Nothing makes me more appreciative of my own bed than when I can’t sleep in it. Whether I’m staying with family or traveling, when my head hits that not-molded-to-my-head pillow, it’s never the same.
We’re at a moment in time where people may be sleeping in a less-familiar bed indefinitely. While the small comfort of one’s ownis needed most, it may not be a reality for some. First, know that it’s normal to have trouble sleeping in a different bed the first few days. You’re in a completely new environment and subject to conditions you’re not used to — say around more people, a different noise level, or a less-than-optimal mattress.
There’s actually an evolutionary reason behind this. “Humans had to survive just like other animals and a new place, at night, when we are the most vulnerable could be a costly mistake,” said Dr. Kasey Nichols, NMD and medical contributor to RAVEReviews. “This is one reason why staying in a hotel or sleeping in someone else’s bed causes us to wake less well-rested as we sleep less deeply and wake more easily.”
There are some ways, however, to make sleeping in someone else’s bed a little better.
Here’s what you can do before your head hits that unfamiliar pillow. For one, you can talk to your partner or host about switching up bedroom conditions. If the room is too warm or too cold, they can help change the temperature. If light is a problem, you can discuss installing blackout curtains or getting an eye mask. If the mattress is the problem, Keith Cushner, founder and certified sleep science coach of Tuck, suggests a mattress topper — or, if it’s really old, consider purchasing a new mattress.
Meditating and intentional breathing before bed can help aid sleep, according to Dr. Nichols. He suggested a technique called box breathing: breathing in for four seconds; holding the breath for four seconds; breathing out for four seconds; and holding at the end for four seconds. “It is a breathing maneuver used by professionals in some of the most stressful jobs to help relax,” said Dr. Nichols. “It will also work for falling asleep!”
Another tip is to bring something from home, if possible. This can be a pillow, blanket, or even something like essential oils or hand cream. Alex Savy, certified sleep science coach and the founder of SleepingOcean, recommends an object with a scent element. “I highly recommend choosing items that have a scent because smells are tightly linked to memory,” he said.
“I highly recommend choosing items that have a scent because smells are tightly linked to memory.”
The olfactory bulb has a strong connection to the parts of the brain that regulate emotions and form memories, the amygdala and hippocampus. “Simply speaking,” said Savy, “by bringing a scent from home with you, you can trigger the feeling of home in the room you’ll be sleeping in, and this will help you relax and drift off faster.”
Whether you’re sleeping in another bed for a night or the foreseeable future, there are actionable steps to take to make it a bit more bearable. Ultimately, and especially in these anxious times, the most important step to take is to establish clear lines of communication. “Like everything sleep-related,” said Cushner, “communication and empathy is key to getting a good night’s sleep when sleeping with someone else.”