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Sleeping in a hotel room can be a miserable endeavor, and people will do whatever they can to make it better.
Sleeping in a hotel room can be a miserable endeavor, and people will do whatever they can to make it better.Dave Block

Earlier this month, GV senior operating partner Rick Klau tweeted a hotel room hack that went viral.

“I don't remember who posted this on Twitter a few years ago, but whoever you are: you have improved every night I've spent in a hotel since,” Klau posted on Oct. 3, along with a photo of a hanger with clips holding curtains closed.

The message sent by the tweet’s more than 403,000 likes and more than 73,000 retweets? Sleeping in a hotel room is a miserable endeavor, and people will do whatever they can to make it better.

Of course, luxury hotels offer options: The Four Seasons, for example, boasts blackout shades and double-walled windows for soundproofing, and partnered with Simmons Bedding Company on an exclusive mattress. The recently opened Equinox Hotel in New York City features a “proprietary sleep system” that includes, beyond blackout blinds, soundproofing, and a mattress handcrafted from natural materials, an in-room guide to rituals for falling asleep or waking up and a consultation with a sleep coach.

But what if you don’t want to pay for a ridiculously fancy sleep experience and still want to snooze on vacation?

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Make your hotel room feel like your home

Most people have trouble sleeping in any new place, including hotels, because of what’s called the “first-night effect,” said Dr. Aarti Grover, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine physician at Tufts Medical Center. “From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s because, as humans, one part of the brain stays awake . . . to be alert and to be safe and because you are in a new environment,” she said. “Especially if you are new to a hotel, if this is your first time at any specific hotel, you can have that effect.”

In order to help the hotel room seem as familiar as possible, aim to continue your regular routine, Grover said. For example, if you always sleep on the left side of the bed at home, do so in your hotel room, too. The same goes for showering or reading a chapter of a book before bed.

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Another way to keep up your routine, said Grover, is to bring along anything that feels or smells like your bedroom, from your pillow or pillowcase to aromatherapy.

The brain’s pineal gland releases the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin in response to darkness.
The brain’s pineal gland releases the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin in response to darkness.

“We don't realize things like that are in our bedrooms, because we are used to them — until [we] leave the space and have this new smell that’s hard to get used to,” she said.

Meagan Murray, a Boston-based blogger behind travel-focused The Stopover, follows a routine both at home and in a hotel that can involve taking a bath with lavender essential oils and lighting a candle. She’s partial to Charleston, S.C.-founded company Candlefish’s tin candles, which are small and come with lids, making them easy to travel with.

“Most of the time I throw it in my tennis shoe just so it doesn't take up any extra space when I’m packing my carry-on,” she said.

Rid the room of light

Grover agrees that luxury hotels are onto something with their darkness-inducing blackout shades. The brain’s pineal gland releases the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin in response to darkness.

But as Klau pointed out through his tweet, you don’t need specific shades in order to make your hotel room darker. In his Twitter photo, Klau clipped curtains using a hanger. Murray said she’s used safety pins for this particular purpose, and she travels with an eye mask.

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Block out the noise, as well

Late-night arrivers’ chitchat, vending machines’ bangs, and outside cars’ zooms can all affect your sleep quality in hotels. Murray vividly recalls a stay during which she roomed directly across from the elevator bank and near the ice machine.

“It was the circumstance of one thing after another snowballing into just not sleeping well at all,” she said. “Oh my gosh, just thinking about it right now, I’m getting tired.”

Murray said that’s the night she learned to pack ear plugs — the hot pink ones you can buy in bulk — adding that, anytime she’s forgotten them, “I've had a pretty good rate of just calling down to the front desk or housekeeping or whoever I need to call at the hotel, and they tend to have ear plugs.”

If possible, Grover recommended calling ahead to request a room far from elevators and vending machines and on a top floor, away from the street noise.

The general expert recommendation for sleep temperature is between 65 and 72 degrees.
The general expert recommendation for sleep temperature is between 65 and 72 degrees.

Get to know the thermostat

Thermoregulation is the process that maintains the body’s core temperature, and it’s based on circadian rhythm, explains Grover. Our body temperature starts dropping later in the day, and that cooler core temperature helps us fall asleep.

That means you need to chill out quite literally in order to get your best slumber, so don’t be afraid to play with the temperature control in your hotel room. Grover said the general expert recommendation for sleep temperature is between 65 and 72 degrees.

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