Getting a Good Night’s Sleep at the Self-Help (or any) Hotel

If you know me, you know I value sleep. Good sleep. Every night. No exception. Everyone has a weakness and mine is being able to rest soundly night after night…and when obstacles such as (my loose shoulder) keep me tossing and turning throughout the nighttime hours my mind can wander…and lately it’s been wandering back to a trip I took with my good friend, Mary. She’s going back to Europe soon. I am not. Sadness. But, I can reminisce about our two wonderful trips together and dream. 🙂

Here’s one snapshot of our travels….and how we learned to get a good night’s sleep far, far away.

On a recent dream trip to Florence, Italy, my close friend and I were treated to daily half day long art history lectures by a college professor whose passion for the topic of art is unparalleled. His enthusiastic talks left us both inspired and mentally exhausted. We’d then walk the streets of this ancient, yet so modern city, until we were worn out and so ready for a good night’s sleep. Back to the “self-help” hotel (as we lovingly dubbed this understaffed, yet pricey establishment) we’d wearily trek. Unlocking our door, we were surprised to find our room, not being cleaned, but used as the cleaning staff’s late afternoon gathering spot for watching Italian soap operas (on the edge of my bed, no less).

Though our room was aesthetically restful in appearance, it was frequently missing those bedtime ritual items such as toilet tissue, bath soap, pillows and blankets. Often, we didn’t notice until we were ready for bed. My friend and I similarly assumed that other hotel guests (and their crying babies) would be courteous enough to stay within the confines of their particular hotel room…not walking down the hall outside of ours all night long. Cultures are different and sometimes these differences can make the difference between enjoying sweet slumber or not.

We quickly discovered that if we needed something, we had to get it ourselves…and that revelation included making practical preparations for enjoying a good night’s sleep.

Given our rigorous daytime schedule, you’d think we would sleep deeply, soundly, and without interruption after having walked ten-plus miles during the day. But, sadly, we didn’t…even though our bodies cried out for rest and a rejuvenating night’s sleep…we didn’t rest well (and on some nights…hardly at all). Why? We didn’t prepare in advance. We took for granted that given how physically and mentally exhausting our daytime schedule was, we would plunk our heads on our pillows and be out within minutes. First mistake.

Sleeping in an unfamiliar hotel room (in this country as well as abroad) realistically requires as much advance preparation, as does the planning for one’s active daytime hours. As Dr. Christopher A. Foetisch, an orthopedic surgeon from Toledo, OH, observes, “It is best to keep to the same sleeping schedule when traveling as at home. Even when traveling from one U.S. time zone to another, try to go to bed around the same time even if it means getting to bed ‘early’ for that particular part of the country.” Attempting to stay up extra late or get up extra early to “get yourself used to” another sleep schedule usually does more harm than good, unless you are traveling overseas where the time difference is significant.

Our second mistake was making assumptions about how quickly we’d adapt to such unfamiliar sleeping conditions. Neither of us was used to sleeping with the other (me being the morning person and my friend being the night owl) and adjusting to opposite sleeping schedules and personal bedtime routines was tricky at best.

After several consecutive nights’ lack of sleep, we, in bleary-eyed fashion, realized we needed to apply some forethought (and fast) to the upcoming evening’s respite of sleep. Otherwise, we’d end up even more emotionally and physically frazzled. After a strong cup of morning espresso, my friend and I planned wisely. We’d duplicate our normal at-home sleeping environment as much as we were able…and give it a trial run.

If it didn’t work, we’d continue to make alterations until we achieved our ultimate goal: sleeping until the “self-help” hotel staff awoke us with their morning wake-up call. By the week’s end, we had our routine down pat…just in time to head to the airport for home. (And did we ever sleep on the eight-hour airplane trip home, pure bliss.)

Tips for sleeping soundly away from home.

· Request a non-smoking room located as far away from the elevators and ice machines as possible.
· If you are traveling with a friend, make sure the room has two double beds.
· Consider investing in the cost of a private room for maximum quietness and personal down time.
· Bring your own pillow from home.
· Purchase earplugs if you are used to “white” noise at home to help block out sounds from the hallway or by a roommate’s movements.
· Consider using an over the counter or prescription sleep aid as needed.
· Unwind before trying to sleep, transition slowly from the day’s activity to night’s slumber. Read the Psalms, listen to soothing music, and spend time in prayer.


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