Do you wake up tired after the first night in a strange hotel room or your new VRBO? Probably so, but you’re in good company. Researchers have determined that when we try sleeping in an unfamiliar place, only half of our brain is actually sleeping. The other half stays at least partially awake and alert, most likely as a defense mechanism.
Welcome to duck brain. A common defense mechanism for other animals, like dolphins and birds, ducks, in particular, are known to sleep one half-brain at a time, literally with an eye open for predators.
Fortunately for us, humans are generally able to calm down and allow both sides of our brains to sleep by the second night in a new place, but that doesn’t mean that the first night has to be restless. Here are a few ideas to minimize the effects of duck brain the next time you travel:
- If you’re headed on a short trip, take your pillow with you. If you’re going on a longer adventure, like a week-long stay at a vacation home, take your favorite sheets with you. In either case, be sure to wash them with your regular laundry detergent before you leave. The familiar feel and smell of your own bedding can go a long way toward making you feel more at home when you travel, relaxing you, and telling your body (and brain!) it’s safe to sleep.
- If you’re traveling for something important, like a big presentation, try arriving two days ahead of time. You might suffer from duck brain that first night in the hotel, but biology should take over to allow better sleep by the second night, leaving you well-rested and ready for your big presentation on day three.
- Surround yourself with a few familiar items. No one wants to lug a suitcase full of knick-knacks from home, but small comfort items that remind you of home, like your alarm clock and favorite pajamas, can make a strange place feel cozier and easier to sleep in.
- When you’re traveling, try to use the same bedtime routine as you do at home. Your body will know it’s time to wind down, helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. (You can read more about the benefits of a bedtime routine here.)
Everyone deserves to get a good night’s sleep, no matter where you’re traveling, and we hope that simple tips will help you do just that the next time you’re on an adventure. For now, we’ll stick to counting sheep and avoid the ducks!
If you’d like to read more about duck brain, here’s a fascinating article from our friends at NPR.