Sleep And Travel: How To Get Better Sleep While Traveling

Sleep and Travel

Gearing up for your forthcoming trip around the world? Traveling can be quite incredible. Whether you're heading overseas for an exotic vacation or flying to a new part of the country for work, there are foods to try, things to see, and new people to meet wherever you're going.

However, a few things can derail your utilization of time on your trip like the exhaustion that inevitably comes as a result of not sleeping well. Nothing can upset your sleep pattern quite like boarding a plane and heading towards a foreign land.

When it comes to traveling, your body will start to notice a significant difference after crossing two or three time zones. This can greatly interfere with your sleep schedule and you might end up feeling exhausted the entire time.

Fortunately, taking the necessary precautions before and during your trip can help you catch some sleep and arrive at your destination feeling well-rested.

How Traveling Disrupts Your Sleep

Sleeping while traveling isn't as simple as closing your eyes, wearing your headphones, and drifting off. It can be crowded, loud, and uncomfortable, especially if you're traveling by train, bus, or plane. As a result, you might really have a hard time enjoying your trip. Things can get even harder if you're traveling with a baby. Fortunately, learning about infant sleep schedule can help you know how to handle your kid before, during, and after the trip. 

Travel Fatigue

Even if you're on vacation, jetting off to a foreign land can lead to mental and physical stress. While you may learn about sleep hygiene to help you sleep comfortably once you reach your destination, you may still experience travel fatigue which might give you headaches, lead to sleep loss, and generate discomfort.

Some of the things that can contribute to travel fatigue include;

  • Long term travel
  • Stress over travel details, such as packing and logistics
  • Fear of flying or traveling
  • Nausea on planes or car sickness
  • Dehydration, constipation, bloating, and respiratory tract infection caused by pressurized airplane cabins

Jet Lag

Jet lag is a short-lived sleep disorder that occurs when you travel across more than two time zones. When you alight at your destination, you might find that your internal clock (circadian rhythm) is yet to adjust to the time zone at your destination. This can make you feel out of sync with the new sleep and wake cycles.

Some of the most common symptoms of jet lag include fogginess, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and overall malaise. The more time zones you cross within a short period the higher the chances of severe jet lag symptoms.

Traveling eastwards can also cause the symptoms to be more severe. This circadian rhythm sleep disorder usually goes away after a few days but it can last for a couple of weeks until your internal clock becomes synchronized with local time.

Dealing With Jet Lag

Realigning your internal clock with the new time zone is crucial to getting over jet lag. Although exposure to melatonin supplements and natural light can be helpful, you should ensure you have the proper timing to avoid further desynchronizing your circadian rhythm. Besides talking with your doctor, you can try applications like the Timeshifter to create a schedule for light exposure, taking supplements, and sleeping to help reduce jet lag.

Changes to Your Schedule

Traveling usually involves changes in regular routines. For instance, if you're going on business trips, you'll spend a lot of time in meetings and other business events.

And if you're traveling for vacation, you may be inclined to eat heavier meals and drink more alcohol than normal, get less exercise, and spend more time relaxing. These changes can be immensely disruptive to your mind, making it harder for you to fall asleep when traveling.

New Settings

Simply being in a different environment can disrupt your sleep. Sleep studies show that most people tend to have the worst sleep experience during the first night they spend in a new and unfamiliar environment. This first night effect can still occur even if the new place is comfortable and welcoming.

Related content: Statistics of the mattress industry

Sleeping In a New Bed

Generally, traveling is fun but sleeping on a new mattress isn't. You might not miss your house in the few days you'll be away but you'll probably miss your bed. Just like new settings, resting on an unfamiliar RV mattresses or hotel beds can make it quite challenging to get a good night's sleep. Fortunately, the experience usually gets better after the first night but you might still feel short on sleep for a couple of days.

Is Disrupted Sleep During Travel a Problem?

If you're traveling and you have trouble sleeping, you'll feel exhausted, hence you might not enjoy your trip. However, is disrupted sleep a real issue, or is it simply an annoyance? And, why do you even need sleep when traveling?

Short-term lack of sleep can have negative short-term consequences on your mental, physical, and emotional health. Sleep deprivation can decrease your energy levels, make you experience daytime drowsiness, irritability, brain fog, and slow your thinking.

