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For my third travelversary, I tallied up all the different beds I’d slept in over the past year – seventy-one various beds, plus four tents. Some of those evenings were spent casually drifting into a blissful and restful slumber. Others were spent tossing, turning, staring daggers at the time blinking back at me from my iPhone, and thinking anxiously of the exhausting day ahead. Over time, however, the latter scenario has become more and more infrequent as I’ve honed my system for being able to sleep anywhere on the road.
So when TYLENOL® PM asked me to tackle this issue so near and dear to my heart, it almost felt like a dream (get it?). Hostel dorms might just present one of the trickiest sleep situations out there, but they are no match for the well-prepared backpacker. Read on for my tried and true sleep tips for drifting off in a dorm.
1. Plan Ahead
Sometimes, I’m in the mood to be social. Other times, I’m in the mood to get to bed early and sleep. I’m never in the mood to be surprised – not when it comes to my hostel. I check reviews on Hostelworld and Tripadvisor to make sure I know what kind of place I’m checking myself into and that I’m not caught off guard by an on-site bar keeping me up until the wee hours. (Some rare magical hostels are the perfect mix of both. On example is Tropicana in Antigua, Guatemala, which has a lively bar that shuts down strictly at 10pm, at which point the hostel is completely silent and sleep-able.)
About 99% of the time, I’m happy to take whatever dorm I’m doled into. Every once in a while, however — if I’m fighting off a cold or am heading off on an arduous trek, for example – I might ask to be put in a smaller, quieter, or emptier dorm, a request I’ve found is usually politely accommodated.
2. Pack a Sleep Kit
I walk into a hostel like soldier prepared for battle against sleeplessness. The two most important weapons in my arsenal? A sleep mask (sequins optional…) and ear plugs. Both can take a little getting used to if you’re not accustomed to them, but the adjustment period will be well worth the restful hours you’ll clock. Keep these essentials as well as any others you might need as part of your bedroom routine – for me that includes chapstick, my contacts case, and my retainer, for example – in a small pouch that you can easily access without having to rummage apart your entire bag. Once you’ve checked in, keep it under your pillow for easy access every night.
3. Power Down
Sleep experts agree – stay off screens for two hours before bed. The light exposure from devices like phones and laptops stimulate the brain and confuses its natural sleep cycle signals. This goes for e-readers like a Kindle as well – a good excuse to hit that paperback swap in the lobby. And while you may have limited options in terms of communal spaces in some hostels, try to keep your bunk a sleep only zone – use your laptop and check your phone elsewhere so your body associates the space only with slumber.
I admit that this is a rule I struggle with and often break. But when I truly need a great night’s sleep, it does make all the difference.
4. Move Your Body
Studies show that exercise in the afternoon can help you sleep at night. You might be out of your regular gym routine on the road, but even forgoing a cab in favor of a long walk while you’re sightseeing can make all the difference that night when you’re about to hit the hay – er, bunk.
Even better? Hit a yoga class, which will have the added benefit of de-stressing you for optimal sleep.
5. Make Friends
Saying hi and introducing yourself to everyone in your dorm isn’t just good manners – it’s smart thinking. Having a face to a name will tend to make your roommates a bit more courteous when coming in late at night or heading out early in the morning. You’re no longer just the anonymous blonde in bunk 12 – you’re the sweet new friend they definitely wouldn’t want to wake by flipping on the lights at 3am!
6. Clean Start
Taking a warm shower might not be an option in all areas of the world (heck, taking a fresh water shower is a luxury in some of my favorite places in Southeast Asia!), but when it is, try hopping in one right before bed. You might not have control over the temperature of your room (there have been nights when I would have named my first born child after any person who could produce a working fan), but you can help lower the temperature of your body – which will aid in a good night’s sleep.
7. Snack Smart
What you eat during the day – especially right before bedtime – has a huge effect on how you sleep. Caffeine any time afternoon and beyond is an obvious no no – the half life of caffeine in the body is about 5-10 hours, so order that last cup of coffee (or Diet Coke, in my case) with caution.
As far as a midnight snack goes, turkey isn’t the only food containing the famed sleep-inducing tryptophan – milk, bananas and oatmeal all serve up healthy doses as well. Keep your snack servings small – digesting a large meal can also keep you up at night.
Now, we all know exhaustion is no laughing matter. Except when it is. TYLENOL® wants to know — what embarrassing things have you done after a sleepless night? Share with @TYLENOL on Instagram using #IWasSoTired #Sweeps for a chance to win a $1,000 Bed, Bath & Beyond™ Bedroom Makeover! I’ll be sharing one of my own stories on Instagram later this week — stay tuned!
What hostel sleep tips have you found effective?
Spill in the comments below!
