Traveling is a favorite activity of most people. Visiting new places and meeting people is one of the most exciting things you’ll experience in your life. Talking to them, learning about their history and culture, as well as trying different kinds of foods and drinks can broaden your horizons, and make you an overall better person. Whether it is a vacation or a business trip, you should always make the best of your travels.
However, sleep is one of the things that can suffer during traveling. Crowded transportation, huge lines at the airport, not enough room for your legs, crying babies, people sneezing and talking loudly are some of the things that can make you anxious and harder to fall asleep. Not to mention that if you are traveling between time zones, jet lag can disrupt your sleeping rhythms completely. But don’t worry, we have a list of tips for you on how to properly prepare for your trip, and what to do to get the most rest possible and avoid sleep deprivation.
How Does Travel Impact Your Sleep?
When you are traveling, you are likely to experience irregular sleep cycles, daytime fatigue, and a weakened immune system at some point. That can lead to an inflammation or infection, or catching a cold which means that it will be even harder to get a night of sound sleep.
Business trips are often associated with busy schedules, lots of work and stress. On top of that, there are always late night gatherings with a considerable amount of alcohol and food, which is not good for your sleep. Due to this, business travelers are the most fatigued ones amongst all travelers.
Missing sleep is bad for you, and the more you do it, the more adverse the consequences, such as worse mood, and you can’t perform as well as your brain didn’t have enough time to restore, which leads to impaired focus and performance. Sleep is also crucial for storing memories and learning new things, so the less rest you have, the more difficult it will be to focus and obtain new knowledge.
Business travelers have been shown to perform 20% worse than what they thought. They also performed best during mid-day, compared to the usual belief that we are most productive in the morning. Half of those who rated their performance highly unintentionally fell asleep during the trip. Many business travelers only sleep for 5 hours a day, meaning that they lost a full night of sleep during a 4-day trip. However, moderate exercise looks like it could help with some of the effects, as those who practiced regularly had a significantly improved overall performance.
Traveling across the time zones can lead to jet lag, which can mess up your sleep patterns. That’s because the area where you end up has a different sunset and sunrise times, and you need to adjust to new conditions. Your brain picks up signals from the environment, and it regulates your internal clock based on that. That’s how you know at what time you should wake up, eat, fall asleep, and do other daily activities.
Sickness is another thing you need to worry about when traveling because you come in contact with a high number and different range of germs than what you are generally facing. The plane is a confined space, and it needs to recycle the air from the cabin, which makes it a perfect place for germs to thrive. Many strangers often use hotel rooms, and no matter how clean they look, they are full of bacteria. A new destination means a new combination of air pollutants and allergens, which can impair your health as well. All of these in addition to sleep deprivation that can weaken your immune system means that you are more likely to get sick and get even less sleep. That’s why you need to take special precautions to protect your health while traveling.
What is Jet Lag?
Basically jet lag is a consequence of traveling too fast across the time zones. “Jet” in the name is there because the plane is currently the fastest way of transport, and it is the cause of this condition in most cases. However, you can still suffer from jet lag even if you’ve used other kinds of transportation and didn’t fly at all.
Your body has an exact time for doing things, depending on your environment. When you move across time zones, your circadian rhythms are disrupted. It means that your internal clock that tells you when the time to go to sleep and wake up is now isn’t in sync with the new environment, because the conditions changed too quickly and you didn’t have time to adjust. Symptoms include poor mood, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, difficulty getting to sleep at the right time, decreased focus and cognitive performance, and they can last up to a few days.
But you don’t have to experience the consequences passively; you can take some action to prevent jet lag from happening or minimize the effects it has on you.
Ultimate Tips to Improve Your Sleep While Traveling
Despite all of the difficulties traveling presents to your sleep, there are some things you can do to make sure you get the best rest possible and don’t experience the effects of sleep deprivation.
Preparing for the trip
The key to sleeping well is proper planning, and you should start adjusting to different conditions even before you leave.
- Adjust your sleep and wake cycles to the time zone of your destination. You can do that gradually during the several days before the trip. For this, you can use artificial light and blackout curtains. Make sure that it’s dark when the night is supposed to be in your destination, and turn on the lights when the sun should be out. By doing this, you’ll adjust your circadian rhythms, and your body will regulate the production of hormones responsible for your sleep, especially melatonin.
- Exercise regularly before your trip. Even though you should do this all the time, it is essential to do it before the trip as it will improve your sleep quality as well as boost your productivity and alertness during the journey.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Your diet is important, as much as exercising regularly and sleeping well. Good sleep, a healthy diet and exercising are the foundation for long and healthy life. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake as they are shown to hurt your rest.
