You yearn to sleep well while traveling, but it’s tough! Between jet lag, a disrupted eating schedule, sitting in one place for hours and other disturbances, trying to get a good, solid 7 or 8 hours sleep is as elusive as a dream. I’ve asked sleep researcher, Alicia Sanchez to give us her take on how to sleep well while traveling.
Here are strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep and be refreshed while traveling.
Top Strategies to Help You Sleep Well While Traveling
Whether you’re traveling a few hours from home or across the country, sleeping away from home can be a challenge. Yet, you need to sleep to enjoy your travels. Sleep keeps your immune system strong, clarifies your thinking, and stabilizes your appetite and metabolism. That’s going to give you the energy to do all you’ve got planned. Here are a few ways you can sleep better when you’re on the road.
Adjust Your Sleep Schedule in Advance
If you’re only traveling one or two time zones, you can probably move on to the next tip. However, if you’ll be three, four, or more time zones away, shifting your sleep schedule can alleviate jet lag. Start by moving your bedtime and wake up times 15 to 30 minutes closer to your planned bed and wake up times at your destination. This method is also more helpful if you’ll be in your location for longer than a week. Otherwise, by the time you get adjusted, it’s time to return home.
Bring a Piece of Home with You
Your body reacts to environmental signals. Bringing a few things from home that you normally use in your bedroom or in your bedtime routine can prepare your brain for sleep. A pillow or blanket that smells like home reminds your brain what to do at bedtime. For some people, it could be bringing along their favorite pair of slippers. If you usually burn a candle in the evening, bring it along. Look for small items that can help your travel destination feel, sound, and smell more like home.
Create the Right Sleep Environment
You could be fighting unfamiliar sounds and smells along with jet lag. To help you sleep well while traveling, try to create a healthy sleep environment from the very beginning—one that’s cool, dark, and quiet.
Your body temperature drops at the onset of sleep and continues to fluctuate throughout the night until it starts to rise again near morning. Lower the room temperature to somewhere between 60 to 68 degrees to support your body’s nighttime needs.
Quiet can be hard to find if you’re visiting family or at an urban destination. Try bringing along a white noise machine. White noise contains a combination of all noises, which drowns out other sounds. Limited space in your suitcase? Download a white noise app. Most apps have several noises to choose from, including nature sounds, the hum of an airplane cabin, the whir of a hairdryer, and the tumble of a clothes dryer.
Light can also be a major sleep disrupter. At home, you can install blackout curtains or heavy drapes, but you don’t have that option on the road. Close the curtains, draw the blinds, and do what you can to keep light out at night. If you’re not sure what kind of accommodations you’ll have, pack a sleep mask. You might want to try it out before you go to make sure you’ll be able to sleep with it on.
Move Your Body and Get Outside
Exercising and getting outside are incredibly valuable if you’re suffering from jet lag. You need to stay awake when it’s light outside to help your body adjust to local time. Your eyes have special photoreceptors that absorb sunlight and send messages to the brain to suppress sleep hormones. What better way to do that than a morning or afternoon walk to help you sleep well while traveling?
Exercise helps you stay awake when you’re sleepy. If you’re traveling far enough from home, it might be beneficial to fill your first day with tours and other scheduled activities, so you keep moving. You’ll be tempted to nap, but if you’ve got a lunch reservation and a museum tour ahead, you won’t have time for it.
Eat on a Regular Schedule
Light isn’t the only way your body times your sleep cycle. Your eating schedule does too. You may not be able to eat meals at your regular times, but do try to eat them at regular intervals. Doing so can help your body adjust to local time and help you sleep better on the road.
Be Consistent Before, During, and After Your Trip
Establish a bedtime routine long before you leave home. Bedtime routines serve two purposes—to trigger the start of the sleep cycle and relax the body before bed. You need both of those when you’re away from home.
If you normally change into your pajamas, brush your teeth, and read a book before falling asleep, your brain will recognize that pattern even when you’re in an unfamiliar bedroom. However, to be effective, you have to have that pattern established long before you leave. Once you have a pattern, follow it during your trip, and keep it long after so that you’re set for your next adventure.
Travel enriches and feeds the soul. Plan in advance, and make sure to pack a comfort item to help you sleep. Make the effort to get better rest, so you can fully enjoy everything your destination has to offer.
Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.
What are some of your strategies to help you sleep better when you travel?
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