The Reason We Sleep Better at Hotels

When I landed in Stockholm this past October, I dragged my sore, achy frame through the lobby of my boutique hotel. I was exhausted—not just from the seven-and-a-half-hour flight during which I’d tossed in my seat—but also because I hadn’t slept well before leaving for vacation.

Sleep used to come easy to me. I could catch a wink anywhere, it seemed. I’d get some shut-eye on the D.C. Metro headed to work or on New York’s MTA after brunch. I could sleep in parks, at bars, in church, and on planes, even in a middle seat.

But something changed in the past decade. Sleep began to evade me, even after spending thousands upgrading my apartment from college-era furniture, investing in an expensive mattress from a brand targeted to me on Instagram, and on mood lighting that changed the tone of my home as the day progressed. All that investment to get a good night’s rest hardly made a dent in my bad sleeping patterns.

Where sleep didn’t elude me was while traveling—be it for work or vacation. The best sleep I’d get would be away from my own bed, so much so that I now occasionally book staycations at hotels across New York City, where I’m based, just to feel rested.

The Stockholm hotel was small even by European standards, in a dark alcove facing a children’s playground, and it had a clangorous fan. But as soon as I climbed into bed, sleep overtook me—and I didn’t leave the room again until well into the next day.

I’d first made the correlation between better sleep and travel a few years ago, on a getaway to Mauritius in late 2021. That trip happened amid a dark time in my life, professionally and personally. Even surrounded by the sounds of waves from the Indian Ocean, the crisp air, and the favorable weather, I still wasn’t able to relax. I was jumpy, glued to my phone, and burnt out from a deleterious work environment that left me on edge. Even in paradise, peace seemed hard to come by.

Until I went to bed.

When I snuggled into the covers at the JW Marriott Mauritius Resort, a five-star hotel on the southwestern tip of the island, the world’s stresses seemed to melt away. Perhaps it was the fluffy mattress, the cool sheets, the high ceilings, or the light breeze caressing my skin. Whatever it was, I slept two full days on a six-day trip in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. It wasn’t the time difference; as a travel writer, I was more than familiar with overcoming jet lag, but something made the knots in my back unwind.

At the time, I’d thought my experience in Mauritius was an outlier, but I quickly learned that my untroubled slumber wasn’t specific to that destination or even to a particular hotel chain. Every time I stayed at a hotel, I woke up feeling far more rested—so much so that I carved in time just to sleep—and returned from vacation more rejuvenated than when I left.

What I’d felt in my own body turned out to be backed by others. The online flight aggregator and travel agency Skyscanner recently released a Travel Trends report for 2024 and found that sleep tourism is on people’s minds. In the survey (which polled 18,000 respondents globally and 2,000 in the USA), 49 percent of Americans said they sleep better on vacation. They attributed that rest to “calm, clutter-free accommodations, being away from the stress of life, and being more physically active.”

Indeed, I’m part of that percentage. But why do we seem to get our best sleep away from our own beds? To help answer that question (and hopefully replicate the sensation at home), I reached out to Shelby Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist and the director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, a website that reviews bedding products.

Harris explained that high-quality bedding, a comfortable mattress, and a relaxing environment—not to mention a respite from day-to-day stress—all contribute to why people seem to sleep better away from their homes. And hotels can supply all of those things.

How hotels are helping travelers sleep

The hospitality industry has recognized this perk and is leaning into it. These days, pillow menus are common (the Benjamin New York offers 10 options, including buckwheat, cooling, anti-snore, and water-filled pillows), and many hotels have introduced sleep services. The Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa in France has a special turndown package that involves spritzing the air with a calming mist and turning on a guided-meditation track. Langham hotels have a Sleep Matters program offering such amenities as weighted blankets and CBD-infused treats. London’s Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel, has a sleep concierge who curates wind-down amenities and will even meet with guests to advise on a sleep ritual for an additional fee. And some Six Senses properties can arrange for experts to track your sleep patterns and then provide massages and other treatments based on the data. On top of all of that, sleep retreats are becoming trendy vacations too.

But all of that positive sleep experience starts with the basic hardware: the bedding.

Julie Bourgeois, senior vice president for retail at Four Seasons at Home, notes that the popular Four Seasons mattress debuted in 1984 and has been improved over time with the help of sleep experts and hotel guests. “In developing the mattresses for Four Seasons hotels and resorts worldwide,” she says, “we look at many factors to ensure we are providing the ultimate in comfort for a great night’s sleep.”

For example, she explains that the mattresses are made of gel and foam to manage temperature while sleeping. In addition, they are constructed to limit motion transfer, and after production, they are compressed 100,000 times continuously over a day. (This process, called Cornell Durability Testing, was developed at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.)

Replicating the “hotel sleep effect” at home

While studies have shown that travelers’ ability to sleep well in hotels can vary based on a variety of individual factors (the change of environment can throw some people off, a person’s age can have an impact, etc.), researchers have generally found that the quality of the hotel room plays a big role. In other words, the temperature and darkness of the room and the comfort of the mattress and pillows make a difference.

Experts have some advice on how to replicate that positive experience when not on vacation. “Focus on improving your own sleeping environment and routine,” says Harris of Sleepopolis. “You can upgrade your bedding for increased comfort, reduce light and noise disturbances with blackout curtains or white noise machines, and keep your room temperature between 60 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit.”

These days, travel hospitality brands are making it easy for travelers to bring hotel-quality mattresses, pillows, and linens to their own bedrooms. Got a good rest at a Four Seasons resort? You can buy the mattress starting at $2,800 for a twin. If you spend more than $20,000, you can also have a personal concierge come to your home and launder your Four Seasons sheets and bedding to create the feeling of climbing into cool, crisp hotel linens. Marriott brands sell their items online too, including Ritz-Carlton’s made-to-order mattresses and Westin’s lauded “Heavenly Bed,” plus related pillows, bedding, room sprays, and candles.

And maybe that’s what I need to look into next. I’d come home from that Stockholm hotel more rested than ever, just like I had in Mauritius. But despite taking a warm shower, fluffing up my pillows, dimming the lights, and settling into bed eager for sleep, I couldn’t doze off. Instead, I lay awake, scrolling Instagram and TikTok videos as I planned my next trip—and my next restful night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *