Tips for Sounder Sleep at Hotels

I've always wondered why libraries are the sanctum sanctorum of peace and quiet, yet hotels seem to be boisterous hubs of noisy activity. If libraries inspire quiet contemplation and study, shouldn't hotels offer a peaceful atmosphere for a few hours of sleep? It's as if no thought went into the science of silence when most hotels were designed and constructed. Paper-thin walls shake when the doors slam, elevators beep to announce their arrival, utility carts rattle up and down hallways. Add to that a rise in business travel, growth of discount hotel chains, our society's love affair with cell phones and car alarms, and you'd be hard-pressed to find any quiet oasis through the din of life on the road. After nearly two decades of business and leisure travel, coupled with a natural disposition towards insomnia, I've refined my strategy for carving out a bit of rest against the odds.

1. Half the battle is packing a good offense.

Travel with the right supplies. I never head anywhere overnight without earplugs — nothing fancy, just the disposable foam kind that you can get in multiple pairs at most department or drug stores. They come in handy at 6:00 a.m. when you want to sleep just a bit longer, but early-bird travelers are wrangling the kids in the hallway, or later, when the housekeeping staff start knocking on your neighbor's door to start the cleaning routine. Earplugs don't kill all the sound (you'll still hear your wake-up call), but work perfectly to dull most background noise.

If you're a light sleeper like me, but don't have earplugs handy, create white noise by turning on just the fan to the AC/heating unit. I've even made a "Sleep" playlist on my laptop to keep nature sounds running in a loop until morning if I'm worried about guests that go bump in the night.

2. Once you're defensively prepped, it's time to scout out the best hotel.

If you're on the road and looking for lodging in real-time, there are a few clues that can spell trouble. First, look for hotels with pools or fun-centers for kids — and avoid them! In my experience, pools equal wet squealing children running in the hallways while their parents (just as loudly) admonish them for said squealing and running. This atmosphere is great for Disneyland in August, but less so if you're trying to recover from a six-hour flight.

Keep an eye out for commercial utility vehicles or contractor vehicles parked outside. This usually indicates that the hotel is being used as a temporary home-base for a road crew or construction team working on a nearby project. These folks are early risers, so expect a lot of activity around 6:00 a.m. and a bit of lively camaraderie during the off-hours.

3. Once you've chosen your hotel, it's time to request your room.

Speak up and don't be afraid to let the clerk know that you'd prefer the quietest location available. Just a few extra minutes at check-in can make all the difference. Let's face it, most modern hotel rooms are about as sound-proof as a shipping crate. I always make sure to avoid rooms that are:

  • Near the lobby. Late night or early morning check-ins, shift changes, and phone calls aren't conducive to sound sleep.
  • Near the dining room. I don't want to share in the morning fun of kids at the waffle machine.
  • Near the elevator. Too much foot traffic, and you'd be surprised how loud those elevator arrival tones sound at 3:00 a.m.
  • Near the ice machine or vending machines. This almost goes without saying. There's no fate worse than trying to drift off while ice machine cranks out another batch into a guest's plastic bucket/percussion instrument.
  • Near the parking lot or with windows facing the parking lot. Headlight strobes, slamming car doors, car alarm activation tones all make for a very long night.
  • Near any loading dock or garbage collection area. That's not the kind of wake-up call anyone wants.

The top floor is typically the safest bet for a quiet night; at least you won't have anyone above you flushing the toilet, kicking off shoes or serenading you with a deviated septum. Upper floors can also dampen some street-level noise in congested urban areas.

4. Once settled in my room, I always just post the "Do Not Disturb" sign for my entire stay.

It's easier than trying to remember to post it each night before bed. I'll trade the surplus of fresh towels for the assurance that I won't be prematurely woken by the housekeeping staff.

A good night's sleep might be harder to come by while on the road these days, but with a little planning and fortitude, you can at least have a fighting chance. Until hotels realize that simple silence is as important as shower caps, ironing boards, and mini-bars, we each have to keep fighting for our own little sanctuaries. Sleep well...and hope the faucet doesn't drip.

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Tips for Sounder Sleep at Hotels

This is a guest post by Kentin Waits. Kentin has worked in web marketing for 13 years and run his own eBay business for 10.  In 2009 he published two articles for Backwoods Home Magazine and is currently working on a page-a-day desk calendar on the topic of financial empowerment.

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Guest's picture

Clothespins--I always pack one or two to use to REALLY close those curtains. Often they'll leave a gap of a few inches even completely closed. I've stayed in too many places where they have EXTREMELY bright lights outside the windows for one reason or another. Also good when you're in a room where headlights may hit, or when your window opens on a walkway of some sort and you don't really want everyone to know what you sleep in.

Guest's picture

I love this idea -- clothespins are easy to toss in a bag and would work like a charm.

Guest's picture

I find that large binder clips work better than clothes pin. They are wider and grip harder. They're also usually fairly easy to find in the supply closet when you realize you've forgotten your clothes pins. :)
Alternatively, you can use an eye shade. Same idea, just on your head and, if you're flying extra long distances, you should already have one in your pack. Although some people find them uncomfortable.

Guest's picture

Great tips.
GT0163C, to your comment on sleep masks, "standard" sleep masks put too much pressure on my eyes and trigger migraines. My wife found me a "contoured" sleep mask (does not come in contact with your eyeballs) and it works great. It's make out-of neoprene and is very comfortable.

Guest's picture

You went so far as to call the first section "offense" and in the second section you referred to that section as "defense."

That's essentially saying "First things first: Pick Option A. Now that you've picked Option B, etc..."

It's easy to mix up your analogies!

And also I too prefer to keep a DND sign up at all times. I've hardly ever stayed at a hotel for more than a week, and if I'm there for two nights I can live without remade beds and new towels, for the piece of mind of my stuff not being rifled through or woken up if I decide to sleep in.

Guest's picture

Whenever possible, I bring my own pillow.

While some hotels provide a couple of choices in pillows, the ones most hotels use tend to be too firm for me -- either I can't get comfortable enough to sleep, or I wake up with a stiff neck. Even a small, comfortable pillow from home can make all the difference in the world in getting a good night's sleep.

Guest's picture

This might be a little too girly, but when I used to travel for work, I brought special bubble bath along and took a nice long bath before turning in. I don't know, I guess it lulled me into thinking I wasn't in some strange place, some strange bed. Also, those silk sleep sack things - so much nicer than any hotel sheets!

Guest's picture

Yes...I think "creating familiarity" could be a whole sub-topic on this discussion. Candles, better sheets, your own pillow, etc. all help in creating a calmer atmosphere for rest.

Guest's picture

Good post. I live in a suburban area where the traffic is quiet so when I go to a hotel and get a room near a main highway then it disturbs my sleep.

Guest's picture

I would also advise against rooms with a connecting doors to the next room as noise can often seep through the door.