Although travel-based sleep issues are always a short-term concern, they might become chronic, especially for people who travel frequently. You might find yourself dealing with long-term sleep disorders.

Related content: How sleep works

How Can You Sleep Better When Traveling?

Whether you're traveling for fun or work, it's never preferable to sleep uncomfortably. Trying to get some sleep on a flight or road trip can be a surefire way of waking up feeling drained and cranky. But it doesn't have to be.

Besides getting the right bed from the different size mattress in an RV, these tips will help you get a restful sleep while traveling:

Related content: What happens when you sleep?

Prepare Before the Trip

Try to reduce stress beforehand by preparing for the journey in a composed and stress-free manner. Pre-travel stress can undermine your trip even before it starts and make you lose sleep while en route to your destination.

At least three days prior to the trip, start moving your sleep time an hour earlier than normal to help you deal with time zone changes and jet lag. And when choosing the outfits, pack comfortable and layered clothing like short sleeves, sweatpants, and hoodies. If you always find it hard to sleep on trains, busses, or planes, plan a stay with relatives, friends, or in a hotel room.

While overnight travels and redeye flights can help you save money, it won't be worth it if you can't sleep in transit. On the other hand, if sleeping while traveling comes naturally to you, focus on getting the sleep environment as comfortable as possible;

  • Block out your surroundings with noise-canceling headphones and a mask to cover your eyes
  • Wear breathable and loose-fitting clothing
  • Recline on your seat if you can

What Travel Accessories Can Make it Easier to Sleep?

There is a wide range of travel accessories that can help you get quality sleep while traveling. If possible, keep them close to you and in one package because you'll certainly need to use them.

The best sleep accessories for traveling include;

Earplugs: These are a must-have for travelers as they can block out ambient noise, thus making falling asleep and relaxing much easier. (Our recommendation)

Travel pillow: You'll mostly have to sleep in your seated position so carrying your own pillow can deliver additional comfort and support to your neck and head. (Our recommendation)

Sleep Mask
: Since you'll be facing natural light and an overhead light, it's wise to have an eye mask to block out light and enable you to sleep comfortably. (Our recommendation)

Sleeping bag liner: This will help you avoid scratchy sheets.

Water bottle to stay hydrated: Always ensure that you drink water before you travel, while en route, and after arriving at your destination. This will help your body stay resilient through the different transitions of traveling.

Should You Take Sleep Aids When Traveling?

Between cramped seats, dealing with armrest-hogging passengers, and getting hit by food carts, it can be quite challenging to get quality rest while traveling. That's why most people turn to melatonin and sleeping pills to enable them to get through long-haul flights. After all, every traveler out there wants to arrive at their destinations ready to take in what the new place has to offer, not to take a nap. However, is it really good to take sleep medicine on a flight?

First off, there are many different types of sleeping medications, but only a few can be appropriately used for air travel. For instance, sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta have been approved for jet lag. So you can use them before bedtime when you arrive at your destination to help you sleep better.

However, they also come with side effects, such as dizziness, headaches, and confusion. Plus, these effects can affect you for a couple of days after arrival, slowing down your thinking and reaction time.

Melatonin, on the other hand, is a hormone that regulates the sleeping and waking cycles. Melatonin levels typically start to increase in the mid to late evening, stay high during the night, and then drop early in the morning. Taking melatonin will greatly help reset your circadian rhythm.

Just ensure you use it after dark for a few days before you travel and after you arrive at your destination. Note that taking large doses of melatonin can cause daytime fatigue and increase sleep disruption. It's always wise to talk to your physician who can prescribe the right dosage for your trip.

Sleeping Apps

Using sleeping apps is one of the effective ways of combating jet lag and travel fatigue. Luckily, you can find many free Apps online for both iOS and Android that will take out background noise and help you fall asleep.

Final Thoughts

Many people rarely think of sleep when planning for their trips, but it can make or break your vacation. Preparing beforehand and adapting to a few changes can positively impact your rest and set you on the right track to dreamland. Touring the world needs a lot of energy, so always ensure you take your rest seriously.

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