Get Better Sleep While Traveling

Do you have trouble getting good sleep while traveling? Do you spend the night tossing and turning? Struggling to silence your thoughts? Staring at the ceiling counting the hours til your alarm goes off?

I’m an expert at helping you survive the day after a night of sleep deprivation. If you need help picking the best energy drinks for working the night shift, I’m your girl.

But managing fatigue is complicated. And figuring out WHY we can’t sleep (when it’s NOT due to excess caffeine) is tricky.

This is why I’m happy to be partnering with Clinton Marquardt, Sleep and Fatigue Specialist. In this post, Clint shares some interesting science behind why it’s so darn hard to get that precious sleep, even when do make it a priority.

Why can't I sleep in a hotel the first night?

Why can’t I sleep well the first night in a hotel?

Ask any business traveler and they will tell you that it’s not as grand as it looks.  Apart from the stress of business travel schedules and forced divergences from your normal eating patterns, sleep often takes a beating.

Most people, business and holiday travelers alike, find that the first few nights of sleep away from home are the pits.  Science seems to support these reports. Studies have shown that most people don’t get good sleep while traveling. Most people generally experience higher quality sleep at home than in other accommodations, such as bunkhouses and hotels when the number of consecutive sleep periods in the accommodation is limited[1].

One reason we don’t sleep well away from home may be due to something called habituation.

An area of the brain called the Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS) functions like a gatekeeper, filtering out unwanted sounds, smells and other stimuli, like the sensation of a new bed, that can keep us awake. But it only does so after you get used to the repetitive stimuli over time, that is, you habituate to it.

The ARAS also functions as one of the main controllers of states of consciousness like sleep and wakefulness[2].

This means that the first few nights you sleep in a new environment, the ARAS will allow unfamiliar tactile sensations, smells, and other stimuli such as the noise of people walking through the hotel hallways late in the night, through the gate to wake you up.  

Unfortunately, there are no reliable brain hacks that will turn off your ARAS.

The best you can hope for is to try to use the ARAS’s habituation function to your advantage.  

To get better sleep while traveling, make your new temporary sleep environment as similar to your home environment as possible.

  • See if you can add something to the new sleep environment that is similar to your home environment for each of the five basic human senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch).  
    • For example, you can sleep with aromatherapy, a soothing constant noise played from your bedside smartphone that drowns out extraneous sounds, and a special pillow at home for a few weeks to allow the ARAS to habituate to these sensations.
    • When you travel, bring your aromatherapy, soothing noise, and your pillow with you to use when you sleep in the new environment.

This might help soothe your ARAS into a better hotel slumber.

CLINTON MARQUARDT: Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

For a few more tips on sleeping away from home, check out this article: How to Get a Good Sleep in Your Holiday Bunkhouse

A special Thanks to Clinton Marquardt, Sleep & Fatigue Specialist for this article. 

As one of Canada’s top Human Fatigue Specialists, Clinton takes the latest in fatigue science and turns it into practical, implementable solutions that reduce the risk of fatigue and propel the health, safety, and productivity of your 24/7 workforce towards excellence. To book Clinton for a speaking engagement, training session, or to request consulting services, contact him at


  1. See for examples:
    • (A) Chen, H., Severt, K.,  Shin,Y., Knowlden, A., & Hilliard, T. (2018). “How’d you sleep?” Measuring business travelers’ sleep quality and satisfaction in hotels. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, 1(3), 188-202.
    • (B) Pallesen, S., Larsen, S., & Bjorvatn, B., (2015).  “I wish I’d slept better in that hotel” – Guests’ self-reported sleep patterns in hotels. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 16(3), 243-253.
  2. For a discussion of the role of the ARAS in sleep and wakefulness, see Anch, A., Browman, C., Mitler, M., & Walsh, J. (1988). Sleep: A scientific perspective. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

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