Why we don’t sleep well in a new environment?

new environment

You have decided to spend your night at your friend’s place that is relatively new to you. So what next? You keep tossing on your bed trying to catch some sleep but without luck. In other words, you struggle to stay asleep or fall asleep. You feel like jumping out of the bed.

You blame your mattress (obviously, it’s so easy), mattress pillows or sheets. Rather blame your hyper-vigilant brain for increased alertness. An article published by the Current Biology states that a major part of our brain may remain alert when you need to sleep in a new environment, at least on that first night you are put up away from your home. This state is known as ‘first-night effect’.

Clinical research on ‘First-Night Effect’:

A study conducted by Brown University in 2016 on ‘first-night effect’ mentions that in an experiment where subjects made to sleep over in a lab for a sleep study didn’t sleep at all due to the new environment in play.

Therefore, researchers usually discard the first night’s day and only study from the findings of second day onwards. The results of this experiment showed that the two brain hemispheres have varying activity levels, with one side staying more active and alert than the other.

Though researchers are unsure of this effect, they found that that the ‘less sleep’ hemisphere of the brain was on the left which was also more responsive and alert to noise. But from the second night onwards, the brain activities seemed to level off, therefore both sides of the brain of the subjects generally slept to the same level.

It indicated that people in a new location are more likely to stay alert and be responsive to unusual sounds, as they and their brain automatically starts to closely monitor their environment. This is because men like animals feel the need to be protected in a new environment, and therefore the brain stays alert on the first night.

Sleeping problems for frequent travellers:

new environment

In the ancient times, man felt so insecure when he had to spend the night in a new place due to fear of attack by wild animals, theft or generally the fear of the unknown. Whilst a new hotel room or Airbnb is not so threatening or dangerous that you need constant monitoring, actually your brain fails to recognize that allowing you not to sleep normally.

Corporates when they feel that their executives have to attend a key conference or meeting fly them two nights before so that they have good sleep in the new location. Also, the business event is not disturbed by the first night effect.

The alternate option is to spend more time in the new room, getting relaxed and comfortable, and may be using a few things brought from home to create a familiar environment, particularly when you’re always sleeping even on the most comfortable mattress in new locations.

The Familiar and the New….

The experience of using two different beds, different lightings, the different way the door locks or unlocks, location of the bathroom in relation to the bed…all influence our brain and makes us stay semi-alert all night leading to poor sleep while you’re on the road. You can do whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable until you adapt to the new environment.

The advantages being one, it creates a familiar sight, sound or smell; two, it helps your brain to settle down and prepare for sleep in the night. Some follow the same nightly routine that helps them sleep in quick time.

Following a routine pattern:

The key is sticking to a routine pattern in the sequence of brushing teeth, reading, casual browsing or laying out clothes or building in at least some chores every night before going to sleep.

If you are allergic to specific smell or experience discomfort from certain odors in a new place, you can feel disgusted or even nauseated. This sensitivity won’t allow you to sleep well when the brain stays alert responding to the smell.

There are times when it would take 2-7 days to sleep normally in a new accommodation. But if you keep changing hotels every week, then it can again lead to deprived or poor sleep. Again the left side of the brain unconsciously searches for either the routine pattern or novel methods to fall asleep normally.

Frequent change of time zones:

Frequent change of time zones can put your internal sleep clock out of sync leading to night-time insomnia or daytime fatigue if you travel a lot. Environmental elements can deeply impact how much you sleep, read as quality sleep. Here are some ways to re-sync your internal clock and overcome jet lag:

Adjust your sleep schedule according to the new time zone you are in: If you land at your new destination, but it is night back home, don’t go to sleep right away; stay put until it is dark out.

Be in control of the sleep environment: Lighting is one of the factors that can heavily impact the way we say sleep and how much we do. Turn off extra lights, dim the room, block lights from the sides of the blinds and add some decor if you want. A darker room may lead to relaxed sleep. Switch off the TV and eliminate high-decibel noise from outside whatever using quality Noise Reduction Ear Plugs.

Consider melatonin: Take a low dose of the hormone one or two hours before going to bed. Also, mixing two tablespoons of honey with milk and taking it regularly can put you to good sleep.

Good hygiene skills:

Practising good hygiene can result in sleep effectiveness. Avoid nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and heavy foods before hitting the pillow. Watching too much of TV, staring at your mobile or tablet screen for too long and reading in dimly lit places can affect your sleep schedule. Be light on your dinner. Skip afternoon naps; take a short walk, and do a light warm up to help burn out the motor for quality sleep. Watch out not to overdo things, and strain yourself in the process.


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