Getting good sleep while you travel plays a big part in whether you enjoy your trip at all. No one likes to sightsee when they’re grumpy and sleep-deprived.
Sleeping in a hotel room is challenging enough for most of us, but it’s nothing compared to hostels. Hostels introduce a whole new variety of elements that make you acutely aware you’re not in your own bed.
You’re in a strange city, sleeping in a room full of strangers. And, those strangers are close—perhaps only a bunk away.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to improve your sleep while staying at a hostel. Take a look at our top ten tips for sleeping well in a hostel.
1. Read reviews.
Most hostels are going to be loud. That’s the nature of a communal sleeping environment, particularly when you have a high majority of solo travelers looking to be social and make connections during their trip.
However, some hostels will be louder than others, and they’ll have earned a reputation for being so. Read reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, HostelBookers, HostelWorld, and Booking.com when you’re planning your trip.
Search for words like “loud,” “noisy,” and “quiet” to find a hostel that promises a quieter environment. Even if your fellow bedmates are loud, a hostel that’s well-insulated from street noise will offer you more restful sleep than one in the middle of a noisy tourist district.
Also look for mentions of lockers or storage facilities. If you can secure your luggage with lock and key, you won’t be kept up by fears of your luggage being stolen from underneath your bed while you sleep.
2. Avoid party hostels.
Many solo travelers prefer hostels not just for the lower impact on their travel budget, but because they’re a great way to meet fellow travel companions.
These so-called “party hostels” often host parties, barbecues, and social events for their guests. While these are indeed great for meeting people, they’re not good for sleep—especially when the partying continues into the late night.
Review each hostel’s website before you book. Be wary of any that focus heavily on socializing in their marketing.
3. Prevent jet lag.
Jet lag will go away naturally during your trip. But you can start your trip off well-rested if you take the preparations beforehand to minimize jet lag as much as possible.
In the days leading up to your trip, start adjusting your sleep and meal schedule by 1 hour for each time zone you’ll be traveling.
Then, during the trip itself, drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Pack layers so you can stay comfortable regardless of the temperature inside the plane or train. Get up and stretch every so often to keep your blood flowing.
If you get tired, limit yourself to a short power nap. Avoid sleeping longer than that, unless you’re on a red-eye, in which case you’ll want to sleep the whole time.
4. Pack a personal sleep kit.
To sleep well in a hostel, you’ll need a few more reinforcements than you might need at home. Consider packing the following:
- An eye mask to cover your eyes and block out light from the street, the hallway, and fellow guests’ electronics. Bonus points if it’s lavender-scented.
- Ear plugs to block out the noise from sheets rustling and neighbors whispering. Disposable ear plugs are cheap, easy to pack, and effective.
- Noise-blocking headphones, if ear plugs aren’t your thing. You can plug these into your smartphone, download a white noise app, and let the static noise lull you to sleep.
You’ll want to pack all of these up in a small bag that’s separate from the rest of your luggage. This way, you can take your sleep kit out before bed and take it to bed with you, instead of having to rummage noisily through your bag in the middle of the night when insomnia strikes.
5. Choose your bed strategically.
Arrive to the hostel as early as possible to enjoy the widest selection of bunks.
Eye the room and be strategic. Would a corner be quieter, or would you be dealing with street noise from a nearby window? Would you prefer a top or bottom bunk?
The answers to these questions are a matter of personal preference, but one particular bunk location is better for sleep, no matter your own sleep habits: Always choose a bed further away from the door, in order to prevent foot traffic from waking you up.
6. Follow good sleep hygiene during the day.
You’re on vacation, so it’s time to live a little. Even so, vacation is no excuse to throw good sleep hygiene out the window. As much as possible throughout your trip, follow these top sleep hygiene practices:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule will make it easier for your brain to shut off at night.
- Get plenty of sunlight early in the day, and pair it with exercise outside if possible. The AM energy boost will prepare you for a busy day of sightseeing, while reinforcing your natural sleep-wake cycles. Stay busy during the day, and you’ll be too exhausted by bedtime for insomnia to be an issue.
- Turn off your electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, earlier if possible. The blue light in these devices wakes up your brain and makes sleep harder to come by.
- Eat well and stay hydrated, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals in the latter part of the day. These disrupt our sleep, and in the case of alcohol, the sleep of others around you. Alcohol-induced snoring can lead to some nasty glares from your hostelmates come morning.
- Follow a bedtime routine. You’re away from home, so your bedtime routine will have to be somewhat modified, but keep to it as much as possible. These pre-bedtime activities help remind your brain that it’s time to sleep. Brush your teeth, turn off your phone, and practice deep breathing exercises or meditation in your hostel bed.
7. Go to sleep early.
If you’re sound asleep before the rest of your roommates come home, the likelier you are to stay asleep. Anyone who’s slept in noisy environments knows it’s much easier to stay asleep than to fall asleep once the noise has already started.
8. Take a warm shower before bed.
It’s easier to sleep when you’re not grimy from sightseeing or travelling all day. But being clean isn’t the only reason this sleep hack works.
Taking a warm shower before bed allows your body to heat up. As the warm water evaporates from your skin, your body experiences a natural cooldown. This decrease in temperature mimics the natural body temperature decrease you experience at night anyway, in preparation for your body to start falling asleep.
9. Wear layers.
You probably won’t get to decide on the room temperature in the hostel, soo your best bet to stay comfortable while you sleep is to bring layers.
Pack light, loose-fitting pajamas, along with a blanket, hoodie, or socks. You can put on the additional layers if you get cold, and if it’s warm, you can use them as soundproofing instead.
Consider packing a small personal travel fan, too. It can create white noise and provide a cool breeze at the same time.
10. Shell out for a private room.
The hostel industry has experienced a renaissance in recent years, leading to new investments and higher-end redesigns. One such investment are private rooms, offered by 90% of today’s hostels. If you really want to enjoy a restful night’s sleep, it may be worth making the upgrade.
Some hostels offer privacy pods, which provide a middle ground between a fully private room and a traditional bunk bed in terms of soundproofing. These have a similar vibe to what you’ve seen in business-class sleep arrangements on airplanes.
Of course, you can create your own makeshift privacy pod by hanging a towel or blanket around part of your bed.
Bonus tip: Be a good guest.
Finally, model the behavior you want to see in other guests. If you are a courteous guest at night—your phone doesn’t go off, you don’t get up to use the bedroom, and you don’t have sex—others may follow suit.
At the very least, you won’t have other vengeful guests trying to interrupt your sleep as payback for your poor behavior the night before.
Additional Tuck resources for travelers
For sound sleep no matter where you’re traveling, check out our other articles.