12 tips for a great hotel night’s sleep

Copyright © 2010  Anne-Lise Heinrichs


Upon arrival at their destination, many travelers find when they’re ready for a good night’s rest, their hotel is not the easiest to get to sleep — and then stay asleep. Poor beds, uncomfortable linens, thin walls, street noise and light, poor heating and air conditioning systems, and pigging out on food and drink shortly before bedtime are the enemy of a restful sleep needed for the next day’s work or touring adventure.

A number of years ago, my wife and I were traveling with my parents to celebrate their anniversary. My mom decided we should stay in the newly renovated hotel in which they had enjoyed their honeymoon. Unfortunately, the hotel only brought its standards up to the 1960s.

The rooms had window air conditioners with those cheap plastic wings closing the sides from the heat outside, thin window shades, limp pillows that my parents likely used when there last and no sound insulation between the walls.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that no matter where we are in the world, it’s important to create the best sleep environment possible. It was even possible to make the room we were in while celebrating with my parents adequate for a night, once we changed to a room with a working window air conditioner, got extra pillow, more towels and used our own eye masks and ear plugs.

Have you had trouble sleeping in hotel rooms?

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Here are my top 12 tips to create a good hotel room sleep environment:

1. Before making your reservation appraise your hotel via Internet review sites such as Trip Advisor to be sure the hotel will meet your needs. Look for what people say about noise in the rooms, bed and linen quality, maintenance problems, etc.

2. When making your reservation specify a quiet room away from vending and ice machines, elevators and the housekeeping room. Choose a floor away from the business center, banquet rooms, restaurants and bars. If you want to sleep in during your stay, don’t reserve a room with a pool view. If you’re not a smoker, make sure you reserve a non-smoking room.

3. Some travelers should pack some items from home such as your own pillow and other items. I have a friend who always brings his own herbal tea for a cup before retiring for the night. If you have a nighttime ritual, bring what’s necessary to duplicate it to help you get to sleep.

4. Bring your own travel alarm clock. Sometimes hotel room alarm clocks have settings which aren’t obvious and go off in the middle of the night.

5. Bring earplugs or a noise canceling headset. Some excess, irritating or strange noises can’t be eliminated immediately otherwise. I have a white noise app on my smartphone which can blot out the noise from dripping faucets and from other rooms.

6. Bring large metal binder clips to keep your drapes closed if they don’t lay properly and have an adequate overlap. Consider bringing an eye shade if the drapes and/or shade are too translucent.

7. Consider bringing a book or entertainment on a tablet if reading or watching television is part of your sleep ritual at home to duplicate it. Don’t depend on decent reading material or TV at your hotel. I have books to read and movies to watch on my iPad when I travel.

8. When you get to your room, check it out thoroughly and if it isn’t satisfactory, don’t hesitate to tell the front desk to move you to another room. Many only check to make sure the television works. That’s not good enough. Check everything before accepting the room. Make sure you don’t have drippy faucets or a toilet which keeps running. Make sure you have a working room thermostat to set the temperature of the room yourself and that the HVAC works. Make sure the linens and pillows are satisfactory. If you need additional pillows, a different type of pillow or towels, have them sent to your room. Make sure the room is clean and that the windows don’t have a bad draft coming through them.

9. Don’t eat too much, or consume alcoholic or caffeinated beverages shortly before bedtime as that can keep you awake for quite some time.

10. In winter, consider turning on your shower for a while to raise the humidity in your room. Many hotel heating systems produce dry, uncomfortable heat.

11. Use the “Do Not Disturb” sign for your room to keep hotel staff away from your room until you’re ready for them. It’s amazing how many travelers forget this simple action and are awakened too early in the morning.

12. Don’t wait to report noise in the room next door. It’s not going to get better on its own.

  • VELS14

    Nice column. I never thought about not getting a room near the housekeeping room before, but it makes sense. The housekeeping personnel get in very early to start cleaning, congregate and make a lot of conversation there and outside the room often before most people are up. They go back and forth to the room to replenish supplies too.

    I often bring a short HDMI cable with me and connect my iPad to the TV when possible to have a bigger screen to watch movies stored on it, and to use the TV to see Netflix content when in the US which I can get on my iPad.

  • TahoeTony

    Maybe I’m just in a complaining mood, but I’ve come to expect so much more from this website than this sort of Monday morning “filler” column. Usually the help articles seen here are a degree more useful.

    The majority of these “tips” are akin to the flight attendant showing passengers how to use a seat belt. I know there’s one person alive that will marvel at that demonstration, I just have never run into him.

    These “tips” listed are of the common sense variety. Duh. If a person has never, ever, ever rented a hotel room before, he will find them incredibly fantasic: 1)review the hotel 2)ask for a quiet/best available room 3)bring your personal pillow if you only can sleep with it 4)your phone has a better alarm clock 5)earplugs 7)bring something to read 8)check your room and make sure you like it. 9) don’t eat or drink too much before you go to beddie-bye (yes mom) 11)Put out your sign if you don’t want to be disturbed and 12)tell someone if you don’t like your room.

    Whew! I was on the edge of my seat.

    Tips 6 and 10 actually have a modicum of usefulness. Long article for a short payoff.

    Here’s my own tip I’m adding: If you’re having trouble getting to sleep in a hotel room OR at home, just read this article. Chances are your sleeplessness won’t last until the end of it!

  • AKFlyer

    Re #10, If you’re going to do the shower trick, consider putting the plug in the tub first so you don’t waste water. Even better, close the tub plug for a minute or two at the end of your shower. Either approach is much more sustainable than sending gallons of hot water right down the drain just to temporarily raise the room humidity. A few inches of hot water in the tub will humidify the room far longer than the same amount sent down the drain.

    Re #4, Does anyone use a travel alarm clock anymore? I’m guessing most of us use our phones except when we’re in places that have no service, e.g. King Salmon and many other locations off the road system in AK for most national plans. I always check the clock radio to make sure it has no alarms set, and that the time being displayed is accurate. Sometimes I unplug it to ensure I’m not startled in the middle of the night or seriously misled by a failure to spring ahead to DST, etc.

    Re #11, For typical M-F hotel stays my Do Not Disturb sign goes on my door as soon as I check in and stays there until check-out morning. I don’t need sheets or towels changed after only 2-3 nights, nor do I need barely-used soaps replaced with new ones I have to unwrap, or the bathroom vanity re-cluttered with an ice bucket, hotel promo materials, etc. This way I am protected from interruptions and my stuff will be where I left it — like many frequent travelers, I have “a system” and rarely lose or forget things as long as I can follow it.

  • Kairho

    I tend to agree with TT and will add #12: stay at a better hotel! Personally, I avoid Days Inns, Motel 6s and others like that. I’ll always have a satisfactory night at the moderate to upper end brands of groups such as IHC, Hilton, and Starwood.

  • Josh Josh

    snob… Super8 and Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn and Courtyard by Marriott all have service standards that exceed a Rodeway or Econo Lodge. If a Days Inn or Motel 6 is the only available option, I won’t turn it down. You don’t have to shell out $200+ to have a good night’s rest.

  • Kairho

    Of course not. One of my preferreds is Holiday Inn Express. And I do like Comforts and Courtyards most of which I put into that moderate category. There’s only so much space and time for comprehensive posts. But when I can get a nice Hyatt for under $80 (affinity rate) or a free night at an Intercon I’ll take it in a heartbeat!