Written by: Mallorie Stallings
Updated February 25, 2021
Maintaining your sleep schedule while traveling can be difficult, especially if you are changing time zones. Travel may disrupt your regular routines and present other challenges when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. We’ll highlight a few travel tips to help you sleep better when you’re away from home.
How Can I Sleep on a Bus, Plane, or a Train?
Sleeping while traveling may not be as easy as just closing your eyes and drifting off. It can be uncomfortable, crowded, and loud, especially if you are traveling by bus, plane, or train. That said, there are a few travel hacks you can use to sleep while en route to your destination.
Though alcohol may sound inviting as you start your vacation, you may want to reach your destination before indulging. While alcohol has a sedative effect initially, it can disturb your sleep (1) a few hours in and make it hard to fall back asleep. Alcohol can also cause dehydration and headaches, which may interrupt your sleep.
Turn Off Electronics
It can be tempting to pass time on your phone or tablet, but if you're traveling at night and plan to sleep, electronic devices should be turned off. These devices emit blue light (2), which is beneficial during the day because it helps boost reaction times, mood, and attention. But blue light exposure in the evening can confuse your circadian rhythm, negatively affecting your sleep quality.
Sit by the Window
Sitting by the window on a plane often gives you more control over lighting, as you can close the shade. You have less control over the lighting when traveling by bus, but a window seat may still be beneficial. It provides a place to rest your head, which may be helpful if you don’t have a travel pillow with you.
Pack Sleep Accessories
Sleep accessories may range from essential medical equipment to comforts from home. If possible, keep these items in a backpack or personal bag with you, so you don't have to reach into the overhead compartments for them. Here are some helpful items to consider bringing:
- Earplugs: Earplugs can help block out noise when traveling, which may make it easier to relax and fall asleep.
- Eye Mask: Daylight and overhead lights can be bothersome when you are trying to sleep while traveling. An eye mask helps block out light.
- Travel Pillow: Since you will likely have to sleep sitting upright, a travel pillow can help provide additional comfort. These pillows are designed to support the head and neck in a seated position.
- Comfort Items: Bringing a familiar blanket or other sleep accessory from home can make you feel more comfortable when traveling.
- Medical Equipment: For those who suffer from sleep apnea, traveling with CPAP equipment may be necessary. Medical equipment does not typically count toward your baggage allowance on an airplane, but you may need documentation from your doctor if you plan to use it on board.
How Can I Overcome Jet Lag?
Traveling between time zones (3) can cause acute sleep deprivation and disrupt your circadian rhythm, often resulting in moodiness, attention problems, and an overall decline in how you function. This is referred to as jet lag.
Since disruption in your circadian rhythm can lead to jet lag, it is critical that you adjust to the new time zone (4) as quickly as possible. Some travelers find that it is helpful to take oral melatonin.
Melatonin is the hormone that helps make you feel sleepy, and it is regulated by circadian rhythms and light and darkness patterns. Research has shown a decline in jet lag symptoms (5) in those that took melatonin close to bedtime at their destinations.
In the days leading up to your travel plans, you may want to take melatonin (6) at your desired bedtime in the time zone you're headed to, especially if you'll be traveling across multiple time zones. This can help you adjust your sleep schedule before you leave. Melatonin may also be helpful if you are traveling to a higher altitude.
Dosages for melatonin vary, and you should speak with your healthcare provider before trying any new supplements, including melatonin.
Additionally, travelers may want to try the following tips for preventing jet lag:
- Adjust to Your New Schedule Early: Try to adjust to your new schedule a few days prior to your trip, if possible. This may mean going to bed earlier or staying up later. Shifting your schedule to the time zone of your destination before you leave can make the transition easier.
- Sleep Well Before Traveling: While you may have multiple tasks to accomplish before your trip, it is important to rest the night before.
- Get Daylight Exposure: Exposure to natural light once you reach your destination can help reset your circadian rhythm (4) and allow you to adjust to the new time zone more quickly.
- Stay Hydrated: Dehydration exacerbates the symptoms of jet lag. Staying hydrated can help you adjust to the new time zone (5). Additionally, you may want to avoid alcohol and caffeine while traveling, as they may worsen dehydration.
Tips for Sleeping in Hotels
Insomnia is common among travelers (6) for a variety of reasons. Unhealthy sleep habits, business trips, and sleeping in an unfamiliar environment are just a few of the factors that may make it difficult to sleep in a hotel. Travelers may want to take the following measures when staying in a hotel:
- Keep the Room Quiet and Dark: Drawing the curtains can help block out daylight, but some travelers may find that using an eye mask as they sleep is helpful. Earplugs can help block additional noise if the hotel is busy, or there is outside noise.
- Lower the Room Temperature: If your hotel room is equipped with a thermostat, you may want to lower the temperature. Keeping the room between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for sleep.
- Maintain Your Routines: When traveling, following your usual bedtime routines can help signal that it’s time for your body to prepare for sleep. These may include reading before bed, taking a warm bath, or meditating.
- Power Down Electronics: Since the blue light emitted from electronic devices can interfere with your circadian rhythm (2), you may want to turn off electronics an hour or two before bedtime.
- Bring Items from Home: Bringing your own pillow or blanket may make you feel more comfortable when you’re not sleeping in your own bed.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule while traveling can be difficult, but it is possible. Preparing for your trip ahead of time and following a routine can prevent common sleep issues.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12530993/ Accessed on February 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31433569/ Accessed on February 17, 2021.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0012369213606881/ Accessed on February 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20204161/ Accessed on February 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12076414/ Accessed on February 17, 2021.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278431920301961/ Accessed on February 17, 2021.