THE BLOG
09/07/2012 08:25 am ET | Updated Nov 07, 2012

How to Sleep Well When Traveling

Alamy

12:33 a.m.

Electric, bright red, foot-tall letters beam down from my hotel ceiling.

12:33 a.m!

Even without my glasses and being ruthlessly near-sighted, it is not hard to see exactly what time it is as the clock on my bedside table projects it onto my ceiling with an intensity that rivals the Bat Signal. I have heard about these alarm clock projections, where the time of day or night is magnified and shines on the ceiling in red numbers. I can't believe they're real. How is this conducive to sleep?

As a neurologist and sleep specialist, I am devoted to the quality of my sleep, your sleep, your kids' sleep, even your snoring spouse's sleep. I first became involved in the field as a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia, hoping to score a few extra college credits by working with a sleep doctor. Little did I know that I would discover a lifelong passion. This is my first blog for The Huffington Post, and I am thrilled to explore all things sleep with this outlet and hopefully help its readers understand sleep better and sleep more effectively. I have a special affinity for athletes and improving their sleep, particularly when they are the road. We all face the challenge of a good night's sleep when we are away from home. Tonight, I'm the one on the road. And the demonic glow of this digital timekeeper is keeping me awake.

12:35 a.m!

A great sleeper is not always born that way. It is a skill that is learned and can be improved upon. This is a concept that I commonly harp on with my athletes. If you can learn to shoot a free throw, then you can learn to sleep in a hotel. Sleeping in the best of circumstances can be difficult for many people. The vast majority of us will struggle with sleeplessness at some point or other. Travel, unfortunately, is one of the places where my patients or clients often stumble in terms of sleep because suddenly, their sleep environments are outside of their control. Step number one to sleeping well is to regain control.

Take charge of your sleep when you travel, starting well before you check in. Start as soon as you make your reservation, which should always be done over the phone, with a real hotel representative inside that hotel. Doing your homework online prior to that call is fine -- research your deals, compare prices. When it is time to book your room, you need to talk to an individual who is familiar with the property.

The first thing to request when booking is a room separated from other guests. Often hotels fill in specific patterns that commonly leave entire sections empty. Ask for a room there. If that is not possible, at the least try to find a room with no neighbors to either side. Another important consideration -- avoid rooms near the ice and vending machines. They are loud and attract noisy people at all hours of the night. The last thing you want to hear is the bachelorette party return to the hotel, looking for ice for their frozen margaritas at 3 a.m. Also, avoid rooms near noisy roads... Ask for the quiet side of the hotel. They will know exactly where to put you.

If you are traveling across multiple time zones, you may be planning on sleeping in or having to awaken early in the morning. Ask the representative for a room that faces away from the morning sun. It is very helpful if you plan on catching a few extra hours in the morning.

Once you have your room and arrive, it's time to check it out. If you arrive during the day, try to make the room as dark as possible. Close all of the curtains, turn off all of the lights. Are you tripping over furniture to find a light switch? If so, good. Your room is dark. If not, you need to figure out how to make it dark. I always pack duct tape when I travel. It is useful for holding curtains together, covering up the blinking LED light on the microwave or phone, and blocking the light coming into the room from underneath the main door.

Turn on the air conditioner. Is it excessively loud? Does it turn on every three minutes? If there are problems with the AC, deal with them now, not at 2:00 in the morning. This is also a good time to check out your alarm clock and make arrangements for how you will awaken in the morning. Create a failsafe plan. Worry about oversleeping is often cited as a reason for poor sleep at night. I like to arrange for a wake-up call and 10 minute back-up call with the front desk. I set my own cellphone alarm, which is a loud and jarring Rolling Stones song. I discovered during my medical residency that I can sleep through most things if I am tired enough (and at the time, I was!). I learned that it is harder to sleep through an alarm with a complex sound than one that simply beeps. Finally, I always look at the alarm clock in the room. This provides a third alarm, but more importantly, I can make sure that the alarm set by the previous occupant is not still operational and poised to wake me up to catch an early flight, which I am not scheduled to be on.

Tonight, unfortunately I have ignored my own travel rule. Because I do not have anywhere to go tomorrow, I never bothered to inspect this alarm clock and now I need to turn on a light and figure out a way to keep this flaming timepiece from telling me exactly what time it is every time I open my eyes.

Or, I can just do it the easy way and cover the projector with a piece of duct tape.

For more by Dr. Christopher Winter, click here.

For more on sleep, click here.

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