Although you may meticulously plan your trip and see it as a chance to relax and unwind, getting quality sleep while away from home may not come naturally to you. It's a common vacationer's dilemma.
“Traveling can disrupt your sleep schedule, and that can make it tough to get a good night’s sleep,” says Matthew Mingrone, MD, the lead physician for EOS Sleep in California, a medical practice that diagnoses sleeping disorders.
Vacationing in another time zone can be even more disruptive. Your body clock may still be set to your home time zone, and it can take awhile to adjust, Dr. Mingrone says. But even if you’re vacationing close to home, the familiar sounds and cues that signal your body that it’s time to go to sleep are missing, and you may have trouble sleeping in strange surroundings.
How to Get Better Sleep Away From Home
A night of tossing and turning won’t provide you with the energy you need to do all the fun things you’ve planned. Here’s how you can get better sleep while traveling so you can enjoy a healthy vacation:
- Pack your pillow. “If you have trouble adjusting to sleeping in a different bed, bring a comfortable pillow that you like,” Mingrone says. You can even bring a blanket that reminds you of home.
- Keep it comfortable. If you can adjust the temperature in your hotel room, set it between 69 and 72 degrees before you go to sleep. Pull the curtains closed so that light from the outside doesn’t wake you. “You want the room to be cool, dark, and quiet,” Mingrone says. If you’re sensitive to noise, ask for a room in the quietest part of the hotel — as far away as possible from entrances, elevators, conference rooms, the hotel gym, and vending machines.
- Cut off caffeine early. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda, at least eight hours before you plan to go to sleep. “If your bedtime is 10 p.m., it’s a good idea to not have caffeine after 2 p.m.,” Mingrone says.
- Be careful with booze. This may be more of a challenge when you’re on vacation and want to indulge, but alcohol can interrupt your sleep cycle, Mingrone says. If you want to drink alcohol, keep it in moderation and stop drinking three or four hours before bed so the alcohol has time to wear off.
- Don’t dine too late. People on vacation tend to eat more than they usually do, and possibly eat later than normal, too — and both factors can get in the way of good sleep. “You don’t want to have a huge meal and go to bed an hour later," Mingrone says. "You’ll get better sleep if your stomach isn’t full. If you’re anticipating eating a larger meal than usual, the earlier that meal happens the better.”
- Stay active. A healthy vacation includes plenty of physical activity. If you exercise during the day, whether you’re taking advantage of the hotel gym or staying active while sightseeing, chances are you’ll sleep well. But to ensure restful sleep, timing is everything. The earlier in the day you exercise the better, Mingrone says. “Exercise promotes endorphins and gets your heart rate up, so it’s not a good idea to do that too close to bedtime," he says.
- Time naps carefully. “The earlier in the day you take a nap, the better it will be for your sleep cycle,” Mingrone says. “A nap between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. is not a good idea.” Also, limit your nap to 30 minutes. If you nap too long, it will be harder to stick to your sleep schedule at night.
- Unwind before bed. Choose a relaxing activity, such as taking a warm bath or reading a book, to put you into sleep mode. If you read, choose an old-fashioned book instead of an e-reader, Mingrone says. Some e-readers emit light that can stimulate your brain and keep you awake. Skip TV and computer games before bedtime as well. Those activities can also be too stimulating.
Getting Good Sleep in a Different Time Zone
Here are some tricks for getting better sleep if you’re traveling to a different time zone:
- A few days before your trip, start adjusting to the new time zone. If you’re headed east, try going to bed an hour earlier than usual. If you’re going west, try staying up a little later.
- Once you take your seat on the plane, adjust your watch to the time zone of your final destination.
- If you’re headed east, try not to sleep on the plane. “If you nap, it will be harder for your body to adjust to the new later time when you arrive,” Mingrone says.
- If you’re headed west, it’s okay to catch a catnap on the plane to help you stay awake until the clock at your destination says that it’s bedtime.
- Savor the sunset. Watching it get dark at your destination tells your body that it’s time for sleep and makes it easier for you to reset your sleep schedule, Mingrone says.
Make these tips part of your vacation planning and you’ll get the restful sleep you need, even when you’re far from home.