How to Sleep Better in Hotel Rooms

5 Strategies for Better Sleep While Traveling

Podcast Episode # 6

 by Brad Kammlah

In this Episode, You'll Learn:

  • The Impact Sleep is Having on Travelers
  • Why it’s hard to sleep the first night in a hotel room
  • How to cure “Hotel Room Insomnia”
  • What hotel rooms to avoid for better sleep
  • How to fix common hotel room issues that might keep you awake

Can You Relate to these Travel Sleep Issues?

Have you ever had one of those sleepless nights in a hotel room thinking… “If can just fall asleep now, I’ll still have 5 hours of sleep.” And then repeating that every hour as you painfully watch your sleep time diminishing? Or maybe you just have trouble sleeping the first night in a new hotel but can sleep fine after that? Or do you keep waking up because your hotel room is across from the ice machine?

I too have had many of these sleepless nights. There was the night where my room was too close to the elevator and I heard it creaking all night long. Another night, I was in Houston in the middle of summer and the air conditioning broke. That’s definitely not a recipe for good sleep. And there was yet another night where my entire hotel room was shaking and not from an earthquake, but from the HVAC units on the roof that shook the entire room!

Well it turns out, we’re not alone. It seems that most people have trouble sleeping while traveling.

Travel Is REALLY Bad for Sleep

Mark Rosenkind, the former head of NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasure Group, did a study a few years ago of travelers crossing 2 or more time zones and traveling 2 to 4 days. They found that:

  • Travelers only slept about 5 hours the night before the trip
  • Over half of travelers fell asleep unintentionally on the trip
  • Their performance decreased by 20% due to lack of sleep
  • By the time they returned home, they had lost a total of 8 hours of sleep time

It’s not just that sleeping badly in a hotel room is annoying, it dramatically affects our productivity and our performance. It’s time that we start to find ways to sleep better while we’re traveling. So we’re going to outline 5 Strategies to start sleeping better in hotel rooms.

5 Strategies for Sleeping Better in Hotel Rooms

While we can’t control everything on our trip, there are a few things we can control when it comes to sleep. And we are going to focus on “controlling the controllables” the things that we can control that will go a long way to helping us get a better night’s rest.

#1 Control the Room

I’ve found that most of the time when I have trouble sleeping at a hotel, it’s usually due to just getting a bad room. Maybe it’s too close to the pool or on a noisy side of the hotel. Here are some things you can do to ensure you get the best room possible.

Ask for a Quiet Room when Checking In

You’ve likely already made a room preference when you booked your hotel, but it’s a good idea to reiterate them directly to the front desk as you’re checking in.

What I usually do as I’m checking in is ask them for a quiet room away from the elevator. But you likely have your own room type preference that works best for you and mentioning it again as you check in can help ensure you get the room you’re looking for.

Look for Warning Signs on the Way to your Hotel Room

Now that you’ve got your room key, it’s a good idea to look for any potential issues on the way to your room that might keep you up at night.

Watch out for any of these that might be too close to your room:

  • Ice Machine
  • Laundry Room
  • Elevator
  • Gym
  • Pool
  • Housekeeping
  • HVAC Room

If you happen to get a room too close to any of these things I’d recommend heading back downstairs and asking if they wouldn’t mind switching your room to somewhere a bit quieter.

Check your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

Once your inside your room, be sure to take a few minutes and check for bed bugs. Nothing will make sleeping harder than these little guys biting you all night.

If you need some tips on how to look for these, check out Episode 5: How to Check your Room for Bed Bugs.

Make Sure your Room Smells Good

Surprisingly, strong smells can also keep you awake at night. So take a second and make sure there isn’t any cigarette smoke or strong cleaning smells in your room that might bother you.

If it’s really bad, I always ask for a different room. But if it’s just mildly off-putting you can take a coffee filter and place it on the air conditioning vent. The coffee beans help neutralize any strange smells in the room.

Listen for Loud Noises

Lastly, take just a moment, be completely still and listen. Do you hear any weird, strange or loud noises that might keep you up at night?

Listen for:

  • Loud HVAC units outside the window
  • Loud street noise
  • Loud neighbors
  • Anything else that might bother you when you’re trying to sleep

Switch Rooms Before You Unpack

If notice any issues that might keep you up, change rooms now! Don’t wait till 2 am when you’re already unpacked, in your pajamas and tossing and turning. Save yourself the hassle and find a better room now.

#2 Control the Noise

Even after you’ve selected a good hotel room, sometimes it’s just still too noisy to sleep. It can be a door closing in the hall, a blaring the TV from the room next door or street noise from outside. Either way, there are some things you can do to help cover up that noise so you can sleep better.

Set Your Smart Phone to to Do Not Disturb Mode

First, let’s eliminate interruptions from our own phone. This can be particularly problematic when traveling across many time zone. I remember when I was in Amsterdam, the night before really big speaking engagement and I forgot to turn my notifications off so I was getting text messages at 2 am even though it was early afternoon back home.

I really like the “Do Not Disturb” Mode on iPhones because it turns off all notifications but you can still use the alarm and you can allow certain notifications from family members to come through in case of emergencies.

