Why we don't sleep well in a new location & how to fix
If you have ever traveled or moved, you probably know how tough it can be to sleep well in a hotel room or a new home. Scientists think this occurs because one side of your brain stays half awake during the first night in an unfamiliar place.
Yuka Sasaki and her team at Brown University investigated this first-night effect for a study published in the journal Current Biology. They brought 35 people to their sleep lab for one night and then again a week later for another night. While participants slept, the researchers measured activity in both of their brain hemispheres.
During the first night in the lab, participants’ left hemispheres seemed to sleep more lightly than their right hemispheres. The left hemispheres also appeared more sensitive to sounds the scientists played in the lab.
When they returned to sleep at the lab a week later, participants’ brain activity was more consistent between hemispheres. This may be because they had become accustomed to the lab surroundings.
The good news is that the human brain is flexible, and activity during sleep in new places can even out with frequent travel.
“Thus, people who often are in new places may not necessarily have poor sleep on a regular basis,” Sasaki says in a statement.
If you tend to have problems sleeping away from home, simple strategies can help you get over first-night tossing and turning.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a licensed neuropsychologist in New York City, recommends that people bring with them something familiar, such as “the nighties they would wear regularly, a pillowcase that smells like their room at home, the tea they would usually drink before bed.”
It is also a good habit to keep your regular bedtime routine when sleeping away from home. “If you groom before bed, moisturize or like to shower before hitting the hay, maintain those presleep activities,” Hafeez says.
Travelers should make their new surroundings as comfortably familiar as they can, says Dr. Marc I. Leavey, a sleep expert at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. For example, try to book a hotel room with the same size bed as your bed at home. If you’re used to sleeping in a king-size bed, a double or twin may feel strange.
“If the bed is not comfortable, don’t be afraid to ask a hotel for another room,” he recommends.
Paying attention to bedding options is also important. “Hotels … may not have the bedding you are used to, so add or subtract blankets, quilts, and comforters, as well as try to choose pillows that are comfortable for you,” he says.
Leavey also recommends making sure a hotel room is as dark as your bedroom back home. Packing a night-light for the trip may be a good idea, he says.
“And then, relax,” Leavey says. “Try to accept any minor encumbrances secure in the knowledge that you will be in your own bed soon. So close your eyes and allow yourself to drift off to sleep in the new place.”
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