Reducing The Disruptive Effects Of Sleeping In New Surroundings
Author: Jane Sandwood
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to our physical health and emotional well-being, and yet up to 50% of older adults report difficulties falling and staying asleep. Practising habits that can lead to a good sleep routine and a better night’s sleep include limiting distractions in your bedroom, sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillows, and keeping active during the day to help you feel sleepy later. However, if you find yourself sleeping somewhere different, maybe settling into a new permanent home, temporarily in hospital, or even just overnight to visit the grandchildren, it can still be more difficult to get a good night’s rest.
The First Night Effect
Unfamiliar surroundings and a different mattress, pillows and bedding can all mean that it can take time to feel comfortable in a new bed. In addition, scientists have discovered that, instinctively, when we go to sleep somewhere new, one side of our brain stays alert and on the lookout for potential danger. This is known as the First Night Effect, and results in experiencing a lighter sleep. Although this disruptive effect can have an impact on a person of any age, as we get older, it may be exacerbated by other conditions, such as pain from chronic conditions e.g. arthritis, or simply a general anxiety caused by change and disruption to our routine. The disruption can also be exacerbated if the person is confused.
Even though it might be inevitable to feel anxious or unsettled in a new bed, a good sleep routine is always advisable, and this should change as little as possible in a new environment. As we age, sleep tends to be more fragmented, and you may find yourself waking up several times during the night. This can leave you tired during the day, but if you can avoid or limit napping, then you will be ready to sleep at night. Taking your own pillow or favourite blanket with you when you’re away can provide physical and emotional comfort, and reduce the unfamiliarity of a completely new bed. This is particularly useful for anyone with dementia, who may be easily confused or disturbed by a change in their night-time routine.
Practising good sleep hygiene includes sleeping without distractions in a dark, quiet bedroom at an ideal temperature of 18℃. Unfortunately, these conditions can’t always be met, especially on a busy, shared ward in hospital. Initiatives, such as the Royal Liverpool Hospital’s ‘Night Time Hush’ campaign, aim to reduce noise in hospital at night, by limiting conversation and asking people to not use their phones. Wherever you are sleeping, using earplugs and wearing a sleep mask can help to cancel out troubling distractions and help you nod off.
It’s common to experience disrupted sleep when you’re in an unfamiliar environment, and it may be that the first night anywhere new will always be a little stressful. However, by sticking to an established sleep routine in the evening, and minimising distractions in your new bedroom, you should find you can settle more easily and get a comfortable night’s sleep.