Whether it’s for business or pleasure, travel can be an enriching experience. It can broaden your horizons, open you up to different cultures and cuisines, and allow you to return home rejuvenated. However, traveling, especially across time zones, can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.
The reason for this is due to the disruption of our natural circadian rhythm, the window of time each day where our bodies feel most open to sleep. For most adults, this is between 11 pm and 7 am. When we travel to time zones different than our own, this natural rhythm becomes fractured. But don’t let the fear of sleep loss keep you from seeing the world. There are several practical solutions to finding better sleep while traveling.
Create a Plan
It is always wise to create a plan of action when you know you are about to embark on a trip. Consider the following suggestions when planning for your trip.
Reset Your Internal Clock
To start adjusting to your new time zone, experts suggest moving your bedtime up an hour earlier or later, depending on your destination. You should do this about 3 days prior to your trip and adjust it an hour each evening. Experts claim it takes about one day per time zone for your body to adjust.
Traveling With Children
Children tend to disrupt our sleep schedules, especially during their first year of life. In fact, a recent study by Sleep Junkie found that parents lose an average of 3 hours a night once their child is born. When traveling with children, this loss is likely to become even worse.
Whatever schedule you have your child on at home will be difficult to stick to while traveling. However, keeping them up past their scheduled sleep time may cause temper tantrums and emotional outbursts. When booking flights, do your best to board the plane around their normal bedtime or naptime. If you are unable to get flights that work around their sleep schedule, make sure they are well rested before the trip.
Just like adults, it is also possible to adjust your child’s schedule prior to the trip. You may want to consider making their sleep times 1 to 2 hours earlier or later about a week prior to the trip. Helping them acclimate to the new time zone may help them, and you, sleep better once you arrive.
Remember The Two-Day Rule
When traveling to a destination for less than 2 days, experts believe it is best to stay on your own sleep schedule. Your body will likely adjust right when it is time to leave. If you are traveling for business, this may mean scheduling appointments and meetings during your normal waking hours. If traveling for pleasure, consider sightseeing or meeting with friends and family during this time.
If you are planning to be in a destination for longer than 2 days, you will want to start acclimating right away. As soon as you land, try your best to get on the local schedule. This may mean staying awake longer than normal if you land while it is midday. If landing at night, do your best to stay awake on the plane.
Exposure to light can suppress our ability to produce melatonin, while darkness can trigger it. Since this hormone is linked to a drowsy sleepy feeling, you can use light exposure to help reset your internal clock. If you need to stay awake a little longer to sync up with the local time, consider going for a walk outside. If you need to sleep, try to keep your room as dark as possible by closing drapes or using an eyemask.
Experts claim that increasing your core body temperature can signal your circadian rhythm that it is time to get up. Therefore, you may want to consider exercising or taking a warm bath or shower upon waking.
Be Sleep Ready
When traveling, you never know when you are going to have the opportunity to catch some shuteye. Layovers and delays may provide a moment for you to rest. To be ready when these moments present themselves, consider wearing comfortable clothes that are easy for you to stretch out in. You may also want to carry a small travel pillow, earplugs, and an eyemask.
When naping, remember to keep the duration around 30 to 45 minutes. Naps any longer than this can put you into a deep sleep, causing you to feel groggy upon waking.
Adjust Your Sleep Space
Once you arrive at your destination, take stock of your sleep space. If you are staying in a hotel, you may want to request a quieter room, such as those away from pools and service areas. Hotels may also be willing to accommodate requests for a darker room, one that doesn’t face the sun and has blackout curtains. You can also request this information when making your reservation.
Eat Right and Stay Hydrated
It can be difficult for our bodies to relax while working to digest food, therefore, it is helpful to avoid eating larger meals at least 2 hours before you plan to sleep. Also, staying hydrated can help to combat the dryness from the recycled air of planes and other transportation methods. When our mouths and sinuses become dry, it can cause disruptive snoring and a sore throat upon waking.
Traveling to new places should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. To keep sleep deprivation from interfering with your travel plans, consider incorporating some of these practical tips.
You can read more practical family travel tips on our Travel Advice page
Over to you! What tips have you found work best in adjusting your sleep while travelling? Do they work with kids too?