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Alex, I’m always impressed with your ability to work with sponsors (bills don’t pay themselves!) while still feeling genuine.
I’m getting ready to spend some serious time in hostels for the first time in a decade. I will keep these tips (especially the ear plugs!) in mind, so as not to turn into the angry old lady (32 is ancient in hostel-years) telling everyone in the dorm to pipe down. 😉
Thank you so much, Mary! That means a lot. It helps that I turn down anything that I’m not really excited about… and I’m really passionate about sleep, ha. Definitely go for the ear plugs! You might want to try them out at home first if you’re not used to them so that it’s not just one more thing that seems new in an unfamiliar environment. Good luck with your hostel revival! 🙂
I’m studying abroad this summer and hope to do some traveling around Europe outside my program, so I’ll definitely be using some of these tips as I’m sure I’ll end up in a number of hostels with no clue what to do! Thanks Alex 🙂
I haven’t hosteled much in Europe but it looks like they have some of the best in the world! And plenty of choices, so it sounds like #1 will be a big priority for you. Enjoy, Emily!
Um… YES! I’ve had some of the worst sleeps of my life in hostels before I had figured out the whole ear plug thing. They may not be the most comfortable but I will NEVER travel without them again. You can end up with street noise, thin walls, or a snoring partner in even the fanciest hotels. Great tips Alex! I especially like the suggestion of making friends 🙂
It makes SUCH a difference, though it took me a while to figure it out for myself! Just a short intro goes a long way. Also, who likes sleeping next to strangers? It helps me sleep better knowing who is a few feet away 🙂
Great tips — I would add that a lot of hostels have private rooms that can be booked for a little more than just a bunk bed. If traveling with a friend or a partner – those are almost always worth the extra splurge. Also, I often use my iphone white noise app if there is a noise issue 🙂
Yes, very true! I often go that route these days when the budget allows. I’ve never tried a white noise app, though even in the dead of winter at home I sleep with the fan on mostly for the noise. I should probably check out the app idea, sounds more eco-friendly!
I’m not sure I’ve ever slept in a hostel & given my husband’s snobbery, may never BUT #3 is golden and I might even post it on my headboard x
YES. I was reading an article about a married couple that made a no electronics in the bedroom rule… as in they even leave their phones plugged in in the kitchen to charge overnight. They said it revolutionized their sleep and their marriage! I would be kind of interested in trying that though it would basically be the equivalent of deciding to do an iron man, self challenge-wise.
Great list. I have no idea how many beds I’ve slept in over the last 4 years! Has to be about the same as you. 🙂
Counting it up last year was eye-opening! I think I’ll do the same with this year’s roundup which is coming up scarily soon!
301 days on the road, & we’ve topped more than 120 beds (plus about 25 other nights in transit)!
We’re pretty fortunate however, Sarah can sleep pretty much anywhere (& through most noises), whilst I can comfortably get by on about 6 hours (much more & I feel horrible… unless I’m sick).
The biggest hindrance we’ve found to good sleep, is not having a decent pillow!
I actually traveled with a little travel pillow in South America (not a blow up one, an actual little feather pillow) and it MADE MY LIFE AMAZING! I don’t know what I was thinking not bringing it this time. Major face palm.
Post request: sleeping on buses 😀 😀 😀
Oooof. I think I’ll have to master it myself first. Any tips? Anyone? Anyone at all? 🙂
Thanks for this helpful post! I’m a light sleeper and have slept with ear plugs since my college dorm days. Usually I can fall asleep anywhere, but in Prague I had a bunk mate who smelled horrible. Does anyone have any tips for dealing with stinky roommates? This can (sadly and grossly) ruin a good night’s sleep as well.
Eeeek. That would be really tough 🙁 Maybe spray something conspicuously and hope they get the hint? I’d feel a tad guilty doing it but come on, there are showers for a reason!
I rarely have problems sleeping in hostels, but normally that’s due to a bit of help from alcohol consumption. : )
Actually, I did a bit of research about that for this post! Drinking alcohol can help you FALL asleep but it actually disrupts your sleep cycle, which if why you’ll often wake up feeling more tired than rested. Hence, it’s not the best strategy for long term 🙂
Last summer when I volunteered in South Africa, we stayed in a hostel. I luckily was in a room of 6 girls, but two of the girls I befriended on the trip were in a male/female dorm room made up of 12 people. Half of the people in that room went to bed fairly early, and the other half would drunkenly stagger in around 2 or 3 am and flip on the lights. These are all such good tips, though I have never mastered the art of keeping a sleep mask on my face for the entire night!
Oh man, hostels are my jam! 8-bed rooms are seriously my favorite, preferably in a mixed dorm. Boys are SO much quieter than girls! And in my experience, more likely to shush the snorers! I usually am willing to pay a bit more for a higher rated hostel and that usually keeps the bad eggs at bay.
