According to a prominent study that I just made up for this post, we know travelers (want to) spend up to two-thirds of their vacations sleeping. But many can’t sleep in hotel rooms or, at the very least, have a hard time. With less than 10 minutes of first-day prep, you can save yourself hours of precious sleep.
Be sure to secure a room away from noisy things like elevators, ice machines, or heavy foot traffic. The best location is often at the end of a dead-end hallway, near the stairs.
Note that if you book your room through a third-party website (e.g. Expedia, Hotwire, etc.), you’re not likely to get the hotel’s choice rooms or have a say in where your room is on the property. In most cases, you simply get what you get.
Your best bet is to book directly with the hotel’s website and make sure you’re a member of their (often free) loyalty program. Loyal customers always get preferential treatment.
Hang the Do Not Disturb Tag
Once you make it to your hotel room, hang the Do Not Disturb tag immediately. Above all else, this is the first thing I do upon arrival. Housekeeping and others who hate letting people sleep may flat-out ignore that request, but it’s worth a try.
In some corners of the world (and in some, let’s call them “hotels of lesser repute”), hotels may simply not provide DnD tags. Which is why I travel with a generic one of my own that I’ve borrowed from previous stays.
For shorter stays of up to three days, hotel housekeeping will likely leave you alone if you hang the DnD tag. Anything longer and the front desk will call at some point to make sure you’re not dead.
Unplug the Hotel’s Alarm Clock
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve awoken at 3 a.m. because the previous guest must’ve worked nights at the cemetery and never turned off their own alarm. And housekeeping didn’t do it either.
Save yourself the hassle by unplugging the alarm clock immediately. It’s 2019 anyway — just use the alarm on your smartphone.
… and Unplug the Damn Phone
These days, I find the front desk increasingly likely to call out of the blue just to say hi and make sure everything’s ok. It’s a nice bit of customer service, but they have a knack for calling 30 minutes after check-in, just as I’m dozing for an afternoon nap. If you aren’t expecting any phone calls, unplug the phone.
Pack Some White Noise in Your Pocket
This one’s all about personal preference. Few things help me sleep like a baby like white noise: the hum of an air conditioner fan, a hard rain, the sultry voice of the Forensic Files narrator.
If you’re the same, download one of the many free “white noise” apps available for Android and iPhone. Or, if you’re the sort of hotshot who can afford to shop at Brookstone, opt for a dedicated white noise machine. The smallest ones (like this one from HoMedics) are affordable and packable.
Draw the Curtains the Right Way
Draw the curtains — both the inner and outer if there’s more than one set. But, for those of you who can’t sleep in hotel rooms, you knew that already.
The not-so-obvious pro tip is to always travel with a few paper binder clips (like these with strawberries and flowers on them). They’re small, lightweight, and practically free. And they keep you organized. But, for sleep purposes, they also close the inevitable gap between the curtains in your hotel room, blocking out all semblance of sleep-depriving sunlight.
Switch the Hotel AC/Heater Fan to “On”
Again, if you’re a light sleeper and/or enjoy white noise, you probably loathe the constant switching on/off of your hotel room’s HVAC system. To me, this is the bane of my hotel existence. It’s nails on a chalkboard.
The solution? Switch the HVAC system fan to “On”. Most systems have two fan settings: “On” or “Auto”. I switch it to “On” to make sure it’s not clicking on/off all night (as is this case in “Auto” mode).
Ear Plugs. All the Ear Plugs.
Right after my passport and a couple of nips of bourbon, the next thing that goes into my carry-on is a pair of earplugs. Seriously, I don’t understand how anyone — particularly those who can’t sleep in hotel rooms — travels without them. They’re cheap, packable, and comfortable (I recommend these).
Spray Your Bed
Some fancier hotels (Crowne Plaza comes to mind) are investing in signature scents. Partly for branding, but also because they have a measurable calming effect on hotel guests.
Find a scent that calms and relaxes you. Peppermint and other mint scents are a good place to start. Pack a small spray travel bottle of it and spritz your bed before lying down each night. It won’t work for everyone, but even a little sleep advantage is better than none.
(Full disclosure: I don’t actually use this tip because I only travel with Axe Body Spray and that doesn’t calm anyone. But, there is some science to back it up, and in the fancier hotel rooms in which I’ve stayed that do this, it seems to help.)
Still Can’t Sleep in Hotels?
If you’ve tried all of these tips, but still can’t sleep in hotel rooms? Sorry, there’s no hope for you. I’d try Ambien and a few glasses of Shiraz.