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How to Sleep Well in Hotels

sheep affixed atop Le Hotel ZZZ
Photo caption
Counting sheep is one way to get to sleep. Hotels are coming up with other fixes for the insomniac.

"Life," wrote humorist Fran Lebowitz, "is something that happens when you can't get to sleep." She must have spent a lot of time in hotels. Nearly half of all travelers report difficulty sleeping in hotel rooms, according to a 1999 study by Westin Hotels and Resorts.

"Hotels are in the sleep business, but sleep is hard to come by if you can't get your room dark or quiet or comfortable," says Mark Rosekind, a former NASA sleep researcher who is the chief scientist of Alertness Solutions, a company that helps those on the job stay awake. "Most hotels don't notice it's a problem."

Those who have noticed tend to tout better mattresses as the solution. Westin Hotels and Resorts, which claims that a good bed beats a warm glass of milk any night, plugs the snooze appeal of its Heavenly Bed, featuring a 900-coil pillow-top mattress that Westin calls "the best in the industry." The chain began installing the beds in 1999, after discovering that eight in 10 travelers dislike hotel beds mainly for being too soft or too hard.

Not to be outdone, Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts is retrofitting 3,000 rooms with Sealy mattresses, nonallergenic pillows, and different lighting options. Another 5,000 rooms will be upgraded by the end of 2005. But if a good mattress alone doesn't do the trick, consider these sleep tips from the experts.

Think nocturnal. Experts endorse three conditions for sleep: coolness, darkness, and quiet. Air out the room by opening windows. If the curtains don't close tightly, pin them together with the clips from a hanger. Ask for a quiet room. Use earplugs or a portable white-noise machine, such as the Travel Sound Soother 20 with LCD Alarm Clock, $69.95, from the Sharper Image,, (800) 344-4444.

Consume less. Excessive eating disturbs digestion and thus disturbs sleep. Alcohol can actually delay the onset of healthy sleep if you indulge less than two hours before bedtime.

Exercise early. Follow the same two-hour rule for exercise as for alcohol. Working out shortly before bedtime increases your internal body temperature and keeps you awake.

Create portable sleep rituals. At home, condition yourself to sleep by habitually reading a book or drinking warm milk before turning out the light. Then, pack something to read in the hotel or order a glass of milk from room service.

Request two wake-up calls. Don't stay up anxiously worrying about falling back to sleep after the front desk calls in the morning. It's OK to ask for two—even three—wake-up calls.

If all else fails. Herbal remedies, over-the-counter sleeping pills, or prescription drugs may provide relief. Consult your doctor about the risks of each.

Illustration by Melinda Beck

This article was first published in November 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.