. It turns out, we’re wired to have a harder time falling asleep in new environments.
“Recent evidence shows that sleeping in a strange place puts your body on high alert—a survival trait that’s carried over from our old days as hunter-gatherers,” says Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher at the NYU School of Medicine, consultant, and author of Sleep For Success.
Assuming your temporary environment doesn’t put you at risk of being a midnight snack for predators, the old instinct can be a serious inconvenience.
However, that doesn't mean a good night’s sleep in a hotel is impossible—getting it just takes some extra care.
We asked Rebecca for her top tips, as well as some advice from frequent travelers, to help you get a great night’s sleep no matter where you are, or what bed you’re in.
1. Arm Yourself With a Sleep Strategy
Some good sleep-health behaviors apply across the board. According to Rebecca, stress, stimulants, and screens make up the three cardinal sins of sleep. The term nightcap, in particular, is way off base.
“Alcohol is a REM sleep inhibitor—it pulls your body out of rapid-eye-movement sleep, which is where all of the benefits of sleep come into play,” she says. “That’s why we wake up after a night of drinking and feel completely exhausted.”
If you still have trouble winding down, consider shifting the heaviest meal of your day to lunch, moving exercise to first thing in the morning, or taking up meditation right before bed.
Whichever works for you, it’s important to pay attention to what helps you sleep before you hit the road, to give you a better chance of getting rest.
2. Keep Up Your Pre-Bed Routine
Is there a typical show you watch just before sleep? Bring the same show to watch on your tablet or iPad, so you keep your home routine.
Of course, taking your electronics to bed isn’t advised, so schedule time to watch your show before your pre-bed routine.
That’s because, as Rebecca states, “most cell phones typically emit blue, daylight-spectrum light, so one way to get around that is to dim the brightness way, way down.”
The ideal pre-bedtime routine begins about 90 minutes before you hope to sleep. Start to do something relaxing, and don’t forget to engage multiple senses so that your entire body understands it’s almost time to start counting sheep.
“If you take a nice, warm shower and cool off your room—65 degrees is the best temperature for good sleep at night—that transition helps with sleep onset,” says Rebecca.
3. Make Your Room Feel Like Home
Rebecca says, “I’m a huge fan of making your hotel room feel as much like home as possible.” To do so, she packs a picture of her family, cashmere socks, and a favorite travel pillow.
The items you carry with you to cozy up any hotel room can also be a part of your pre-bed routine. For example, my home-away-from-home kit includes a candle, my favorite tea, and audiobooks to listen to as I fall asleep.
Another trick? If audio is a big part of your going to bed routine, pack a short stereo-to-stereo audio cable because you can always plug your phone into the bedside alarm.
Even better, did you know that hotel TVs also have these plugs? Look behind the TV. While they’re no Bose, your room’s TV speakers will probably outperform those on the alarm clock/ iPhone dock next to your bed.
4. Opt for Rooms With the Least Desirable View
“After checking into your room, I highly recommend you do open the curtains and look at the view,” suggests Elizabeth Avery, founder of Solo Trekker 4 U.
Elizabeth’s reason: “I discovered that a great view could also be a really noisy one.”
“Two cases in point in two different countries. At a ski resort, my room looked out on immaculate slopes. They were just that, almost perfect because in the late night they were groomed by raucous Snow Cats and other serenading equipment,” she says.
“Another challenge in a small, charming town was my room’s location over the courtyard. That was also the entry for taxis and cars dispatching latecomers.”
5. Ask for the Most Quiet Room at Check In
“Take the guesswork out of finding a quiet room by asking at check-in,” suggests Charles McCool, Travel Happiness Advocate at McCoolTravel.com.
“Request a quiet room away from the elevator, at the end of the hallway, and on the highest floor available,” says Charles. “Also request to be away from groups, the highway, or the parking lot if possible.”
6. Fire Up a White Noise App on Your Smartphone
“I am a light sleeper, and when I stay in a hotel room, I tend to wake up easily when other guests make noise in the corridors or when hotel employees chat outside my room,” says Gregory Golinski, Marketing Coordinator at Love That Pet.
