Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2024
Hotels and sleep I spend much of my time travelling, lecturing about the importance of sleep, this inevitably means that I spend many nights staying in hotels. To me the most important part of a hotel is the ability to get a good night’s sleep, I am only sleeping there because I cannot get home and sleep in my own bed. You would therefore think that hotels would do as much as they could to provide their weary travellers with a peaceful, relaxing, comfortable place to sleep. Some hotels give the impression that they want to help you sleep, for instance giving you a small vial of lavender spray for your pillows. Other hotels have put a big topper on an otherwise pretty awful mattress to give you an initial sensation of comfort, others offer a pillow ‘menu’, (if they were serious about good sleep wouldn’t it be better to offer a mattress menu?). However, in general many hotels seem to spend much more on their TVs than on the mattress/bed, and it is certainly true that some chain hotels spend less on the mattress than you are spending on a single night staying with them. It is perhaps obvious that a hotel in a noisy area may have problems with external noise that could disturb your sleep, a recent stay in a hotel in the Diamond district of Tel Aviv was marred by the extreme volume of the worse type of euro pop blasting from a nearby bar which needed the police to be called to have the noise turned down, the sad thing was that the night manager was not at all surprised by my request as it had happened many times before. A seemingly less obvious problem of hotel rooms is the noise generated within the room, e.g. from air-conditioning and the mini-bar and particularly due to poor sound insulation between rooms, for instance I recently stayed in a nice modern 4* hotel in Vienna, the location was good the rooms were nice and the bed comfortable but my stay was marred because even though the TV in the room was only about 28” I could clearly hear the TV in the room next to me, resulting in having to call the front desk to ask them to turn the volume down, I could of course also clearly hear the telephone ring and voices of the occupants. This in my view is unacceptable and even more so because the TV’s were so small, illustrating how poorly the sound attenuation had been designed. On a recent business trip to Scotland I stayed in 3 independent 3* hotels over 3 nights, I had 1) a twin room with small single beds, 2) a room near the indoor pool which smelt of chlorine and 3) a wedding reception disco till midnight clearly audible in the room coupled with a window overlooking the noisy extractor fan from the kitchen. If I book my own hotels, I have a preference for staying in one of the budget chains, specifically because they lack potential sleep disturbers, such as air-conditioning, mini-bars, discos and the fact that their TVs are so weedy you never hear what the person in the next room is watching. The company also inform you when you are booking a hotel if there is a problem with noise from traffic or nearby bars and clubs, OK the beds aren’t the not the most luxurious but they are not bad and so at least I stand a chance of getting some sleep. A hotel that provides good quality beds would be a good place to start. Unbelievably I recently heard of a nice hotel in southern England that charges over £150 per night where you get to sleep on a mattress that is 20 years old! The National Sleep Foundation did a survey in 2012 (here) of the bedroom environment and one of the questions they asked the survey panel was whether several elements of their sleep experience better in their own bedroom or at a quality hotel room, the poll reveals that a majority of Americans feel that their bedroom is better than a quality hotel room. More than one-half of respondents rate their pillows (62%), quiet room (59%), sheets (56%) and mattress (55%) as better than a quality hotel’s. Very often hotels claim to be your ‘home from home’ and yet despite their price it seems that they are worse than your home, in what would be considered to be the basic requirements for good sleep, more than half the time. The whole reason for sleeping in a hotel is that you cannot, for whatever reason, sleep in your own bed, so surely the comfort of the room from the perspective of sleep should be the very raison d’être of the hotel. Perhaps it is time for hotels to remember that they are first and foremost a place to sleep and so maybe they should devote their energies in to providing a nice, comfortable, quite place to sleep, the NSF survey mentioned above shows Nine out of ten people (93%) rate having a comfortable mattress and pillows (91%) as important to getting a good night’s sleep, followed closely by comfortable sheets (86%), a quiet room (74%) and bedroom darkness (73%). So perhaps hotels should set about providing these things and realise that the spa/restaurant/nightclub/bar/TV/rainfall shower/bath/gym equipment in the bedroom are very much secondary. So, my advice to hotels Spend more on the mattress than you spend on any other item in the bedroom Do not have guest rooms that can be disturbed by the hotel disco, bar, etc. Make sure you warn potential guest of problems with noise from roads, railways, airports, nightclubs, disco, pubs in the neighbourhood. Have proper sound attenuation room to room, corridor to room, outside to room, (doors to connecting rooms are particularly useless in attenuating noise). Making sure the heating doesn’t ‘knock’. Make sure you cannot hear the guest in the other rooms flushing their toilet or having a shower. Make sure you install silent mini-bars. Don’t put guest rooms next to, or opposite the lifts, nor next to the lift machine rooms. Don’t install sources of bright lights, e.g. clocks on TVs, docking stations, etc. Install black out curtains that actually ‘black out’. Make sure the temperature is easily controlled. Don’ t has rooms that overlook machinery, ducts, vents etc. Don’t put waterproof mattress protectors on your beds. Make sure it is possible to get fresh air in the room without increasing the noise levels to an unacceptable level. Don’t put gym equipment in the rooms, especially if you already have a gym. How to sleep in a hotel. Many years ago, scientists identified a phenomenon they termed the ‘First Night Effect’ which essentially means that sleep will be disturbed on the first night sleeping in a new place. This is because our brain is monitoring the environment for anything that it perceives as a threat, from the constant hum of the air conditioning, permanent light of the TV to random traffic noise and glow of street lights. The first night effect means that you sleep will be disturbed however ‘ideal’ the bedroom. A hotel with a comfortable sleeping environment; with fabulous mattresses, pillow menus, quality linen and adjustable air conditioning, can help us physically relax. But to get the best night sleep, hotel guests also need to be able to relax their minds. Your hotel room should be a sanctuary reserved for sleep. Make the most of the facilities; eat in the restaurant, do any work in quiet spaces or lounge areas, socialise with colleagues or friends at the bar and only head to your bedroom when you are sleepy and ready for bed. The rooms at a few particular Hotel where they have gym equipment in the room are a particularly stupid gimmick in my opinion, can you imagine the lingering odour in a room like that? Make the room temperature right for sleeping, one of the real problems with hotels is the inability to get the right temperature. Bedrooms are either too hot because the heating has been running constantly, or too cold because the hotel doesn’t heat the room prior to you checking in. Another problem is those rooms where the power goes off the minute you remove the key card meaning it is impossible to run the air-con to achieve the correct temperature. The ideal temperature should be around 16-18 o C (60-65 o F), although most hotel air-conditioning would in fact struggle to achieve this, so adjust the air conditioning, if you can, when you check in to your room. If you can open a window that’s ideal but external noise levels are often a real problem in hotels Reducing noise can really help, although many hotel appliances can’t be unplugged. To reduce noise in the room try using a pink noise App which can help mask annoying sounds, or use earplugs. Light is a signal to our body that it’s time to get up so it’s important to sleep in as dark a room as possible. If that means putting the room menu card in front of the standby light on your TV to prevent it blinking at you all night, then do it, (for wall mounted TV’s a tie or towel may be necessary). Or pack an eye mask. Many hotels have blackout blinds and curtains so use them, although often they are badly fitted and do not achieve darkness. Try to replicate you normal evening routine, it is far too easy when in a hotel to just have a pee, brush your teeth and get in the bed and watch some rubbish on TV. Take time to get unstressed for bed and relax. Have a bath/shower, read a book, listen to music. Jot anything down what you are worried about or want to remember for the next day, on that pad by the phone, (you have always wondered why they provide one). And finally, why is it when people stay in hotels they turn into such inconsiderate people of unmarried parents, walking down the corridor at all times of the night talking, even shouting, with no thought for the people who may be sleeping, even though every single room on that corridor is a bedroom! Don’t be one of these people.