Dear Never a Good Night's Sleep,
Reply to Board Question #23086, about sleeping environments:
I've had problems like this for some time as well. I talked to someone at the Counciling Center, and they gave me a list of things to try. Most of these try to make it so that your body begins to associate certain stimuli with sleep and only sleep.
1. Use your bed only for sleeping. No reading, eating, or watching TV in bed. This can get rather difficult if you're in a hotel room with very limited furniture, and in that case I would suggest sitting on the edge of the bed.
2. Stay in your day clothes until you're ready to go to sleep.
3. If you're not falling asleep within fifteen or twenty minutes of lying in bed, get up and do something else. Again, you're trying to train your body to remember that when you lay in bed, you should fall asleep fairly soon. Laying in bed for hours counteracts this effort.
4. No caffeine, chocolate or other stimulants within a half hour of when you go to sleep. In this context, stimulants are not restricted only to chemical. For instance, if taking a shower right before bed tends to keep you more awake, try to do it earlier or in the morning.
5. Don't take naps during the day. I realize this is hard, especially if you haven't slept in days. But, if you're having trouble falling asleep at night, taking naps will only magnify the problem. Your body's inner-clock works best with a set, consistent schedule.
6. Along that same vein of thought, wake up at the same time every morning, even if you have the opportunity to sleep in. In the short run, this will probably deprive you of some sleep, but in the long run you'll be getting more quality sleep more consistently. This can be especially hard to do during vacations, but do what you can.
7. Do not have a clock visible. One of the worse things you can do to yourself is watch a clock all night long, and count in your head how much sleep you might be able to get. This is a self-feeding destructive pattern. As the time goes by, you become more anxious about how little sleep you can get. Becoming anxious makes you less likely to fall asleep, thus you're up longer, and you become more and more agitated over the less and less sleep you could get.
8. Invest in a sleep mask. You won't always be able to control how much light is in the room, but you can take steps to limit the amount of light that reaches your eyes.
This website has some more advice, as well as links to lots of other helpful sites: http://www.helpguide.org/aging/sleep_tips.htm
Finally, from my experience sleeping problems are largely psychological. I used to think that I couldn't sleep when there was any amount of light. I got blackout curtains (the strangest item ever to go on my Christmas list), shoved towels under my door frame like you, and bought a sleep mask. After a few months of these precautions every night, the idea started to form in my head that I didn't really need all of these steps to sleep-that sleeping is something I can do without the perfect environment. Eventually, the towel was removed, then the sleep mask, then I moved and never bothered putting the blackout curtains up.
I realize that not all of these will be extremely helpful, as vacations have a way of screwing up any sort of schedule. Hopefully, though, something here will help you.
One more thing: if you find that you still can't get to sleep, there are still things that you can do to relax and gather energy without falling asleep. One such technique is a type of self-hypnosis. There are two different ways I can remember to do this, and they both start out the same. Begin by laying flat on your back. Close your eyes. Stick your arms straight at your side, and your legs straight out in front of you-if your limbs are crossed, circulation is reduced, which can distract you.
1. Begin counting backwards from 1,000 or 100 slowly. Repeat each number over and over again in your head. Keep repeating it until you get distracted by something. Once you catch your mind wandering-regardless of what its wandering to, move to the next number down. Repeat this process as much as necessary. You do not have to think about anything else, not anything that might be stressing you, not how tired you are, nothing.
2. This next one is more difficult to put into words. If you focus, you can start to feel your entire body relaxed. Start with your toes, and just focus all of your concentration on them, and on relaxing them. Progress slowly, feeling a wave of pure relaxation wash over your feet, then spread up your legs. It slowly begins to engulf your whole body, leaving behind a comforting, peaceful heaviness.
The point of both of these separate exercises is to get yourself to relax as much as possible. Hopefully, either one of these meditations can help you to fall asleep. If not, you will at least be letting your body rest and gather strength. Also, and this is purely my own speculation, I would assume that using your bed to meditate to try to fall asleep would be an exception to the 15-20 minute rule listed above.