I love when someone else does the dirty work and sushes the snorers for me 🙂 I prefer mixed dorms as well though tend to retreat to a girl’s dorm for some reason if I’m not feeling well!
Sleep mask and ear plugs! My 2 best friends in a hostel dorm! It’s like I’m in my own peaceful little world even though people are chatting and packing their bags right by my bunk!
It really makes all the difference in the world! My earplugs finally bit the dust and I’ve been without them for three days and so sad already. Need to pick up a replacement soon!
love your blog! so detailed and well written! I like the way you give personal examples!
Thank you so much! I always try to write with a personal tone 🙂 Glad it’s enjoyed!
Haha, good post! Thankfully I’ve gotten used to dorms so I dont’t have too much trouble sleeping, except when surrounded by heavy dormers (or, you know, people having loud sex…)! In Asia, another strategy is to choose a pod/capsule hostel where possible, as they give you more privacy and insulation from noise and light. 🙂
Oh I loooove those pod hostels! I stayed in one in Paracas, Peru, as well. Looks like the phenomenon is spreading!
Yes, there are quite a few around Asia now, I have stayed at some in Japan, Myanmar and Malaysia. Oh and btw, I meant “heavy snorers” not “dormers”, haha!
Alex, This is a great tip sheet. No one likes it when they can’t sleep. Good hints.
Thanks Corinne! There’s nothing worse than walking around like a zombie all day. Good sleep is a necessity!
I travel a lot and my one and only companion is my sleeping kits. We usually stay in the hostels like this. Vey helpful tips I can relate it to this blog post.
Ha! Glad you can relate 🙂 Happy napping!
this is a great post, and a great summary for the hostel travelers! Will share this one on my social networks!
All the best,
Thanks for sharing, Matt!
Solid tips, Alex. I’m getting ready to spend some serious time in hostels for the first time in a decade and your tips will help a lot.
Sweet dreams, Sam 🙂
These are great tips. I personally don’t find it hard to fall asleep in hostels… but I am the guy who’d probably keep everyone else from sleeping. I snore… But I always carry my anti snoring mouthpiece. The world would be a better place if everyone snorer got one of these…
Maybe I’ll pick some up to start handing out to the snorers I encounter 🙂
I work shift work so I usually sleep with a white noise machine to mask the noise during the day when I’m trying to sleep during the day. I can’t sleep without it anymore.
When I was in Australia, I had this headband with ear buds in it that I would hook up to my iPod with white noise and sleep with that and my eye mask. I’m normally a light sleeper but was able to sleep through people arguing in the room. I’m actually looking to get some wireless headphones for my round the world trip next year.
For me, an eye mask and some ear plugs make all the difference in the world! White noise… might have to try that next time I have a bout of insomnia, thanks for the tip!
Wow…..this is a great post for the hostel travelers like me. I’ll definitely share this on my fb. Thanks for sharing this.
Hey Jenny! Glad to hear you enjoyed it! Happy travels 🙂
God Bless you Alex. I hope your travels do you well 🙂 Thanks for the sleeping tips.
Cheer, Dean! Happy travels!
Great post! When I first started travelling I had no idea about earplugs and sleeping masks + how much they can help (especially when sleeping in a dorm). Now I almost can’t imagine my life without them. And sometimes when the noise problem is really bad (loud snoring for example!) I put on my sleep headphones and no noise will disturb me haha.
I sleep with an eye mask pretty much every night now 🙂 I think it just tells my body, hey, it’s time to sleep!
Great tips Alex! I wanted to share a problem and fix I had with waking up every few hours in the night. Your last tip about snacks made me think of it. If you exercise, you may NEED a small snack before bed. This is what happened to me. I didn’t know it, but my body was waking me up saying “give me food”. Sounds crazy, but it’s true! I started eating a small snack before bed and I hardly ever wake up anymore.
I basically eat all hours of the day 😉 But I agree, I can’t go to bed hungry or I can’t fall asleep!
Hostels are not for me. I need privacy when going to sleep for the night. Yes, it is more affordable to stay at a hostel. But I would rather pay a little more to have my own room. But after reading this I kinda want to get the experience.
You can always do a private room in a hostel: best of both worlds!
Thanks, Alex! For an amazing idea.
You’re very welcome.
This is so helpful!
Earplugs are a definite must have for travel that saves a whole lot of discomfort and grumpiness!
I love the tip about making friends, not just from my very active socializing side, but from a useful aspect too. You never know who will come through for you on the days that you forget one of these precious commodities.
Great point Jerome! I am missing the hostel life these days… hope they are back in action soon!