Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 02 2016

Why You Have So Much Trouble Sleeping When You’re Traveling

Staci Wuokko

Staying in a hotel should feel incredible. You can order dinner directly to your door. You can enjoy an expansive view of the city below. You don’t have to make the bed in the morning. And if you’re traveling for work, you don’t even have to worry about the bill.

However, all those perks fail to produce the most basic function of a hotel: delivering a good night of sleep. Now, a new study published in Current Biology reveals why many travelers cannot manage to make it through the night without waking up. According to research conducted by four scientists from Brown University, the left hemisphere of your brain may actually remain alert while sleeping in a new place. The left side of the brain is tied to thinking related to vigilance. So, no matter how luxurious your hotel might look and feel, your brain isn’t convinced of the environment’s safety. The good news? By the second night, the left side of the brain begins to calm down.

Still, that first night is essential. If you’re traveling for an early morning meeting and flying home, the first night is also the only night. Your brain needs to shut itself off in order to help your body prepare for the next day of negotiations for that important deal or the presentation you’re delivering to the Board. While you can’t beat science, you can take some strong steps toward helping your brain feel more comfortable as soon as you arrive. Here are a few tricks I use while I’m on the road.

1) Bring a sleep mask. Do they look funny? Yes. Should you care? No. I bring a black sleeping mask with me when I’m traveling. No matter how tightly I close the blinds, light pollution can still creep in, so the mask is a struggling sleeper’s best friend. Here it is on Amazon for the friendly price of $12.

2) Don’t bring the digital devices to bed. I know you want to catch up on all the episodes of Game of Thrones on your iPad, but the Stark family isn’t going to help you fall asleep. In fact, nothing from any screen is going to help you rest. Medical professionals recommend powering down your tablets, smartphones and laptops. A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that e-readers prolong the time it takes to fall asleep, delay the circadian clock, suppress levels of melatonin and delay the timing of REM sleep. That’s a pretty terrible list of effects. And the TV isn’t a solution, either. I recommend reading an old-fashioned book with physical pages to eliminate the glow of a screen.

3) Bring ear plugs. Despite all the steps you might take, the guest staying in the room next to you might not be as concerned about getting the right amount of sleep. So pack a set of cheap ear plugs to help drown out the noise. Just make sure you adjust the volume of your alarm so that combatting the first night woes won’t lead to you to waking up late in a panic on your first morning.

You aren’t the only one who needs sleep. Check out “How Sleep Affects Attendee Engagement.”

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