bed, sleep, night, bad sleep, nightmares

Why do we sleep badly during the first night in a new place?

Have you ever found it difficult to get a good night's rest on the first night in a strange environment like a hotel room or a new house? Do not worry; you're not the only one.  Scientists are long aware of this phenomenon, now called the ‘first night effect’, but have just recently grasped the basics of just what is happening on these first nights.

What is exactly happening when we sleep at a new place?

According to one of the newest studies on sleep, we tend to sleep badly in unknown and new places as a kind of defence mechanism. It seems that while we are trying to sleep in an unfamiliar environment for the first time, one hemisphere of the brain remains more awake than it usually would during our nightly rest. Almost as if we are sleeping with one “eye” open to protect against prospective dangers.

It was discovered during these studies that the left side of the brain has consistently stayed more awake and was more sensitive to outer noises than the right side. It was known already for long that in the wild, many animals – such as birds, dolphins or whales – sleep with one of their hemisphere staying relatively active to sense potential danger. Now it seem this evolutionary adaption is still present in humans as well, as our brain unconsciously keeps one of its sides more alert on the first night, when in unfamiliar surroundings.

Important tips for a good night’s sleep (even in a new place):

  • According to scientists, people having more trouble falling asleep and sleeping in unfamiliar environments, might be able to reduce the phenomenon by bringing their own pillow or pillowcases at least.
  • There is strong and undeniable scientific data on the role of light in promoting wakefulness. When turning off all electric devices in the bedroom at least an hour before we go to sleep, it is proven that the melatonin level – a chemical that helps regulate our sleep patterns – was 50% higher, than in the cases of those who read electronic devises in bed or left those on for the night.
  • Try to be consistent – go to sleep and get up at the same time every day (even in hotels). A nightly routine will help set your internal clock. Go to bed when you usually feel tired. This should insure that you are getting enough sleep and you are waking up fresh. If you need to hit the snooze button more time daily, you may need an earlier bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals for dinner. Try to make your dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid big, fatty meals within two hours of going to bed.
  • Breath deep. Try the most popular 4-7-8 relaxation breathing technique for falling asleep faster. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds; hold your breath for 7 seconds; and finally exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat the sequence until you feel completely relaxed and ready to fall asleep.

Can we defeat the ‘first night effect’?

New studies are just being developed and conducted to shed completely light on this effect; so we don’t have all the answers yet. However, the above techniques might help people who often travel for work or leisure to have a degree of control over this often frustrating phenomenon. Many scientists also strongly believe that, over time, people’s brains can adjust to an extent, and that those who often sleep in new places may not necessarily have poor sleep on a regular basis.