Why We Sleep Poorly The First Night In A New Place: The Birdbrain Effect – CBS Local

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By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – Have you ever gone on a trip, checked into a hotel, hopped into bed for a good night’s sleep, then … stayed awake? Not such a great phenomenon, especially when you spend the next day napping rather than checking out the sights or being sharp at a business meeting.

But it’s a phenomenon that affects close to 99% of us, and the reason is something that relates to being kind of a “birdbrain.” I’ll explain that one in a second.

Researchers at Brown University tested a small group of people in a sleep lab. They placed a small sound bud or  pair of headphones in/near the ears of the people being tested, and then periodically played a small beep into the right, then the left ear — all the while analyzing brain waves and awake-responses as the people tried to sleep.

It seems that on that first night in the sleep lab, people stirred when a sound beeped into the right ear, yet slept when the beep went into the left.

What was happening? It seems that we really don’t have a full “brain sleep” that first night — meaning half of our brains stay on alert, while the other half snoozes away. It’s an effect seen in birds, and actually many other animals who try to catch some ZZZZs, yet need to make sure they aren’t attacked or eaten while doing so. In essence, half the brain stays awake, the other half turns off.

Yet in humans, this effect goes away quickly. As in one day (or night). In the sleep lab, people being tested slept right through the beeps on night #2, no matter which ear those beeps were sent to. And that’s what usually happens to those of us in the real world. After you spend the night at a different place, your body and brain relax and adjust to new surroundings. You generally sleep better.

So is there a way to counter the effects of a new place, short of taking a sleeping pill? Well, it is Mother Nature you are trying to fool here. So experts recommend a few things:

If in a hotel, try to stay in the same one (or chain),same general floor, same side of the building so the setup is the same.

Sleep on the same side of the bed you do at home.

Set the thermostat to something cool — say 65 degrees or so.

Run the fan, or bring a white noise machine.

If you can bring your own pillow from home, do so.

And knock off the electronics at least 45 minutes before hitting the sack.

All in all, we are like birdbrains when it comes to sleeping away from the comfort of our own beds. But that’s just the way our bodies are wired. It explains a lot — especially when you are nodding off that that important business meeting or napping rather than skiing.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida


Why We Sleep Poorly The First Night In A New Place: The Birdbrain Effect – CBS Local