Travel is one of the biggest joys of life. But for light sleepers, even a short trip can lead to travel fatigue and can seriously upset your plans and sleep schedule. This is especially true when there’s a time difference of three or more hours between your home and the travel destination, as this puts you in the danger zone of jetlag, a short-term sleep disruption in a person’s circadian rhythms that makes you feel tired and grumpy until your body clock readjusts to the new time zone.
All this bad news may bring you to the wrongful conclusion that sleeping well when you travel is impossible. Even if it seems that way, you can make the most out of your trip and feel rested every morning. All it takes is a bit of planning and self-awareness. These simple tips will help you sleep like a baby even when traveling:
1. Get some sun
If you’re traveling long-distance and need to recalibrate your sleep schedule by a few hours, make sure to spend some time outdoors. This may sound weird or surprising at first, but it makes sense, let us explain. Light exposure helps readjust one’s natural sleep-wake cycles to the time zone of your destination. Try to incorporate some sun in your travel plans to match your sleep schedule to your surroundings. For example, go on a short walk in the morning or have lunch outdoors.
2. Get cozy wherever you are
Think about what makes your bedroom the perfect place for you to fall asleep. Is it the special pillow you have? The comfortable clothes or the sleeping mask? Or maybe, it’s the quiet atmosphere… Once you pin down those key things in your environment that make you sleep well, try to bring them with you on your journey.
This could involve lowering the temperature in the hotel room if you enjoy sleeping in the cold, wearing a sleeping mask if a dark environment is a priority, or even listening to some relaxing music in your headphones to cancel out the noise on your flight. Having the things that make you feel relaxed and ready for bed at home with you will also help lull you to sleep when you’re away.
One extra tip for those who plan to sleep on their way to the destination: wear layers of loose-fitting clothes, so you feel free to move and can adjust the number of layers to the temperature on the plane or in the car.
3. Plan ahead
It’s easy to be swept away by the new destination and want to maximize every minute you spend away from home. Unfortunately, it is exactly this shift in your daily habits that can lead to a sleepless night. Humans are creatures of habit. And if reading a book for half an hour before you go to sleep is necessary for you to fall asleep at home, it will also have to be part of your sleep prep routine when you’re traveling. Make time for it.
In a similar vein, make sure to match your commute to your sleep needs. Not everyone can fall asleep anywhere. For example, if you can’t sleep on the plane, booking a red-eye flight will likely be a disaster and not worth the money saved. Instead, book a flight throughout the day and make sure you arrive at your hotel or destination by bedtime. Small tweaks in your travel plants like these make a huge difference in your energy levels!
4. Move around throughout the day
You likely heard that exercise can have a positive impact on one’s sleep. This is also true when you’re traveling. Being active, whatever that means to you, will make sure that you fall asleep quickly at night. Going on a walk or just doing some gentle stretching throughout the day can make a huge difference in your sleep schedule. One important note on the best time to exercise - choose to do so in the first half of the day.
“Be mindful about exercising too close to bed, as exercise raises your core body temperature and releases endorphins, both of which may affect sleepiness,” said Seema Bonney, the medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia, to Huffington Post.
5. It’s sometimes better to stick to your usual schedule
When you’re only planning to stay in a destination for a couple of days, it may be beneficial to maintain your usual sleep schedule and plan important meetings and activities to peak wake hours (if possible). Adjusting the circadian rhythms to a new time zone can take a few days, so it might not be worth trying and changing it for short-term trips.
It also depends on the time zone itself. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, “It often takes a few days for your biological clock to align with a new time zone. Adjusting after “gaining” time may be slightly easier than after “losing” time because the brain adjusts differently in the two situations.”
6. Do your homework
Adjusting your internal clock isn’t easy for everyone. If you’re prone to jetlag and know that it takes you ages to finally feel rested in a new time zone, consider altering your schedule ahead of time. Let's say you need to wake up 3 hours earlier in your new destination. Move your bedtime by 1 hour a week before your trip, and then move it again 5 days before your trip, and then once more in 2 days until you reach the desired time difference.
Most people will still be rested if they fall asleep 1 hour later or earlier than usual, so this trick could help you adjust your sleep schedule by up to 7 hours in a single week. You get the picture.
Finally, remember that your sleep is important to both your health and the impressions and emotions you get from your trip. Since everyone wants to feel energized and rested as they return from their travels, planning one’s sleep schedule should definitely be part of travel plans, even if it seems unimportant right now.
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