When I was 20, I had a sign on my bedroom door that proclaimed, “Sleep when you’re dead.”
Really, it wasn’t a sign, it was an alcohol advertisement torn out from a magazine, but it’s what I could afford at the time in terms of apartment decoration.
I lived by that proclamation. It was my catch-all motivational phrase, memento mori, and excuse for party-wild behavior.
Yet, the times change and so have I. I value my sleep more than almost any other part of my schedule, as I know it’s the foundation for my entire day. It’s a sacred time for me, and I do whatever I can to protect it.
But not everyone agrees.
These days, sleep is too often demonized (Sleep when you’re dead! Don’t miss out! YOLO!), 20-year-old-me-style… especially when traveling.
I might be a “grandma” for being in bed by 10, but I feel pretty badass and awesome when I’m up at 6am doing yoga or taking sunrise photos.
New places and new experiences are so much more enjoyable when you wake up with full batteries, not groggily. A good night of sleep leaves you refreshed and most ready to take on the day’s adventures with a clear head and full energy: at home and away.
An early morning to view the sunset at Angkor Wat or a trek through the Amazon seem like happy opportunities rather than cruel punishments when you’ve had a great sleep.
Unfortunately, though, a good night’s sleep isn’t always easy to obtain. Through years of insomnia, wakefulness, and nightmares (along with recent studies in my master’s program), I’ve come up with these crucial tips for nailing sleep while traveling (and at home).
Top 10 Tricks for Better Sleep While Traveling
(and at home)
Travel can be tough enough – long bus rides, getting lost, and frustrating misunderstandings – without adding the discomfort of sleep deprivation. And if you’re tired, you’re more likely to be in a grumpy, pessimistic, or downright bad mood… turning a borderline bad situation absolutely worse.
1. Be careful with caffeine.
Drink your coffee in the morning, not in the afternoon
I need my morning cup of coffee. NEED. Whether it’s been “processed” by a lewak in Indonesia or a weasel in Vietnam, comes in crystalized form like in Thailand (hopefully not), or strong enough to knock your socks off in Brazil – coffee is my favorite way to start my day, especially when in my to-go cup and combined with a walk.
But I’ve learned to completely cease caffeine after 3pm if I want to sleep at a decent time. Drinking coffee (or other caffeinated beverages – this includes some teas, hot chocolate, and also soft drinks) in the late afternoon can keep you up at night, as small amounts of caffeine will linger into the evening.
2. Control your stress.
Journaling can be an effective stress-management strategy
If you’ve ever spent a stressful night tossing and turning, ruminating on your worries, you don’t want to do it again.
Being proactive about managing stress can keep it from interfering with your sleep (and causing even more stress!).
Right-before-bed strategies include:
- writing lists
- doing a mind-dump (writing everything on your mind down)
- setting priorities
- deep breathing
3. Get some sun.
Not into early-morning walks? Having your morning cuppa outside also works
I love to walk, and I take a long stroll outside at least once a day (at least three times a day if at home.. thanks Mickey). While also a mild form of exercise, it’s the exposure to natural sunlight that’s most important for your sleep.
Being exposed to natural sunlight for a bare minimum of 10 minutes a day helps reinforce (or reset) your circadian rhythm, the “natural clock” we all have. Aim for 20 minutes a day, and notice how much this helps.
Having some form of natural sunlight exposure as soon as possible upon waking (within 30 minutes, preferably) is especially effective.
4. Ban electronics from bed.
Laptops in the bed = a major no-no
This may be the toughest one! Light from the TV suppresses melatonin production, and actually stimulates the mind (NOT relaxes, contrary to popular belief).
Try to ban blue light at least one hour before sleeping (this includes TVs, phones, and laptops), and keep electronics out of the bed and the bedroom if possible.
Aside from the light, having stimulating screens in your bed teaches your mind to remain active and awake rather than relaxed. This is especially true if you’re working in bed.
If you need to do something before you sleep, read. If you’re using a tablet or Kindle, make sure it’s in night-time (blue light suppressed) mode.
5. Create a consistent schedule.
Try to hit the hay around the same time every day
Going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time, even on weekends, establishes a solid sleep cycle.
If you must push your bedtime back, still try to wake up at the same time the next day (take a little nap later if needed) rather than disturb your whole schedule.
6. Move more.
Get your yoga on!
Daily exercise is key in establishing good sleep hygeine. If you find that exercising too close to bedtime winds you up instead of helps you drift off, try to get your exercise in earlier in the day, such as midafternoon or sooner.
Some gentle yoga stretches at night can also help relax you.
7. Think like a vampire.
These heavy curtains are essential for a good night’s sleep and blocking out street light
Light at night is detrimental to sleep – especially bright light. If you have to get up in the middle of the night, try to use a travel flashlight or motion-activated night light (great for travel), to avoid waking yourself entirely.
In general, keep your room as dark as possible – block out streetlights from outside or lights from the hallway with blackout shades. This can be difficult when traveling, if your hotel room cheaps out on the blinds or you need to sleep on a train. An easy and inexpensive solution is an eye mask (this is the one I use and love).
8. Limit long naps.
Mickey is the king of naps
I love naps, but I find that they keep me from falling asleep at night. Sometimes, a nap seems necessary, especially when you don’t get a great night’s sleep for whatever reason.
Naps are fine for your sleep cycle, but time it right. Naps between 10 to 30 minutes are best, and take them before late afternoon – otherwise, it can interfere with your next night’s sleep.
9. Block out noise
Especially for light sleepers, even a tiny noise can rouse them and disturb their sleep. If you’re on a busy street, have loud neighbors, or are staying in an up-all-night hostel, nothing beats a great pair of earplugs.
If you find earplugs uncomfortable (or just hate them like I do), background noise provided by a white noise machine (this one is good for travel) or essential oil diffuser (this one is good for travel) or fan (they even have TRAVEL fans now), also can help.
10. Design a morning and a nighttime routine
Having a standard morning routine lessens nighttime stress and makes it easier to ease into sleep and release stressful thoughts. Knowing exactly what you do every morning decreases errors or forgetfulness, giving you less to worry about the night before.
A nighttime routine is just as important as a morning routine, and both should be personalized. Create a nighttime routine that starts to wind down about an hour before bedtime and can be done anywhere (even on the road). This relaxing bedtime ritual should include anything that helps you to release stress and become calm, such as journaling, reading (by a soft light or listening to books on tape/Audible or on a blue-light-less tablet or Kindle), praying or making intentions, drinking a cup of tea, taking a warm bath or shower, listening to soft and calming music, gentle stretches, applying lavender essential oils, and/or meditation.
Avoid anything exciting, stressful, or anxiety-producing during this hour.
Pin it for Later: Top 10 Tips to Sleep Better While Traveling