New York Sky - by Benjamin EllisIt has been a week of travel and being off-line. Early starts, planes, trains and automobiles I can live with. The inevitable challenges of getting a good night’s sleep in a hotel is the killer. What is it with hotels? A large number of people, no sense of communal responsibility and a 24/7 operating environment, all conspire to put quality sleep at the bottom of the deliverables list. Hotel stays are inherent part of the lifestyle of any business person. How do you deal with them?

Maybe you are different, but I am definitely not at my best if I am tired. A good night’s sleep is key to being productive the next day. However good their marketing, hotels are at a disadvantage, because they aren’t your home bed. These are the ways to avoid a bad night’s sleep that I have discovered in the last two decades of travel:

Don’t be at the bottom.
You may call it the first floor, or you may call it the ground floor. Whatever you call it, don’t be there. They tend to be noisy places because of their proximity to noise sources outside, such as parking and roads. Then there are the sleep-preventing evils that lurk inside the hotel downstairs – the bar and events rooms. I learnt this one early on, after a particularly late and noisy wedding reception in a hotel.

Avoid entrances and exits.
As Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage, all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances.” However, in modern times they are compelled to have conversations and phone calls until the early hours of the morning outside them. Not good, avoid. With the advent of anti-smoking laws in some countries, these are also gathering points for smokers.

Take a look out of your window.
If you can see a train track, you may want to move.

Lifts and Elevators are not convenient.
Two reasons. Firstly, lift shafts are generally not quiet. They convey sound and hold machinery that makes random sounds. Secondly, the inevitable late night revelers returning will crash past your door. As a special bonus, you may get that magical “ding!” as the lift arrives at your floor, or the modern variant, the talking lift “We are now on the second floor. Sorry, did I wake you?” An additional twist here, that perfect room at the end of the long corridor may not be all it seems. Check the floor plan that will be on the back of the door in most countries. In true pantomime style, the lift shaft may be behind you.

Love thy neighbour or get a new one.
Service rooms and house keeping cupboards are not good next-door friends, as they tend to result in slamming doors in the early or late hours. If the next room’s occupants are engaged in some form of uniquely noisy activities, change rooms sooner rather than later. If they like the TV loud, they aren’t going to change that habit in the next few hours.

Remove the booby traps.
About the closest I have come to a heart attack was a clock-radio alarm going off next to me at 2am. It was kindly set by the muppet guest in the room the night before. I didn’t need to be up until 7am, but that was the end of my night’s sleep. German radio has never been the same since. This has made me vicious in the extermination of devices that produce surprise noises. I turn off the fridge and air conditioning, if I can. I do turn them back on afterwards, although it does make me feel like an environmental hooligan. This isn’t about being green, it is to eliminate unfamiliar noises that might subconsciously reduce the quality of sleep. Needless to say, I nuke the alarm clock and switch off the TV, which doubles as one in some hotels. On the subject of the TV; it is the biggest booby trap of all, don’t switch it on. The next thing you know, it will be 1am and you will have watched three hours of back episodes of star trek. Trust me, TV at home is poor, it doesn’t get any better even if it is in a foreign language.

An Englishman’s hotel room is his castle.
Lock the door and if there is one, put the chain on, as the inside latch doesn’t always lock the door. This will save that traumatic face to face encounter with the cleaner, if they arrive before you dress. It will also give you an early warning of any unwelcome gate crashers. Check the windows are properly shut too. A number of hotels open the windows or put them on a ventilation setting. This is great for clearing the air in the room, but bad for keeping noise out. If you are someone who sleeps with the window open, that’s your call! Don’t try this in Sweden in the winter.

Sometimes it is better to be in the dark.
Shut the curtains well. I am truly baffled by how many types of curtain there are in the world. There should be a word like ‘origami’ to describe the art of being able to close all of the different styles and variations properly, without removing them from the walls or killing yourself in the process. In one hotel I had to stand on a chair, placed on top of a desk, to shut the curtains to keep the light out. They looked very pretty, but after ten minutes of stunt work getting them shut, the effect had worn off. You might be ok with the curtains open at home, but you don’t want to discover that the floodlights shine into your hotel room at 6am, trust me.

Match your drug habits.
Select the appropriate room, smoking / non-smoking. If smoke bothers you, make sure there hasn’t been any in the room. Speaking of drugs, caffeine has the same effects away as it does when you are at home. If you don’t have a cup of coffee before bed at home, avoid it in the hotel, even if it is the only free drink in the room. Note to any hotel owners: How about a free bottle of water in the room please?

Failing all that, you could always find a good, small privately owned hotel, or appreciate a job that means you stay at home most of the time instead!

OK, another tip, courtesy of Seth Godin’s blog, don’t stay on the 67th Floor! Don’t be at the bottom (see above) applies, but don’t be too far up either. Since I wrote the original post, I spent a night in a New York hotel on one of the upper floors. The view was great, but the time spent in waiting and travelling the lift/elevator is proportional to how far up you are. If the power goes out, as it did for Seth, then it will also save you a long walk on the stairs!