Screenshot of the "Do Not Disturb" mode on an iPhone.

You can access the Do Not Disturb mode on your iPhone by swiping up from the home screen. More detailed adjustments can be made within Settings App / Do Not Disturb.

Create Ambient Noise

One of the best ways to sleep better anywhere is to have some constant room noise that will cover up any sporadic sounds that make wake you up. This can either be an app on your phone or mechanical noise like a fan.

There are tons of apps that make rain sounds, white noise or try to mimic mechanical noises. Unfortunately these apps don’t help me sleep any better. I think it’s because the sound is coming from a small speaker on your phone instead of filling the room. But give them a try because they may work well for you.

Mechanical noise works the best for me and my favorite trick is to switch the fan to the “always on” mode on the air conditioner. This keeps the fan running in the background even if the a/c or heater isn’t running and creates a nice soothing sound that covers up a lot of other noises.

And you can even go a step further and bring your own Travel Mechanical Ambient Noise Machines like the Marpac Dohm-DS. These devices create a true mechanical ambient sound not from a speaker and have worked wonders for a few of my colleagues who otherwise can’t sleep in hotel rooms. So it the fan from the a/c isn’t enough, you may try this.

Small ambient noise device about the size of a smoke detector.

Wear Ear Plugs

If it’s still too noisy in the room even after turning on the a/c fan, I get out my ear plugs.  I like the foam expandable kind and I am currently using The Ear Buddy Soft Ear Plugs. I like these because they are soft, comfortable, light-weight and I can easily bring a dozen with me.

Tim Ferris prefers the Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs and I’ve tried them but they were too sticky for me and they didn’t seem to be any more effective than the foam ear plugs but you may want to give both  a try and see which ones you like better.

Call the Front Desk

Sometimes you just have to be the bad guy and call the front desk. I always hate doing this, but often it can be the only thing that will work to actually keep the noise down.

#3 Control the Light

There are tons of studies on how much light affects our sleep and it’s pretty clear that sleeping in a darker room allows you to sleep better.

A Keep the Curtains Closed with a Coat Hanger Clip

Often the most annoying things in a hotel is that bright light from the parking lot streaming through the gap in the curtains. My favorite hacks here is to use a coat hanger with the spring loaded clips to clamp the curtains closed. I’ve written an article about how to do this – The Hotel Curtain Clip

B Wear an Eye Mask

I can’t sleep with these, they just annoy me, but most travelers love them so I think I’m in the minority here. The great thing about these is they are great for sleeping on planes as well.

C Use Night Mode on Your Phone

Most sleep experts also talk about how much blue light from electronic devices interferes with our sleep. I started scheduling the Night Mode setting on my phone to kick in every night automatically and I have noticed it does seem to make some difference.

D Create your own Bathroom Night Light

If it’s too dark in the room that can be a problem if you have to get up in the middle of the night to get something. If your hotel doesn’t have a night light, you can easily create one by turning on the bathroom light and closing the door. This allows just enough light to get through the bottom of the door so you can see if you get up in the night.

#4 Control the Temperature

Studies have found that we sleep best when the room is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. So crank that a/c down and start sleeping better.

You may also want to avoid sleeping with the window open because as the temperature fluctuates during the night, the change can easily wake you up.

#5 Control the Body & Mind

I always wondered why I can’t sleep the first night in a new hotel but after reading this Smithsonian article, it turns out that I’m not the only one. According to scientists, our brain actually stays “half awake” when we are sleeping in new environment to watch out for danger. So to help us sleep better, we need to do a few additional things to help us relax.

Relax the Body:

Caffeine & Alcohol: While most people recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol, it really seems that everyone responds differently. If I drink caffeine after 1 pm, then I can’t sleep at all, but I have friends who can drink a double espresso at midnight and go right to sleep. So do try experimenting with this and do whatever works for you.

Exercise Improves Sleep: Another finding from the study by the former NASA scientist we mentioned earlier found that exercise improves performance by 61%. So finding even a little time to exercise on the road can go a long way to sleeping better and being more productive.

Midnight Snack:  Diet fads have scared all of us into thinking that if we eat anything before bed it is immediately going to make us fat, but it’s just not true. And it has been proven that carbs help boost our serotonin levels which help us sleep better. So don’t be afraid to bring a snack back to your room just in case you have trouble sleeping. They key here is to pick something with some carbs, but with very little sugar or it might cause your blood sugar to fluctuate too much and wake you back up. I’ve found almonds or a protein bar works well for me.

Relax the Mind:

It can also help to take a few minutes, unwind and let go of all the stress from traveling. So any form of meditation or yoga works great.

I often use these meditation apps for about 2-5 minutes when I first get in bed to help relax and de-stress from the day.

Calm Meditation App

Image of the Calm App for Smartphones.

Relax Meditation App

Image of the Relax Meditation App for Smartphones.

Well that’s it, 5 Strategies for Sleeping Better in Hotel Rooms. I hope these help you sleep better on your next trip!

Thanks so much for listening and

Happy Travels!


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