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Healthy Sleep in a Broader Context

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Transitioning from Wake to Sleep

During a recent trip, my return flight was repeatedly delayed and ultimately cancelled. Automatically, the airline rebooked me for three flights that night so I would arrive at my destination mid-morning the next day. Instead, I chose to stay in a hotel overnight and travel during the day. It was an easy choice – I had no major obligations the following day, and, most importantly, I needed to sleep.

Talking with fellow passengers in the long line as we waited to rebook our flights, it was interesting to hear how sleep factored into their decision. Some people were determined to travel as soon as possible, even if it meant multiple flights across the night. However, many recognized that that missing sleep would derail any plans they had for the following day.

Here’s hoping your travel goes more smoothly than my recent experience! Regardless, how can you minimize the impact of summer travel on your sleep? If you are traveling this summer, here are several tips to help you maintain healthy sleep:

  • If you are traveling to a new time zone and your trip will last two days or fewer, consider keeping your sleep schedule in sync with your home-base time.
  • If you are traveling to a new time zone for a longer period, prepare for the time change by adjusting your bed/wake time several days beforehand. Also, change your watch as soon as you start travelling to match the destination time. Seek out bright light in the morning if you are traveling eastward and bright light in the evening if you are traveling westward.
  • Avoid certain foods or beverages within three to four hours of bedtime. Alcohol, caffeine, and spicy or heavy foods can disrupt sleep.
  • Create a sleep environment in your hotel similar to your bedroom at home. Try to request the same size bed, keep a cool bedroom temperature, shower at the same time, etc.

Protecting your sleep will help you to make the most of your travel this summer. Try your best to maintain the sleep routine you have established at home. While you can’t control if your flight is delayed or even cancelled, these few simple tips will help you sleep and feel your best while travelling this summer. Bon voyage!

Looking for more travel tips? View the 4 Tips to Improve Your Shuteye infographic.

Natalie Dautovich

Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., is the National Sleep Foundation's Environmental Scholar. She is also appointed at Virginia Commonwealth University as an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Department of Psychology. She received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of South Florida. Dr. Dautovich’s research focuses on behavioral sleep medicine and geropsychology. Specifically, she studies sleep and behavioral rhythms such as daily routines across the adult lifespan. She has published articles, book chapters, and a handbook on sleep and health and presented her research at national conferences.

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