To help block out any outside noises, Gregory plays white noise through apps on his smartphone.
“Hearing noise while you’re sleeping might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a consistent noise that comes out evenly across all hearable frequencies. It drowns out the annoying, sudden noise I hear outside my door and I sleep like a baby.”
There are lots of white noise options available, whether through apps or online. My favorites are this 10-hour loop of rain sounds, this audio of a campfire by a river, or the extra-cozy Gryffindor common room for Harry Potter fans. To explore different white noise mixes, search Google for “ambient sounds.”
If you're sleeping with someone else or where other people might hear, consider a pair of SleepPhones. They come in different sizes and run $30 a pair. If you don't like sleeping with a cable attached to you, you can get wireless ones for about $90.
7. Bring a Mask, Earplugs, and Other Sleep-Friendly Gear
“I always have a set of high-quality ear plugs—get the foam earplugs that block about 60 decibels or above. They’re not that expensive but do the trick,” says Rebecca Robbins.
And, don’t forget to grab a sleep mask. Sure, you could purchase one of the pricier, contoured masks made of foam. However, the thicker material can put undue pressure on your eyes and make you sweat.
Alternately, the simple, cheap nylon ones are easy to pack, just padded enough to block out light, and cool your face when you put them on. They're essential on airplanes, in hotels, and just about anywhere else, I need a good night's sleep.
Finally, consider a travel pillow—one made of a similar cooling fabric—that you can slip in a carry-on. Use it on the plane, then use again when you get to your hotel.
Thankfully, if you find yourself empty handed, all three of products are available at almost any drugstore, airport shop, or even in your hotel’s mini-shop.
Related: 9 Simple Ways to Improve Your Sleep
8. Make Like MacGyver With Tape, Towels, and Hanger Clips
Want to ensure as little noise pollution as possible enters your room? “Line the door jams with hotel towels to block out sound,” suggests Laura Mandala, CEO Mandala Research.
Next, grab two hangers from your hotel’s closet to secure curtains down the middle. This will ensure you aren’t woken up too early by a sliver of sunshine beaming directly into your eyes.
Even before you slip on your sleep mask, the lights from unfamiliar electronics can make it difficult to unwind.
The solution, according to Dr. Catherine Darley of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Inc. is to “pack painters tape to put over all the annoying LED lights on the microwave, TV, fire alarm, clock radio, etc.”
9. Feel Free to Indulge in a Small Pre-Bed Snack
“Typically the best advice is to avoid proteins before bed, but milk is the one exception,” says Rebecca, who’s a big proponent of the pre-bed snack.
“So many of our mothers made us warm milk before bed, so that’s an example where whatever is relaxing to you is the best thing.”
She suggests around 200 calories is the right size for a small snack. Combine with a cup of chamomile tea to boost your chances of drifting off soundly.
Final Tips to Ensure a Good Night’s Sleep
“Try to never, ever take the red-eye,” says Rebecca. Yes, it’s easy and saves a lot of time, but you’ll wake up sleep-deprived. “I know it’s a tempting way to add an extra day to any trip, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever get good sleep on an airplane.”
While losing a day to travel might be inconvenient, prioritizing your rest gives you a better chance of waking up, ready to seize the day. After all, what’s eight extra hours at a destination if you’re too tired to do anything?
If you’re going to a time zone that’s five hours away, that’s enough to require some preparation. Rebecca suggests starting about five days before your trip begins, pulling your bedtime back 15 minutes each night. That’ll help you adjust and ease your transition into a new time zone.
If you find yourself tossing and turning after 15 minutes, consider getting up and get out of bed. “But keep the lights low, walk around, do some light stretching, or read a book,” says Rebecca. “It’s important to do something that’s not stressful.”
What if, despite your best efforts, you lost a night of sleep?
As tempting as it is to stay in bed, Rebecca suggests waking up as close as possible to your regular time and pushing through the day.
If exhaustion still plagues you after going out and about, don’t underestimate the helpfulness of a 20-minute power nap. However, you want to avoid sleeping for hours, since that’ll just set back your sleep schedule another night.