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Why the First Night Is Always the Hardest

Why the First Night Is Always the Hardest

Ever feel like the pillows or beds in your hotel room are too soft or firm? When you’re accustomed to certain comforts at home, any change to them—positive or negative—will affect your ability to fall asleep. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself when you wake up groggy.

Room Familiarity and Sleep

According to new research published in Current Biology, the quality of furniture in your hotel makes little difference to how well you sleep. Interestingly, the environment’s unfamiliarity is what keeps you from catching enough zees.

When sleeping in a new place, the left hemisphere of your brain takes on night watch duties, keeping the body alert to what’s happening in the room. This is known as the “first-night effect,” defined by decreased slow wave activity in the brain—the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

To further explore this phenomenon, researchers played audio into eleven subjects’ ears (alternating left and right) to see how the different hemispheres react. In all cases, the left hemisphere lit up when audio played into the right ear. Conversely, when played into the left ear, the right hemisphere largely ignored it.

Unfortunately, these findings suggest there’s little one can do to overcome the “first-night effect” and get a sounder sleep. That said, maintaining certain nighttime routines and behaviours can boost the familiarity of a place to help minimize alertness in the left hemisphere.