Sleep hacks: How to get a good night’s sleep while traveling

The thrill of staying in that swanky four-star suite quickly fades when you find yourself staring at the ceiling at 2am waiting to fall asleep. But there’s some good news here (of sorts): it’s not you, it’s science! Studies have shown that most people have trouble falling asleep in a new and unfamiliar environment, even a fancy hotel room. Throw in issues like jet lag and it’s no wonder travelers can end up tossing and turning.

Besides being unfamiliar, a hotel room offers a different environment from what you may be accustomed to in your bedroom at home. Mattress firmness, blanket types, pillow thickness, room temperature, ambient sound (or lack of), lights, are all an important part of our sleep setting. And while hotel’s often invest in top quality mattresses, pillows and other sleep aids, it can still take some getting used to.

So what’s a road-warrior planner to do? And what advice can you give sleep-troubled attendees? Start before you arrive at your destination with a little planning to head off any potential sleep issues. For instance, if you’re sensitive to sounds, call the hotel and let them know. They might have the perfect room in mind, away from hallway noises and clanging elevator doors. Pack some earplugs just in case the hotel is fully booked with no flexibility to change rooms. Another strategy is to mask any outside noise by bringing a portable white noise machine, or downloading a white noise app on your phone.

Another issue that can keep travelers up in unfamiliar hotel rooms is light, like the shadow from a curtain that won’t close completely, or the blue light from a bedside radio. Request a room with black-out shades (more hotels feature them now), or bring a sleep mask to ward off any strange glows.

Hotel linens are made to withstand lots of cycles in industrial grade washers and dryers, meaning they can sometimes feel stiffer or scratchier than your soft percales back home. As a last line of defense between your skin and potentially rough sheets, pack your most comfortable jammies. Of course, you want to make sure they’re appropriate to the climate of your destination. Flannel is great in Minnesota but not so much in Cancun. Oh, and toss in a pair of cashmere socks (your toes will thank me).

Once you’re at the hotel, there are things you can do to relax and get your sleepytime mood going. Shut down your screens (laptops, phones, tv), take a hot bath or shower, and sip some herbal tea. Lower your thermostat – 65 degrees is ideal for sleeping – and snuggle into bed. If, after all this, you’re still awake and restless after 15 or 30 minutes, get up and stretch, meditate, read a book, something productive but calming. When you start to feel drowsy and the yawns start coming, lie down and (hopefully) drift off into blissful sleep.

Photo credits: futuristman /

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and blogger based in San Jose, California. He has covered the meetings and hospitality industry extensively since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @jcax01

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