How to Get Optimal Sleep While Traveling

Trying to get restful sleep while traveling can be a serious challenge. Tiny, cramped airplane seats, new time zones, strange beds, all can add up to several days of exhaustion that may be a drag on your days away, just when you want to have extra energy to make the most out of your trip.

So what can we do to ensure more restful sleep while we travel? There are multiple things that can be done to help us get the most out of our trip?

Pre-Plan Your Sleep Plan

You can minimize jet lag by some careful planning of your trip. One big contributing factor to lack of sleep during travel is jet lag. Jet lag occurs when you’ve had to cross multiple time zones. Crossing time zones interferes with your natural circadian rhythm, your internal clock that tells you when it’s time for you to sleep and eat. Much of the circadian rhythm is triggered by external cues, such as the amount and angle of daylight. When you cross time zones, your body may react badly to the changes in your environment which no longer reflect where your internal clock thinks you should be in your day. This can cause fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating or functioning, mood changes, and stomach problems.

You can minimize jet lag by following a few simple tips: If you are planning to be away for more than two or three days, slowly adjust your sleep plan toward the time zone of your destination. If traveling east, adjust your sleep time an hour earlier per night for several nights before you depart. If traveling west, adjust by going to bed an hour later.

Set your watch to your new time once you are on the plane and when you arrive, try not to sleep until it’s an appropriate bedtime in your destination area. It’s helpful to schedule some plans immediately upon arrival to avoid giving in to the temptation to sleep.

If it’s night time in your destination area while you are traveling try to sleep on the plane. In fact, sleeping on the plane can be an important key to feeling rested and energized when you land.

Planning Plane Sleep

It’s never easy to sleep on a plane. Tiny seats, strangers seated next to you, babies crying, snack carts bumping along the aisle–none of it is easily conducive to good sleep. But there are some tips to help you optimize your sleep while traveling on an airplane. First, choose your seat wisely. Avoid being seated next to the bathrooms or in exit rows. Often, the exit row seats don’t recline, though they do offer a little more legroom. Choosing a window seat is the best option if you plan to sleep. It gives you something to lean on, you can control the window shade, and you avoid both being bumped by the snack cart, and people having to clamor over you to get to the bathrooms.

It’s also a good idea to come prepared with your own travel pillow, rather than relying on the ones provided by the airline. Neck pillows are great for air travel. They keep your head and neck supported while you sleep so it doesn’t roll around, disturbing your rest. Travel blankets such as lightweight microfiber throws are also ideal for air travel if you don’t want to borrow an airline blanket which may or may not have been washed.

Earplugs are a great option for blocking out noisy chattering and crying babies. A great sleep mask will help block out the flickering light of multiple screens during night flight or can block out the daylight if you are trying to sleep during the day, which also helps your circadian rhythm to adjust.

If you are trying to sleep during a time of day that you don’t normally sleep, you might want to try taking a low dose of melatonin. Melatonin works fast and effectively to help you fall asleep, but the effects don’t linger, so you won’t feel groggy when you wake up.

When to NOT Sleep on a Plane

If it’s going to be night time at your arrival destination, it’s better to not sleep during your flight. This will better enable you to sleep when you settle into your lodging and more quickly adjust to the local time zone.

Getting Better Sleep At Your Destination

Many people find they don’t sleep well in a strange bed in a new location. There are some tips that can help to maximize the amount of sleep you get in a motel or other unfamiliar bedroom.

First, request a room as far away from the lobby, and from elevators, as you can. Top floors are usually much quieter than ground floor rooms. Bring earplugs for sleeping to muffle any hallway noise.

Keeping the room temperature cool at night will help you to sleep by making you want to cuddle down beneath the covers. Most people sleep best in a cool room, so be sure your room’s air conditioning system is working well before it’s time for bed.

Sticking to your home routine as much as possible will also help. If you normally take a bath before bed, then do the same during travel. It will help cue your body that it’s time for sleeping. If you normally shower and apply skincare products, do the same in your hotel room.

Avoiding screens right before bed will also help you to get better sleep. The blue light from screens interferes in circadian rhythm far more than warm or yellow lighting.

If you still find it difficult to sleep in an unfamiliar bed, it may be helpful to bring along a pillowcase from home. Some people find that the familiar smell of their own laundry detergent and the texture of their own linen helps them feel more at home.

Follow these tips for getting optimal sleep during travel. Many sleep studies have revealed the physical and mental effects of lack of sleep on the human body, including lack of concentration, memory problems, weakened immune systems, slower reflexes, increased stress levels, and worsening judgment—none of which is ideal when traveling!

Resources — Sleep.org, SleepScore.com, SmarterTravel 

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