5 Tips for Better Sleep in a Hotel Room

Conquer travel insomnia with these simple, practical strategies.

Posted Apr 24, 2019

AntonioGuillem/iStock
Source: AntonioGuillem/iStock

A noisy room, an awful mattress or pillows, too much light, stained sheets. (Ick!) Those are among the top sleep disturbers encountered in hotel rooms, according to a survey by Mattress Advisor.

For some, a hotel stay brings a sense of escape from daily chores and responsibilities, and that may foster blissful slumber. But for others, the knowledge that someone else will make the bed in the morning is more than canceled out by the unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable environment.

Whose sleep is most affected? There’s likely a lot of individual variabilities based on factors such as personality, sleep habits, and reasons for traveling. However, a study of hotel review data turned up some general trends:

  • Traveler age. “Age has a U-shaped relationship with hotel sleep quality,” says the study’s lead author, Zhenxing “Eddie” Mao, Ph.D., a professor of hospitality management at Cal Poly Pomona. “Hotel guests in the 18–24 age group had a relatively high probability of reporting sound sleep quality, which decreased for guests in the 25-34 and 35-49 age groups. After that, sleep quality increased for the 50-64 age group, with the highest probability of sound sleep quality associated with guests in the 65 and older age group.”
  • Other characteristics. “Solo travelers and those traveling with friends reported better sleep quality than couple travelers,” says Mao. “And couple travelers, in turn, reported better sleep quality than business travelers and family travelers.”

Mao’s study didn’t address the reason for these trends. But it’s easy to imagine why traveling for work or with kids could be stressful, and 25- to 49-year-olds often fall into those travel categories. Whatever the reason, if you find it more difficult to sleep in a hotel room than at home, the simple strategies that follow may help.

1. Look before you book.

Set the stage for a good night’s sleep by choosing your hotel wisely. In Mao’s research, better sleep quality was associated with staying at a hotel in a less urbanized neighborhood and in a room on a higher floor. Both factors may be linked to less noise, so keep them in mind when making reservations.

For the quietest haven, you may want to contact the hotel directly. “If you request a quiet room, many hotels will do their best to accommodate you,” says Sari Chait, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, Massachusetts. “The people booking the rooms know which ones are quieter (e.g., away from elevators and vending machines, not overlooking a popular outdoor bar or pool). Hotels may not always be able to grant these requests, but the sooner you ask, the better your chances.”

Not surprisingly, Mao’s research also showed that people slept better at hotels with higher star ratings. Use a travel website or app to search for higher-rated hotels that meet your needs and are within your budget. Take time to read the reviews, too. “Look for complaints about room-related factors, including mattresses, pillows, room temperature, noise, and lighting,” Mao advises.

2. Minimize the first-night effect.

"The first night you stay anywhere new, you often sleep more poorly,” says Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., a sleep psychologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “The good news is that this gets better if you are in the hotel for multiple nights.”

Schneeberg says that one way to fight sleeplessness is by choosing a hotel in a central location and staying in the same room for an extended period rather than changing hotels frequently. When that isn’t feasible, consider sticking with a hotel chain you like that tends to have consistent room layouts, mattresses, and bedding from one location to another.

3. Make your room feel homier.

“We all have sleep-onset associations — things that help us fall asleep each night, such as a certain kind of pillow, sleeping on a certain side of the bed, and so on,” says Schneeberg. “If we can bring along some of those things to a hotel, we may sleep better because they cue sleep for us.”

If you’re a frequent traveler, Schneeberg suggests adding some readily portable items to your bedtime routine at home, with an eye toward packing them for future trips. Her suggestions: “Perhaps a lavender sachet near your bed? An e-reader on the night setting with some books downloaded? A pillowcase made of a particular fabric, such as silk, flannel, or cotton jersey?”

If you’re traveling solo, remember those who make home where your heart is. “Bring a nice photo of you and your loved ones, such as your significant other, children, parents, or pets,” says John Breese, CEO of Happysleephead. “If your pre-bed ritual at home includes talking about your day with your partner or reading bedtime stories to your kids, call them and do that — just keep in mind the possible time difference.”

If you’re traveling with children, follow their usual bedtime routine as much as possible. “For example, serve similar bedtime snacks, pack their security objects, and bring along the books you usually read to your children at home,” says Schneeberg. “Do things in the same order, too.” So, if your children first put on their PJs, then brush their teeth, and then cuddle with a stuffed animal while listening to a bedtime story at home, stick with the script while away.

4. Set your senses to sleep mode.

Just like at home, you’ll sleep better in a hotel room that’s quiet, dark, and cool (60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit). To safeguard your slumber, Chait recommends packing earplugs and a sleep mask. She adds, “It’s also OK to ask for a room change if you find yourself in a particularly noisy room.”

Come prepared to mask unpleasant smells as well. “The chemicals used to clean hotel rooms and detergents used for bedding laundry may have an off-putting smell,” says Breese. “Adding a familiar scent can make you more comfortable. Use a fragrant room spray or another source of fragrance similar to the one you use at home.”

5. Get up if sleep still eludes you.

What if you take these steps and still have trouble dozing off or falling back to sleep after a middle-of-the-night awakening? Lying there staring at the ceiling and running through an endless loop of negative thoughts isn’t going to help. “Get out of bed and move to a chair,” says Chait. “Read quietly, listen to music, or do something else that’s calm and not stimulating.”

One thing you could do while you're up is practice a relaxing breathing technique. In a recent study, healthy adults spent 15 minutes before bedtime using either a phone app that led them through a slow-paced breath exercise or a social media app. The breath exercise involved inhaling slowly (about 4 seconds) through the nose and exhaling a little more slowly (about 5 seconds) through pursed lips. After a month, subjective sleep quality had improved in the breath exercise group, but not the social media group.

Once you're feeling drowsy, go back to bed and try again.

The strategies for sleeping well in a hotel are essentially the same as those for snoozing soundly at home. But they may take more forethought when you’re out of your element, so plan ahead to enjoy the hotel stay of your dreams.

References

Laborde, S., Hosang, T., Mosley, E., & Dosseville, F. (2019). Influence of a 30-day slow-paced breathing intervention compared to social media use on subjective sleep quality and cardiac vagal activity. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(2), 193. doi:10.3390/jcm8020193

Mao, Z., Yang, Y., & Wang, M. (2018). Sleepless nights in hotels? Understanding factors that influence hotel sleep quality. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 74, 189-201. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2018.05.002