You park the rental car, walk to the check in counter. You make small talk with the concierge as she hands you the room key. You’re in room 403. The elevator is down the hall and to the right. You swipe the key, open the door to your room. No surprises here: a bed, a desk, a toilet, a mini fridge stocked with mini beverages. You toss your luggage on the floor and sit on the edge of the bed.
Tomorrow is a big day, and you need your energy for it. Coffee alone won’t do the trick. No, you need sleep, and plenty of it.
But it’s hard to sleep in a hotel room. The bed doesn’t feel right, someone’s always slamming the door, the curtains don’t block the streetlights, the pillows are too hard. Some nights, morning can’t come soon enough. We’ve all been there.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your sleep in these alien environments. So let’s get to them, yes?
1) Keep it Dark
Our circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle that governs sleep and wakefulness – is regulated primarily by light. Bright light in the morning wakes us up, and an absence of light in the evening signals the release of our sleep hormone, melatonin. With melatonin there to help us, we can have restful sleep.
But when our sleep environment isn’t dark, our body thinks it’s daytime, and melatonin isn’t released. And dark means dark. Our eyes, even our skin cells, contain photoreceptors that are sensitive to even a tiny amount of light. So for optimal sleep, the room must be pitch black.
With this in mind, the first thing to do in a hotel is unplug anything that emits light. All those blinky diodes on the TV, alarm clock, etc. – shut them down. If you’re feeling extra-motivated, place a towel along the doorway to stop exterior light from seeping in. Finally, make sure you put on a sleep mask before hitting the hay. The eyes are the most photosensitive part of the body, after all.
2) Keep it Cold
After light, room temperature is probably the most important factor for quality slumber. Everyone knows how good it feels to bundle under the covers on a chilly night.
But it’s not just a good feeling. If the room isn’t cool enough, REM and deep sleep are impaired. And when you don’t get enough REM and deep sleep, your brain function suffers the next day.
Luckily, most hotels have an air conditioner. Set it for a comfortably cool temperature – 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or so – and your brain will thank you the next day.
3) Pack Magnesium
Magnesium supports many functions in the human body, and sleep is no exception. For instance, magnesium supports two hormones – melatonin and adiponectin – that help you snooze. Low levels of adiponectin, in fact, can lead to sleep apnea, so it’s good to maintain healthy levels of that hormone. Magnesium also increases levels of a circulating protein called renin, also linked to sound sleep.
What about clinical evidence? In one study, just 500 mg per day of magnesium improved sleep quality in a group of elderly folks. According to another comprehensive review, magnesium supplementation is a proven way to reduce anxiety. That’s a nice benefit if you’re wound up after a long day of travel.
Bottom line – magnesium is a safe and inexpensive supplement to support sleep and relaxation on the road. Plus it takes up less space than your toothpaste.
Let’s go over those sleep strategies one more time. Upon entering your room, turn off the lights, unplug the blinky things, and ready your sleep mask. This will create enough darkness to facilitate melatonin release. Then crank up the A/C until the temperature is cool enough to promote healthy sleep cycles. Finally, pop some magnesium to support sleep hormones, increase renin levels, and lower stress.
Do this, and when morning comes, your brain will be fresh, your body will be rested, and your energy will be primed. In other words, you’ll be ready for action.