With the holidays in full swing, many of us are traveling for the first time in months or perhaps years. While seeing old friends and new places is exciting, it’s also a painful reminder that we often don’t get the best night’s sleep when we’re somewhere unfamiliar. Fortunately, pinpointing why this is can help us fix the issue, no matter where our travels take us.
This sleep disturbance while traveling, even when we aren’t in a new time zone, is due to what sleep researchers call the first-night effect or FNE. As our brains are busy taking stock of our new environment, it’s common to forgo your REM sleep period. Researchers attribute this to subconscious attention to potential threats in the unfamiliar sleeping location. A 2016 study even found that activity in the left hemisphere of the brain is more pronounced when we sleep somewhere new, making it harder for us to fall asleep.
On-the-go sleep strategies
Okay, so we know why we have trouble falling asleep somewhere new, but what can we do about it? The first strategy is to create ideal sleep conditions. This means finding somewhere cool, dark, and quiet to rest as well as going to sleep a little earlier than usual to compensate for lost REM sleep.
Additionally, taking deep breaths and visualizing your home bedroom before sleep can help trick your brain into thinking you’re at home. Bringing some comforting items from home like your go-to eye mask, favorite pajamas, and essential oil of choice can also ease the transition and promote deeper rest.