The “First-Night Effect” is the Reason You Can Only Sleep Well in Your Own Bed

Young woman sleeping in bed in a hotel suffering from first-night effect.

When associate professor at Brown University, Yuka Sasaki embarked on her experiment to discover the cause of the “first-night effect” – a phenomenon that doesn’t allow you restful sleep on the first night spent away from your own bed – she did so with the idea in mind that it might be a potential that it might be a defense mechanism, similar to the kinds exhibited by other mammals. Dolphins and birds, for example, are capable of unihemispheric sleep, enabling the left region of their brains to sleep while the other remains awake, meaning that they’re alert even when asleep. (Talk about sleeping with one eye open!)

As it turns out, based on Sasaki’s hypothesis on the topic wasn’t all that far off. What she found in her research was that the human mind, when trying to fall asleep somewhere new or unfamiliar, resorts to a similar strategy as that mentioned above. But instead of the phenomenon occurring in the entire left region of the human brain, it is actually concentrated in what is called the default mode network of the mind, where “individuals are left to think to themselves undisturbed.” So what ends up happening when you lay your head down in a strange place to sleep is that the part of your brain that is often least concerned with honing in on the external environment while you’re awake actually becomes highly responsive in that moment. Go figure.

What that means is that when you’re having trouble sleeping somewhere new, it isn’t necessarily because you’re restless and missing the comfort and familiarity of your bed. In fact, it’s because your brain is on alert so that, in the event of a threat, it can wake you up faster than it would if you were in your own bed. So, if you find yourself struggling to get some shuteye in a bed that isn’t your own, it’s probably just because you’re a creature of habit whose body is reacting naturally to the change in environment. And that’s something to feel good about. At the very least, you know that your brain is functioning exactly as it should.

When a new bed or environment is making it tough for you to doze off, a little bit of reBloom is all it will take to ease your mind into a restful night of sleep. 

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