Science Says This Is Why It's So Hard to Sleep in a New Place
Sleepless tossing and turning on your first night somewhere new is, we’re relieved to learn, a scientific fact of life. Of course, sleep has been studied for a very long time (the very first sleep studies actually date back to ancient Greece). But scientists have recently found, the Atlantic reports, that people simply don’t rest as soundly in a new environment as they normally do.
Researchers’ sleep-study data had to factor out what came to be referred to as an “adaptation night” on subjects’ first evenings under surveillance. But no one ever dug deeper into why this so-called “first-night effect” was so common and across the board.
So Brown University researchers took a closer look at the first-night effect and discovered that “on the first night in a new place … one brain hemisphere remains more awake than the other during deep sleep, apparently in a state of readiness for trouble.”
Additionally, researchers found that noise stimuli produced a greater effect (namely likelihood and quickness of waking) on first-night sleepers, particularly from the left hemisphere of the brain. The result dissipated in subsequent nights of study.
The understanding, then, is that when sleeping somewhere new, the brain maintains an evolutionary “surveillance hemisphere” just in case, probably as a vestige of our days of sleeping in caves (and new environs with real threats to our safety regularly). No need to sleep with one eye open, then—your brain is on the job!
Do you have trouble sleeping? Give yourself the wind-down you deserve with a cozy, snooze-inducing chamomile tea.