Image: Sleeping in a hotel room
John Brecher / msnbc.com
Sometimes, there's nothing worse than a long day of travel only to check in to your hotel room and be kept from sweet, sweet sleep by noisy neighbors and other loud distractions.
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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/11/2008 9:55:34 AM ET 2008-12-11T14:55:34

How's this for luck: I recently found a great weekend rate for a swanky hotel in an expensive city. My minisuite had a giant flat-screen TV, a gas fireplace and one of those incredible “this isn’t a mattress, it’s a lifestyle” beds. Drifting off to sleep, I thought, “Fat chance you’ll get to do this again soon. Enjoy it while you can.”

I did — for about three minutes.

That’s when a family — Loudencrankies, I called them — checked in next door. After the bellhop settled them in, he rolled his squeaky-wheeled luggage cart down the hall. It was late, but that didn’t stop the kids from slamming doors and inspecting all the drawers. To his credit, the dad asked the kids to knock it off and settle down. Then he ordered it. Then came the crying.

The tears were mine. After listening to that racket for a while through the expensively wallpapered but paper-thin walls, I buzzed the front desk for advice: “What does it take to get a quiet hotel room?”

You want comfy beds and quiet too?
No one seemed surprised by my call. Perhaps the Loudencrankies were regular customers. More likely it was because guests — even at swanky hotels — complain regularly about noisy neighbors, slamming doors, clanking pipes, loud TVs and other sleep impediments. In fact, in a recent study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, most of the 53,000 travelers surveyed ranked noise as the problem they most often encounter at hotels.

Sleep strategies
Beyond moving some guests to new rooms and asking others to pipe down, hotels employ a variety of strategies to nix noise. Some sell or give away earplugs and eye masks. Others offer machines that cover unwanted noise with the sounds of chirping crickets, falling rain or gently lapping waves. And some hotels rely on built-for-sleep construction.

At Seattle’s Hotel 1000, housekeepers never knock on your door when you’re sleeping (or doing anything else) because an infrared sensor can scan the room for body heat and signal that someone is inside.

For about four years now, AmericInn hotels have been touting “the quietest night in lodging” based on the chain-wide use of building methods that include masonry blocks filled with sound-deadening foam and other noise-minimizing practices. And the folks building the luxury Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort in Dubai have sent out press releases promising guests “increased peace and quiet” thanks to a special flooring system designed to decrease and deaden sound.

Zoned for zoning out
Since 2004, all North American Crowne Plaza hotels have had quiet zones from Sunday through Thursday nights. The promise: On those floors, there will be no housekeeping or maintenance projects between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m., and no children or leisure groups allowed. The program, which expanded to the chain’s Japanese hotels in 2008, also offers travelers night lights, drape clips, sleep CDs, sleep tips and other amenities such as eye masks, ear plugs and soothing scents such as lavender spray. Next year, quiet-zone floors should be popping up, quietly of course, at Crowne Plaza properties in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Recognizing that many international travelers crave some serious shut-eye between long flights, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport introduced its own quiet zone in 2006. The twist? These rooms can be booked for stays as short as four hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. During those hours, the quiet-zone floor is off limits to housekeepers and luggage-carting bellhops, and guests receive complimentary earplugs and eye masks. Between 30 and 45 people take advantage of the quiet zone every week, said Ann Merenda.

In addition to business travelers, she added, many quiet-zone guests come straight from the early arrival Hawaii flights. “Guests show up in shorts, T-shirts and suntans and before they fly back to the frigid temperatures of northern B.C. or the Interior, they book in for four to eight hours and get ‘wintered up.’ But before they put on the long pants, warm jackets and gloves, they get to enjoy a relaxing last leg of their vacation before returning to reality.”

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Defensive dreaming
Sometimes there’s just no avoiding noise. During her stay at a fully booked hotel in New York City, hospitality industry expert Tamara Wilson had to endure midnight jackhammering in the street. “I ended up sleeping with pillows pressed to my ears. I fell asleep but certainly did not look my best the next day.”

Her advice for fellow travelers seeking sleep? “Look around for construction projects before you get in the room. And do a bit of research before you arrive.” Wilson says when she stays at the upscale Benson Hotel in Portland, Ore., she always requests a room on the alley — not in front. Why the alley? She discovered teenagers cruise cars up and down the street in front of the hotel on Friday nights. “Of course, the higher up you go the better it is,” she added. “But as the elevator climbs, so does the price.”

What else should you keep in mind? Here are some tips from once-weary road warriors:

Stash some earplugs: You may not need them, but just knowing you have them available might help you rest easy.

Check out the neighborhood: Call ahead to find out if the hotel is on a busy street or near a nightclub, hospital, police station, major highway or some other 24-hour operation. If so, ask for a room in the back, away from ice machines and elevators as well.

When you call ahead, also ask if there are conventions, weddings or other special events booked at the hotel while you’re there. If so, insist on being moved away from the festivities and away from the rooms blocked off for event guests, where the after parties are likely to occur.

Consider airport hotels: They’re often super soundproofed to ward off jet-engine noise and runway rumble. The Grand Hyatt DFW, for example, is part of International Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and overlooks a busy runway. But close the drapes and the airport disappears.

Turn off alarms: The only thing worse than a missed wake-up call is the 4 a.m. alarm the previous traveler set on the clock in your hotel room.

Be quiet: Check in, drop your bags, sit down and listen. Is the sink or shower dripping? Is the toilet running? Does the air conditioner rattle or does the heating system wheeze? Room noises like this are no big deal at 3 p.m., but at 3 a.m. it’s a whole different — and noisy — story.

Got it? Now sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. And don’t forget to put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door.

Harriet Baskas writes msnbc.com's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for USATODAY.com.

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