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How Business Travelers Can Get Their Best Night’s Sleep in a Hotel Room–Ever

January 13th, 2017 /

As hard as it is to be away from home, I’ve grown to appreciate my bedtime routine when I’m traveling for work: I order caffeine-free hot tea, take a warm shower, relax with a book or podcast, and fall asleep. But the simplicity of that process belies how hard I struggled to achieve it. I’ve dealt with years of travel-related insomnia caused by jet lag or stress, and it’s been a long journey toward getting bedtime to be something I look forward to instead of something I dread.

If you’re dealing with sleep issues, all I can promise you is that it’s worth experimenting with a few changes to your routine. These don’t have to be drastic, but, if you practice them consistently, not only are you likely to sleep better, your trip will probably go a lot more smoothly.

Plan Ahead

At the absolute minimum, start by avoiding red eye flights. Caring for yourself means understanding and honoring your needs—especially when it comes to sleep. You can also use the hotel booking process to your advantage:

  • Book in nicer hotels. A stay at a four- or five-star hotel means you’ll have more amenities—from a better mattress to more pillows—plus a staff that’s dedicated to the quality of your stay.
  • Choose top floor, away from the elevator. Booking with online travel agencies won’t give you this option, so I’d suggest using other avenues. You’ll have a better shot at a quiet night.
  • Save your bedtime preferences online. If you’re a rewards member at your favorite hotel, you can often save your requests for a king-size mattress, firm pillows, extra blankets, or what have you. The room tends to feel a little homier this way.

You’ll also want to keep a set bedtime—this goes without saying, but it’s the piece of advice I struggled with the most. It sounds like a prescription for a fussy five-year-old. It honestly does help, though. Regardless of timezone or location, I try to structure my days so that I’m asleep by 11 pm EST every night. The set hours keep the worst of the jet lag at bay.

make sleeping in a hotel room easier by bringing a piece of home along

Bring along a familiar pillowcase from home to make your hotel bed much more comfortable. Image by Flickr user Rebecca Siegel (CC BY 2.0)

What to Bring Along

While nicer hotels tend to include fine linens, it may benefit you to bring along a pillowcase or two from home. The familiar smell and feel often lulls you to sleep more easily than a starched hotel pillow would. I’ve also talked to colleagues who use scents as sleep aids. Spritzing your sheets with a linen spray that includes lavender essential oil can send a Pavlovian “bedtime” cue to your brain if you do it consistently enough.

Earplugs, on the other hand, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Especially if I can’t sleep, I still tend to hear absolutely everything that’s happening on my floor. Instead, I use a white noise mix that I play from an app on my phone and project via auxiliary cable through the hotel’s stereo.

You’ll also want to invest a little time in making your room as dark as possible. Most hotels incorporate blackout curtains, but I find it difficult to keep little slivers of light out of my room, so I bring along four clothespins to keep curtains in place when necessary. I also carry a pad of sticky notes, which I use to cover the blinking lights of electronics during the night—tv, clock, phone, laptop, and so on. (Pro tip: use a small stack of sticky notes for each light. One usually isn’t thick enough.)

if you're asking yourself how to sleep in a hotel room, also ask what you should bring along

Save your bed for sleep and stick to a regular bedtime routine, no matter where you lay your head. Image by Flickr user John Cooke (CC BY 2.0)

Set Your Routine

Also keep in mind a few things you shouldn’t do at bedtime. Try to reserve your bed for sleep only—no checking emails or making phone calls. You can do those things from the chair in the corner. Only get into bed when you’re ready to fall asleep.

It’s also incredibly helpful to cease screen time 90 minutes before you plan to sleep. Yes, that means no taking your phone to bed with you. I enjoy reading books on my Kindle Paperwhite (which doesn’t use blue light) or bringing along a hard copy of whatever I’m reading. If I’m going to watch TV, I try to do so before this time cutoff. Avoid alcohol—nightcaps aren’t as effective as you might think. Instead, order a warm, non-caffeinated drink and place the “do not disturb” sign outside your door once it arrives.

how to sleep in a hotel room by following a set routine

Ditch the screens and take part in calming nighttime activities before bed. Image by Flickr user Petra Bensted (CC BY 2.0)

Make Sleep a Priority at Home and Away

The main problem is that we tend to think of rest as a luxury. Consistent, high-quality sleep is honestly one of the best ways I can prepare for meetings and ensure the quality of my performance. It’s a necessity—and you’re not impressing anyone with your ability to run on coffee and a three-hour nap.

I’d also wholeheartedly recommend a membership with JetLux. For a flat annual fee, you can receive significant discounts at luxury hotels across the US. A nice hotel room is a powerful incentive to rest at the end of a long day, and you don’t have to feel guilty about exceeding your per diem. JetLux also offers personal reservationists that will help get your room set up exactly how you like it. Sleep should never be an area in which you cut corners.

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