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The first-night effect – and the reason why we feel weird in a hotel bed

January 10, 2022

The first-night effect – and the reason why we feel weird in a hotel bed

Having trouble sleeping on the first night when we are in a different environment (such as a hotel room) is very common and there is a reason why this happens. This phenomenon is called the “first-night effect” and it is why we feel weird in a bed that is not actually ours. Read on to find out more!

We spend months dreaming about those well-deserved holidays in a good hotel or Airbnb. Suddenly, we’re just a few days away from our long-awaited trip and we can already picture those XXL beds, with fresh, soft sheets and huge pillows waiting for a proper 8 hours of sleep.

When we finally arrive, we feel the exact opposite of what we imagined we would! Instead of crashing immediately, we usually don’t sleep well at all on the first night. For some reason, we feel weird in that amazing hotel bed and uncomfortable in a strange room, as luxurious as it may be. Have you ever wondered why?

It’s not just you who feels it, it’s a real phenomenon and has a scientific explanation, based on a study published back in 2016. The frequent travelers amongst us, be it for work or leisure, might not feel it as much as those who tend to stick around and that is mainly because our body can adapt to new environments after a bit of time, thanks to our most primitive instincts.

Yes, it’s a matter of survival! The reason why we feel weird in a hotel bed during the first night has to do with our animal side: we stay awake to protect ourselves, even if we are not consciously aware that this is what we are doing.

We act like any other animal does when exposed to similar situations or threatening environments. Birds, for instance, can sleep with one eye open, while dolphins keep half of their brains active while “sleeping”.

Remaining awake, conscious of our surroundings, is our brain’s weapon against danger.

The first night effect, as it is scientifically referred to, doesn’t happen only in a hotel room. You can find yourself in a similar situation in other contexts marked by dramatic change, such as when moving into a new house. Until you feel as if it’s yours, it’s difficult to feel 100% comfortable and to get some shut-eye, right?

Our brain will only let us drift off into a deep sleep when there is nothing around to get worried about. However, do not despair, there is hope! Being human and aware of our bodies’ instinctive reactions, we can find ways to overcome this kind of situation.

Here are 4 things that you can do to avoid (or minimize) the first night effect:

  1. Travel with your comfort items. Don’t be shy to bring your pillow along for the trip, or even a special blanket or any other item that might make you feel more comfortable and at home.
  2. Even if you’re traveling to a different time zone, try to keep your routines. This way, your body won’t feel a big difference and the need to fully reset itself.
  3. Try to avoid noise and light pollution that will contribute to keeping you awake.
  4. Don’t force yourself to stay in bed as a way of fighting a lost battle against insomnia. Get up and go out on the balcony, or have a walk around the hotel, so that your brain stops associating your bed with a war zone.

On top of these tips, don’t underestimate the importance of a good bed and mattress. Sleep quality is strongly linked to levels of comfort and even the style of the bed that you are trying to make your own. Adjustable and smart beds, like the lines Ergomotion® has available, have a huge impact on your sleep quality, not to mention multiple health benefits!

Check out our solutions here and make sure you are ready to face (or even forget!) the first night effect, no matter where you are.