We are all pretty much accustomed to our own beds. No other bed, no matter how well made, is apt to feel quite as naturally good and comfortable as our own. We are also accustomed to our own dwellings, bathrooms, bedding, furnishings and lighting. All of these things taken together help to explain why it is so common for people to have trouble getting a good night’s sleep when they are away from home – especially when staying in a commercial establishment (hotel, motel or B&B). To complicate matters further, many of us travel alone and sleep alone only when we are away. The combination of ingredients is frequently not conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. However, this does not mean that there is nothing you can do to help improve the chances of getting a restful night when you are traveling – even when alone.
Sleeping in a hotel usually has little if anything to do with the other, more common reasons and criteria by which we choose a hotel. Proximity to other things (unless they are particularly noisy), complimentary meals, snacks and happy hours, exercise and health facilities and general level of upkeep and presentation aren’t the variables that make the biggest differences in how well you will be able to sleep there – rather, they are variables that may well have consequence for how well you enjoy your waking hours there – and that is not what we’re talking about.
Hotels can be very accommodating – but to be so, you need to be as explicit as possible about what you require. For example, if you are a light sleeper the level of quietness of the room is of the essence. Therefore, it might well be appropriate, when making a reservation, to ask for as quiet a room as possible. Specifically, this would mean asking for a room that 1) faces away from any overtly noisy highways, etc., 2) is not close to either an ice/vending machine or the elevator and 3) is upstairs whenever possible- minimizing the 24-hour a day noise associated with parking lots and folks coming and going at all hours. These are pretty simple and straight forward requests – ones that most hotels are happy to honor – But, you have to ask for them.
Likewise, if you are irritated by the smell of stale smoke, be certain to request a non-smoking room. All hotels have them but, again, you have to make your own preferences explicit. Once these criteria are expressed and noted by the person taking the reservation, if you arrive and find your assigned room to be out-of-line with any of these things, refuse it. I have never stayed at a hotel that has refused to move me if I tell them, that the room they have given me is unacceptable. If it isn’t what you want, need and have asked for, do not feel compelled to accept it. The hotel is in the ‘service/hospitality” industry and they are aware that their reputation depends, nearly entirely, on pleasing their guests.
No matter how good the quality of the mattress and bedding are, it still won’t feel like home so sleeping will come less easily. This inevitable situation can be at least partially remedied by bringing one of your own pillows along in your suitcase. Having a familiar pillow can help make the entire going-to-sleep experience smoother and more effective.
Because we are not familiar, as we are at home, with the lay-out of the room, the sense that we might stumble into something if we get up at night to go to the bathroom can add a degree of anxiety at bedtime – not a severe one usually, but not uncommonly enough to interfere with a good night’s sleep. So, consider bringing a small night light from home. The usual alternatives like leaving the bathroom light on and closing the door are less satisfactory and likely to make it harder to sleep well as more light remains on that you would really like.
Finally, remember that the same things that might make it more difficult for you to get to or to stay asleep at home pertain in hotels as well. Eating or drinking heavily too close to getting into bed will not help you get to or stay asleep. If you are in the habit of reading for a while before turning in, do so while on the road as well. If you know that watching TV right before turning your lights off leaves your brain a bit too active to allow for sleep to come as quickly as you like, remember that this applies wherever you are sleeping – or trying to.
For those who, even doing all of these things, continue to experience difficulty getting a good night’s sleep in a hotel, some medicine might be worth considering – especially if you are traveling between time zones and your ‘body-clock’ has been thrown off. A swim in the pool or soak in the spa (if there is one) or in the bathtub (if there is not) actually helps reset your body clock after traveling distances across time zones. Over-the-counter preparations like Benadryl help a lot of people sleep and the issue is definitely within the purview of what is appropriate to discuss with your own physician if you travel a good deal and may need something that requires a prescription from time to time to assure a decent night’s sleep.
There could be a lot more. What you need to be able to sleep in a hotel is best known to you. The basic rules of thumb are simple. 1) Prepare and bring along/pack anything you feel might help, and 2) request/insist on accommodations that you know will improve the chances of getting the good night’s sleep you will need to feel rested and at your best the next morning.