- Plan everything and pack ahead of time. That way, you don’t have to worry about some last minute delay, and you can avoid stress on the day of your trip.
- Go to bed early and make sure to get a good night’s sleep before leaving, so you can be well rested for your trip.
Sleeping better during the trip
There are some tips depending on your transportation, but the general things to remember are:
- Make yourself comfortable. Wear multiple layers and go for loose clothes. That way you can take of, or put on your sweater and other layers so that you don’t have to depend on the temperature in a vehicle you are traveling in. Make sure to wear some shoes you can easily slip off, and rest your feet during the trip, especially if it’s a long one.
- Block out all distractions, so bring a sleeping mask in case it is too bright around. Also, don’t forget to use earplugs or noise blocking headphones so that you are not affected by the engine noise, loud conversations or any crying toddlers.
- Limit your naps. Remember that snoozing for a longer than 30 to 45 minutes can put you in a deep sleep, and it is harder to wake up during this stage. It can also mean additional drowsiness after waking up that you want to avoid. Sleep longer than that only if you know that you are traveling for a considerable amount of hours or the whole night.
- Drink a lot of water. It is extremely important for those traveling by plane, as the cabin air can often be humid, and make you more prone to dehydration. Proper hydration helps your body function well, and it prevents you from getting sick. Try not to drink alcohol or caffeine, but if you must, limit it to one cup.
- Bring a travel pillow, and maybe a blanket for extra comfort. They will help you fall asleep faster.
- Pack a healthy, low sodium snack in case you get hungry. Avoid bringing sugary and snacks that are rich in fats.
- Take a comfortable position for optimal sleep. You want your spine to be as aligned as possible. Also, don’t cross your legs as this can restrict your blood flow. By positioning yourself comfortably, you’ll let your muscles get the better rest, and it will make you fall asleep faster.
- Set your watch to the time zone of your destination.
Traveling on a plane
- If it doesn’t interrupt your regular sleep cycle, feel free to snooze during your trip. If you know that you won’t be able to fall asleep, make sure you book a flight that will arrive at your destination in the early evening, so that you can go to bed right away and maintain your sleep pattern.
- Choose a window seat. That way you can lean on the side for more support during your sleep, and you also won’t be woken up by the people passing by to use the restroom.
- If you can afford it, upgrade your seats. Business or first class are ideal, but many airlines also have extra legroom seats for an additional charge. Extra room to stretch and recline your seat is excellent, especially if you are tall and can’t get comfortable in the small spaces.
- If you can’t sit upright, go for a different strategy and lean forward and use the tray table instead.
- Keep your seatbelt visibly buckled, so that the flight attendants don’t wake you up in case you experience any turbulence.
Sleeping in a car
- Recline the seat, and lay as flat as you can. If you can, use the backseat, as it is easier for you to fall asleep, and it’s better for your back.
- Bring the pillows and blankets to experience the full potential of sleeping in a car. Being comfortable is the key.
- Wear sunglasses or a sleeping mask to block out the sun.
- Whenever the driver is taking a break, use that time to stretch your legs and use a restroom.
Sleeping on a train
- As the conductors are often passing by to check the tickets, put them in the visible place so that they don’t wake you up. You can use a holder on the seat in front of you, or wear it around your neck in a luggage tag holder.
- Many trains have sleeper cars, so consider that option, especially if you are traveling overnight. These spaces include privacy, a bed, but they usually come at a higher price
Sleeping on a bus
- Choose the time of your trip, during the less crowded hours. Those are generally during the night and in the early morning. That means more room and fewer distractions around you, allowing you to fall asleep easier.
- It is best to travel during the night, as it will be dark outside, less crowded, and there is less traffic, which all means a smoother ride.
What to do once you’ve reached your destination?
- Take a nap if you’ve come early in the day, but limit it to two hours. Snoozing for longer than that might worsen the effect of jet lag. If you’ve arrived later in the day, wait a bit, then go to sleep in the evening.
- Go out as soon as you wake up the next morning to expose yourself to sunlight, to help adjust your circadian clock.
- Eat well, drink plenty of water and try to stay active and exercise.
- Consider taking a melatonin supplement if you are having a hard time adjusting to the new time zone.
If you are experiencing jet lag, and you haven’t prepared for it upfront, gradually adjust your sleep. One hour every day for every time zone you’ve traveled is usually the best equation. Keep in mind that the direction you are moving also affects how quickly you can adapt. Going west is generally more comfortable than traveling east since it is easier to stay up a little later than having to wake up earlier.
Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.