We all love to travel (at least we did before the pandemic!). Travel represents a chance to see new places, reconnect with old faces and create new memories. For others, it is part and parcel of the work schedule. Whichever way, it is important to understand how traveling can affect sleep and how to make the best decisions concerning sleep during travels. That is what we discuss below!
Which ways can travel can disrupt your sleep
1. Jet Lag
Usually, jet lag occurs after crossing several time zones on long-distance flights. This is because an individual's circadian rhythm is still anchored in their home time zone when they arrive at their destination, misaligning it with the local time.
One of the leading symptoms of jet lag is difficulty sleeping. Other symptoms include impaired physical or mental performance, daytime sleepiness, diarrhoea, and malaise.
Jet lag usually lasts just a few days but can last for weeks if it takes that long for the body's clock to be synchronised with local time. In most cases, jet lag is more severe when traveling east and crossing many time zones.
2. New Sleep Environment
One key feature of good sleep hygiene is an optimised sleep environment, but travel can easily disrupt this. According to studies, people tend to sleep worse on their first night in an unfamiliar environment. Researchers found the effect first in sleep clinics, where they consistently observed on the first night.
This effect is not observed only at sleep clinics. Further research suggests that even an inviting atmosphere like a spa resort can negatively affect first-night sleep quality.
According to some researchers, this is an evolutionary survival tactic to keep parts of the brain active when there is a need to sleep in a new place for the first time.
After the first night, sleep usually improves, but this may not happen when traveling. A bad mattress, too much light, or too much noise may also make it difficult to sleep.
Stress from travel may lead to fatigue both in physical and mental form. Exhaustion, headaches, and sleep loss are symptoms of travel fatigue.
Travel fatigue can affect anyone during a trip of any length and type and may worsen underlying health conditions. Different aspects of travel can lead to travel fatigue. They include:
- Interruptions or delays to the itinerary.
- Sleep is not possible on a plane, train, or car when upright.
- As a result of plane cabin pressure, passengers can suffer from dehydration, bloating, constipation, and respiratory tract infections.
- Changes in food and drink consumption while in transit, including consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
- Travel phobia or fear of flying.
- Logistics-related stress, such as packing and arriving on time.
- Long travel days.
4. Disruptions to Habits
It is common to think that travel offers a welcome break from routines, but changes to existing habits can affect sleep.
For example, during travel, people tend to drink more alcohol or eat heavier meals, which can adversely affect sleep. Additionally, traveling may mean reducing or modifying regular exercise, an activity that contributes to good sleep.
Tips to Ensure Sound Sleep Even When Traveling
The effect of traveling on sleeping patterns can be enormous, and it may even affect overall productivity if such travel is for work. Therefore, individuals must be intentional about sleep as they prepare for trips and as they travel.
1. Deal with the details on time
Make hotel and flight reservations, print your boarding pass, pack your luggage, finish presentations, handle family matters, and get to the airport on time. It all adds up.
The last-minute rush increases stress and may result in a late-night bedtime, which you don't want. Additionally, you may find it beneficial to schedule your flight to arrive in the morning to reset your internal clock.
2. Prepare yourself for sleep
No matter how you travel, if you desire or need to sleep, ensure that you are comfortable. Below are some suggestions:
- Pack an extra layer if the weather is chilly. Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing.
- You should consider reclining if you can because research has shown that it increases sleep quality and quantity.
- You should use headphones or earplugs to block out the outside world, as well as a jacket or sleep mask to cover your eyes.
- Make sure you carry a pillow and a bag of clothes that you can use as a headrest.
- If possible, travel off-peak hours when there is less commotion and more space for stretching and sleeping.
3. You should nap, but carefully
Consider a short nap on short flights; on long flights, consider a longer nap. If your flight is longer, consider sleeping towards the end. So, when you wake up, you will feel refreshed just as the flight is about to end.
However, unless you have a long flight, don't sleep too long. If you nap for more than 30-45 minutes, you might fall into a deep sleep and wake up exhausted.
4. Don’t abandon the Healthy Lifestyle
This particularly applies to those who travel for fun and vacations, though work travels also apply. Be sure to keep to the sleep rules that make for healthy sleep hygiene. They include:
- Limit alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol can prevent you from sleeping, and caffeine makes it hard to fall asleep if consumed too late at night.
- Make smart food choices: Eat a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, and avoid heavy meals while you're traveling when it is harder to stay active.
- Get daily exercise: You don't have to pound the pavement every day, but you should engage in some physical activity every day.
We Can Travel with You
One way to be intentional about sleep during your travels is taking sleeping materials with you that help you sleep comfortably. For example, you can pack our Junior Cooler Weighted Blanket with you on your trips, it’s the perfect size for snuggling up with on a long flight you can rest assured that you have a blanket designed to give you the perfect night’s rest, irrespective of the location.