While there are always some people out there who can sleep like a log no matter where they might lay their head, the rest of us often find sleeping in a new place, especially the first night in a new bed, a guaranteed restless night. Whether traveling to a new place, or even visiting home for the holidays when mom’s replaced your old bed with a new one, it can be a rough morning. Why is that though? Is it even scientifically true? Researchers from Brown University decided to find out.
Working the graveyard shift
It’s common knowledge that your brain stays active to varying degrees while you’re asleep. There are 4 different stages of sleep that occur when you’re sleeping, with the third and fourth stages being the deepest and REM is when rapid eye movement occurs. During the first stages of sleep, it’s easy to wake up. It’s restful to an extent, but more like a limbo between being awake and being off in dreamland.
According to a study published in the journal Current Biology, falling asleep in a new environment tends to activate a sort of defense mechanism in your brain. The researchers looked at the brains of 35 healthy young participants as they fell asleep in a new setting. Dubbed the First-Night Effect (FNE), neural-imaging showed that the 2 hemispheres in the brain behaved very differently.
The right hemisphere tended to follow the usual sleep activity for a brain at rest. The left hemisphere, however, stayed remarkably active, even as the other side of the brain moved into the deeper stages of sleep.
According to senior study author Yuka Sasaki of Brown University, “When you sleep in a new place for the first time, a part of one side of the brain seems to stay awake for surveillance purposes, so you could wake up faster if necessary.”
That seems to go a long way towards explaining how a strange setting seems to have lots of little noises that keep us awake at night! Luckily, the First-Night Effect, as it’s been dubbed, only happens on the first night. Subsequent nights found participants sleeping just as well as somewhere familiar.
Is there anything you can do about FNE?
Sleep deprivation can be all sorts of trouble to your health. It can cause undue weight gain as well as the usual lethargy the next day. Since FNE occurs with travelers, it’s worth mentioning the effects of jet lag on sleep as well.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to turn off the switch in your brain that goes on when you sleep somewhere new. There are plenty of ways to help yourself out, though; try using the same pre-bed routine both at home and away. This will help your body adjust to the environment and communicate the oncoming need for sleep. Proper sleep hygiene is always helpful too. As part of sleep hygiene, research has continually shown that looking at the bright lights of digital technology, especially smartphones and laptops, can cause you trouble when falling asleep.
Basically, you can’t cure the First-Night Effect, but you can do everything possible to mitigate the problems it can cause. Creating a healthy sleep routine is the best thing to do. You can find lots of info on this and more in the Sleep section of the Olumia Life app.
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