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Why You Never Sleep Well The First Night in a New Place

Diane Luke
Senior Editor, TipsHire

Most people have difficulties falling asleep when they are in a new place. People use to motivate their insomnia blaming the noise, the bed they trying to sleep on, or even the street lights that are visible from the windows of their rooms. It seems that why you never sleep well the first night in a new place has another scientifically proven explanation according to which your brain is still half awake and prevents you from having the rest that you need during the night.

Sleep is Influenced by The Environment

After a laboratory experiment, in which a group of volunteers was put to sleep listening to quiet music playing in the background, the scientists have observed a phenomenon they called ‘first night effect‘.

The study data were atypical, being somehow impossible to follow.

To understand what was happening with the study’s participants during the first night tests, the scientists chose to conduct an unusual experiment, trying to monitor the brain activity of each patient while they were stimulated into listening to beeps that were emitted at low frequency.

Scientists divided the volunteers into two groups. The first group was obliged to sleep while the beeps were emitted into their left ears, while the second group was put to sleep with beeping sounds emitted into their right ears.

What they’ve found out after monitoring the volunteers brains activities is that the left brain’s hemisphere reacts more strongly to the beeping sounds in comparison to the right hemisphere, and since the left brain is responsible for logical reasoning, needing to remain attentive in the case of danger, the sounds that were played in the left ear were able to wake up the participants of the first group from the sleep more easily than the participants of the second group.

These reactions were recorded especially in the first night of the study because on the further nights the subjects of the first group slept much better even though the scientist played the same sounds into the same ear.

This study suggested that the human brain resembles into a primitive manner to that of the birds, which keeping an eye open, helps them sending information to the brain that helps them stay awake to the be ready to make the necessary decision to fly in order to protect themselves from attackers and that’s why you never sleep well the first night in a new place, too.

What can we do to increase our comfort level when forced to sleep in a strange bed?

The researchers believe that although we can not totally eliminate the effect of the first evening, we can greatly reduce it by trying to find a hotel room that resembles as much as our bedroom.

Other ways are to take with us a pillow from home to increase our comfort level, do a warm shower before bedtime, and to try to reduce stress levels by using applications that generate soothing sounds, such as waves.

Participants on ‘the first night effect’ experiment have been observed to considerably improve the sleeping quality beginning with the second night.

In the first night in a strange place this phenomenon is linked to the function of the brain that keep us in a state of alert against a potential threat, being a brain way of alertness that could be found in birds and marine mammals, which naturally use only one hemisphere for sleeping, while the second hemisphere remains awake.

So, survival instinct explains the way the human’s brain is acting when we try to sleep in a strange bed.

The researchers hypothesized that the same mechanism occurs in humans that change the sleep environment. When a person is not fully convinced that it is safe during sleep, an internal alert system is emerging.

More explanations

The human brain has two hemispheres, the left one, and the right one. Some areas of the left hemisphere are associated with language processing and others of the right hemisphere coordinate and ‘translate’ spatial environment information.

With the help of modern methods of measuring the brain waves, it was found that on the first night of sleep in a strange environment, the left hemisphere of the tested participants recorded different values, and their sleep was superficial in that hemisphere. In the second night in the same location, all participants had a deep sleep.

To bring further evidence of alertness of one of the hemispheres, participants were asked to move their hands when a specific noise was emitted. People reacted quickly, responding to specific auditory stimuli, while normal sounds have not wakened them up. All these things were found only on the first night.

Therefore, we can draw the conclusion that the asymmetry in the two cerebral hemispheres activities that takes place on the first night of sleep in an unfamiliar place is acting as an alarm system designed to protect us from a possible danger.

Why you never sleep well the first night in a new place can be beaten by making you feel safe and therefore you should sleep only in places you’ve already slept at least once.

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