Waking on the first day of your holiday feeling like you haven’t slept a wink is not an ideal start to a long awaited break. Rest assured that you are not alone and things will improve. Troubled sleep in an unfamiliar environment isa well documented phenomenon, known as the first night effect.
Sleep studies at Brown University use sophisticated neuroimaging equipment to record the brain activity of sleeping participants. Previously as participants had slept so poorly on the first night of studies, they had disregarded the data. When scientists took the time to study this first night data they discovered that while both sides of the brain were resting, the left side of the brain was more alert responding to surrounding noises. The level of difference that was measured between the two hemispheres of the brain reflected the difficulty of the participant falling asleep. The degree of difference observed on the first night was less evident in subsequent night’s sleep. Scientists concluded that similar to many animals our survival instincts kick in and our brains are subconsciously scanning for predators. After successfully surviving the first night our brains begin to relax and better sleep follows.
In an attempt to minimise the first night effect scientists recommend travelling with a favourite pillow and where possible staying in similar style of accommodation, helping your brain to relax more quickly. Frequent traveller, and MiniJumbuk Managing Director, Darren Turner recommends not only taking your own pillow when you travel but setting your air conditioner to 19 degrees (the ideal sleep temperature). Unlike his own breathable wool pillow, hotel pillows frequently contain high levels of man-made fibre, causing the face and then body to heat up, and disturbing sleep.