Sleeping in a new place can be tough, especially if you’re traveling on and off col year. In fact, approximately 60 million individuals in the U.S. alone suffer from sleep disorders or sleep deprivation, both of which are sometimes made worse by travel.
Interestingly enough, a new study was just published that helps explain that phenomenon.
According to researchers from Brown University, it’s because the brain stays partially awake when sleeping in a new place for the first time.
Researchers observed the brain activity of 35 young, healthy individuals during deep sleep, and found that during the first night of sleep in a new environment, the left hemisphere of the brain stays partially active.
They deemed the activity a sort of “night watch” for the brain.
Because the environment is so new, and we’re most vulnerable when sleeping, the brain stays partially alert in the event that a potentially dangerous situation occurs.
However, that opens up the question as to if there is a way to get a good night’s sleep while traveling.
According to Rebecca Robbins, The Benjamin Hotel’s sleep expert, there is a way to get those 40 winks when you’re sleeping somewhere new.
Travel-induced insomnia is something the luxury hotel in Manhattan takes very seriously. In fact, they even hired a sleep concierge to help answer any slumber-related questions or concerns that guests may have.
In addition, the hotel sought the expertise of sleep researcher, consultant, and Sleep For Success author Rebecca Robbins to further assist in their quest for restful nights for all guests.
Robbins said that the first step to sleeping well in any space is to make yourself feel like you’re at home. Take a picture of family or friends with you, and a few other essential items from your personal environment.
She’s also a strong advocate of snacks before bed, but never alcohol.
“The term nightcap drives me crazy! It’s the worst thing you can do before bed. Alcohol is one of what I like to call the three cardinal sins of sleep, which are stress, stimulants, and screens before bed,” she explained. “Alcohol is an REM sleep inhibitor—it pulls your body out of rapid-eye movement sleep, which is where all of the benefits of sleep come in to play.”
Roughly 949 million gallons of wine were consumed in the U.S. in 2016. Though a glass of wine every once in a while is fine — especially if it’s ‘Pleasant Peasant,’ a 100% Carignan from vines planted in the early 1900s — but right before bed is never a good idea.
She also advised against taking any red eye flights — no matter how tempting they may be — because they can seriously destroy a sleep schedule.
She said that when traveling to a new time zone, everyone should do some preparation. “Start about five days before your trip starts, and pull your bedtime back 15 minutes each night. That’ll help you adjust and ease your transition.”
Adhering to Robbins’s sleep tips just may help you get a better night’s sleep when traveling, but it doesn’t change the fact that subconscious instincts may still keep your brain partially awake.
Researchers observed that mammals like whales, dolphins, and birds exhibit the same kind of behavior.