Sleep and travel don’t always mix. Crossing continents and times zones can really mess with your biological sleep clock, leaving you wide awake when you should be sleeping, and flat-out tired when you need to be awake. Whether you travel for leisure or business, hectic schedules, long plane journeys, and sleep deprivation can make you wish you stayed at home!
The good news that there are several things you can do that make getting enough sleep while traveling much easier.
1. Choose your hotel carefully
If you really care about maintaining your sleep schedule while you travel, choose your hotel carefully, paying particular attention to any reviews you can find. Some hotels pride themselves on providing the best beds and bedding, while others pay much less attention to these things. Also, look for mentions of noise – a hotel in the middle of a vacation area will invariably be louder and more disruptive than a small countryside retreat.
Some hotels have things called quiet rooms which are located away from stress, have double-glazed windows, and are otherwise set up for those who want a good night’s sleep. If no designated quiet rooms are available, ask for one that is away from reception, the ballroom, dining room, kitchen, restaurant, and any other sources of late-night noise.
2. Don’t start your trip with a sleep deficit
Traveling is hard enough without doing it with a sleep deficit. Do your best to get your regular 7-9 hours of sleep per night during the lead up to your trip. This may mean going to bed earlier than usual if you know you have to get up early to get to the airport on time, but your journey will be less taxing if you make an effort.
3. Prepare to sleep on the plane
To arrive at your destination feeling fresh and well-rested, try to get some sleep on your flight. This is especially important on long flights. Pack a C-shaped neck pillow, a sleep mask, and earplugs, and dress comfortably. Loosen or remove your shoes to get even more comfortable.
Avoid in-flight caffeine and alcohol, and do not take a sleeping pill. Alcohol or sleeping pills might knock you out, but medicated sleep is not as restful as natural sleep, and you’ll feel even more sluggish on your arrival when they wear off.
However, on short flights and where there is no significant time difference, avoid sleeping as you may find that you feel wide awake when you should be getting ready to sleep that evening.
4. Go with the local flow
Try to go to bed at your usual time in your destination country, and not whatever time it is back home. You might not feel tired if you are crossed a time zone, but you soon will if you don’t quickly adjust to the local time. Taking melatonin, a natural sleep aid, can help you adjust more quickly to local time sleeping. Melatonin production is linked to the circadian rhythm, your body’s sleep modulation system. Taking melatonin fools your body into thinking its bedtime.
5. Maintain your usual bedtime routine as closely as possible
Whatever you do at home to get a good night’s sleep, try and do the same during your trip. If you like to drink a cup of chamomile tea before bed, make sure you take some with you. If you usually have a warm, lavender-infused bath before hitting the sack, make sure you pack your bath oils. Even if you are in a different time zone, going through your regular bedtime routine can make getting to sleep much easier.
6. Let the sunshine in
Travelling disrupts your circadian rhythm, and your circadian rhythm is primarily regulated by your exposure to sunlight. On waking at your destination, try and get out into the sunshine as soon as possible. This will help reset your circadian rhythm so that it is aligned to local time. As evening approaches, you should find that you start to feel tired as you would at home.
7. Go easy on unusual foods and drinks
Sleep and diet go hand in hand. After all, you are what you eat! Trips away from home can mean eating and drinking unusual things, and at different times to what you are used to. This can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. Avoid disrupting your sleep by eating and drinking as close to normal as you can. That doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in local delicacies. Only that you should introduce them gradually and avoid consuming them too close to bedtime.
8. Consider taking your own bedding
Hotel bedding should be clean, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be comfortable. If it doesn’t take much to disrupt your sleep, consider taking your own bedding with you on your travels, and especially your pillows. This might mean having to suck up some excess baggage charges, but that’s a small price to pay for sleeping soundly. If you are on a work-related trip where you need to feel and perform at your best, this is a very justifiable business expense.
Travelling can disrupt your sleep. In fact, if you are continent-hopping, some disruption is all but inevitable. However, you should be able to get your sleep schedule back on track and get a good night’s sleep if you try. The sooner you can get your sleep schedule back to normal, the better you’ll feel, and the same strategies that help while you are traveling will get you back on track when you return home.