Last Updated on: 3rd October 2023, 11:35 am
Sleep is a vulnerable time, so we must feel safe and comfortable to sleep well. While this can often be achieved at home, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed at someone’s house or a hotel can be unsettling.
Alongside safety concerns about spending the night away from the familiarity of your bed, the mind can race with anxious thoughts about leaving the home unattended.
Sleeping without a partner or pet can also spike anxiety levels if this is part of your routine.
Many people also struggle to sleep on a mattress of unfamiliar size and softness or firmness. Our favorite sleep positions are built around the bed we spend every night in, so transitioning isn’t always easy.
Increase the chances of sleeping well when away from home by replicating your at-home routine.
Practice good sleep hygiene, bring a familiar object from your bedroom, and perform stretches and breathing exercises to help calm the mind and body.
Why Can’t I Sleep Anywhere but Home?
Sleeping in a strange bed usually involves spending at least 1 night away from home. Many people struggle to fall asleep at the start of a vacation, which Psychophysiology calls the “first night effect.”
Whether on a conscious or subconscious level, the brain may experience concerns about leaving the home. Your mind may race, wondering if you’ve locked all the doors and windows or left a tap running.
Create a checklist before leaving. Conduct a final search and assessment of the home, crossing off each task you complete. Then, you can refer to it and reassure yourself whenever you feel anxious.
Even if you feel confident that the home is secure and all is in order before you go away, sleep may not come naturally when away from your bed. There are many explanations for temporary insomnia:
We’re seldom more vulnerable than when asleep, which can make resting in a strange place concerning.
Many people have a fear of sleeping in hotel beds. The term “xenodochiophobia” is attributed to an aversion to sleeping in an overseas hotel.
When sleeping in an unfamiliar place, especially where communication in an emergency is made difficult by a language barrier, safety concerns become elevated, so we fear the worst.
According to Evolutionary Psychological Science, the mind remains at least half-awake when in a new bed and room, remaining vigilant about threats in case an urgent threat response is required.
In animals, this is known as unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS,) where one side of the brain rests and the other remains alert.
The human brain is incapable of USWS, but the “first night effect” in a new location has a similar effect.
Calm the mind by familiarizing yourself with the room. Map out a route from the bed to the bathroom or emergency exit in darkness and confirm the door locks. Cover windows and conserve your privacy.
The right mattress is a cornerstone of sleep. Everybody has unique preferences regarding soft, medium, or firm mattresses. The body will expect a familiar sensation.
If you wonder, “Why can’t I sleep in someone else’s bed?” mattress firmness is likely why.
Your mattress at home will have molded itself to your body shape and sleeping position, so a sudden change in firmness can be unsettling and uncomfortable.
If you struggle to adapt to a mattress in an unfamiliar location, consider adjusting your sleep position.
If you usually sleep on a hard mattress but find yourself on a soft bed, try lying on your side. This will cradle the hips and provide natural spine alignment.
If the opposite applies and you switch from a soft to a hard mattress, adopt the supine position and lay flat on your back. This will help distribute your body weight more evenly.
Buying a mattress protector can soften up a firm bed. Mattress protectors add a layer that increases comfort and can be removed when no longer required.
Aggravation of Injuries
Sleeping in a different bed may aggravate discomfort if you have an existing injury, ache, or pain.
You’ve likely perfected the ideal sleeping position to avoid flaring up these problems in your bed, but the same may not be accurate if you sleep elsewhere.
Consider how you can stave off these concerns ahead of sleeping. Temporarily use over-the-counter painkillers or seek a massage to ease your aches and pains.
Absence of A Partner or Pet
If you sleep alongside a partner or pet, you may struggle to fall asleep without their company.
Cuddling a loved one helps us sleep by releasing the hormone oxytocin, which increases feelings of well-being while suppressing cortisol, the stress hormone.
If you’re traveling alone, you may have no choice but to sleep without company. However, you can bring an item that reminds you of who you’re missing.
How To Improve Sleep Away from Your Bed
Here are some ways to increase the likelihood of falling asleep:
Bring Something Familiar
If you struggle to sleep in unfamiliar places, a wholesale change of circumstances may be to blame.
As discussed, sleeping on an entirely different mattress while resting your head on a new pillow can disrupt the ability to fall asleep,
While bringing your mattress or comforter to a different location may be unrealistic, you can introduce some familiar possessions. Examples include:
- Pillowcases that feel familiar against the skin, even if the pillow is unfamiliar.
- Favored pajamas, which the mind and body associate with sleep.
- A stuffed animal, if this is something you usually have with you.
- Hot water bottles or cold compresses can create our preferred sleeping temperature.
- Peripherals you use for sleeping, like a small cushion to elevate the legs.
Sleep hygiene is essential for restful sleep and even more critical if you’re in an unfamiliar location. Avoid screen exposure (TV, cell phones, laptops, etc.) for at least 1 hour before sleep.
Maintain a familiar routine before bedtime. If you usually shower, brush your teeth, and read a book before you sleep, you should add these restful activities to your schedule.
If you maintain your usual routine, the brain is likelier to release melatonin to promote sleep.
Relax Your Mind and Body
While sleep hygiene and familiar routines are essential, you may still need to perform extra tasks to sleep well in a different location. Stretches and breathing activities can be impactful.
Sleep Medicine Review stated that meditative movement, where you engage in stretching practices like yoga poses while focusing on breathing, can improve sleep quality.
Stretching calms the mind and soothes aches and strains, aiding sleep.
Work on your breathing if you lack the space or dexterity for stretching. Inhale deeply, hold it for a few seconds before exhaling. Clear your mind, thinking only about your breathing.
You may benefit from aromatherapy. The following scents can promote deep and restful sleep:
- Clary Sage.
- Ylang Ylang.
Lighting scented candles may be unsafe, but consider dabbing essential oils containing these aromas on your wrists. Diffused oils can also be sprayed on unfamiliar pillows or comforters.
Familiar Noise And Light
One of the challenges to sleeping in an unfamiliar location is exposure to unique sounds and lights. If you usually live in a quiet, rural area, a major city can introduce loud road noise and streetlights.
If you usually sleep in a metropolitan zone, sirens, car horns, and street conversations can become a natural background to your evenings. If you sleep elsewhere, the silence can feel deafening.
If you need to sleep in silence and complete darkness, pack an eye mask and earplugs to block unwanted stimulation. Alternatively, use a white noise machine.
When in an unfamiliar location and struggling to sleep, seeing the time can aggravate anxiety. Worries increase if you look at the clock and notice it’s getting late.
If you sleep beside a clock radio, turn it around so you can’t see the time. Put your watch in a bedside table drawer, and switch off your cell phone or other electronic devices that reveal the time.
The inability to sleep in a strange bed is common but can be overcome. Focus on relaxing and allowing the mind to drift until you no longer notice you’re in an unfamiliar location.