June 10, 2023

Getting enough sleep while traveling is key to having a great vacation. But for many of us, that’s easier said than done. From pre-vacation jitters and cramped airlines to jet lag, traveling can seem like it’s setting us up for many hours of lost sleep.

However, you don’t necessarily have to go through your next trip in a perpetual state of grogginess. Knowing what it is about travel that disrupts your sleep and finding ways to adjust on the go can make a big difference in helping you get the Zzz’s you need to enjoy your trip.

Here’s how to get better sleep when you travel, according to sleep experts.

Build a travel sleep kit

A travel sleep kit with an eye mask, ear plugs, and other nighttime essentials can be a helpful tool for getting better sleep on a plane. While some airlines provide those kits on long-haul flights, frequent travelers are often better off packing their own products, said Dr. Michael Breus, also known as “The Sleep Doctor,” a double-board certified clinical psychologist and clinical sleep specialist, who spoke at a recent event in honor of National Sleep Month.

“I travel all the time and I don’t trust the airlines to give me something that’s going to be effective,” explained Dr. Breus, who’s on the scientific advisory board of Apollo Neuro, a wearable wellness device that helps people recover from stress and sleep better.

Exactly what belongs in your travel sleep kit largely comes down to personal preferences. Dr. Breus likes to pack a fluffy eye mask, Bose Sleepbuds, and a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.

Here are a few other things to consider packing in your travel sleep kit:

  • melatonin or sleep medication (as recommended by your doctor)
  • ear plugs
  • travel pillow
  • noise-canceling headphones
  • scarf, socks, and other warm garments
  • lavender essential oil

Choose the best seat on the airplane for sleep

Getting better sleep while traveling often depends on where you’re sitting on the plane. Dr. Breus recommended using SeatGuru to check out reviews of airplane seats and find the coziest spot on your flight.

“When you plug in your flight number, it pulls up a schematic of the fuselage and it tells you where the best seats are for sleep. It’s awesome,” he said.

At the very least, you should choose a window seat if you want to sleep on a long-haul flight. That way, you’ll have a surface to lean your head against and you won’t get disturbed when other passengers need to get up to use the restroom.

Create a jet lag plan

You don’t have to wait until you cross time zones to start dealing with jet lag. Adjusting your routine ahead of your departure can help you get better sleep while traveling. And fortunately, the app Timeshifter takes the guesswork out of the process by creating personalized jet lag plans for travelers, said Dr. Breus (who is a member of the app’s advisory board).

Once you download the app, just plug in your departing and return flights, and voila—Timeshifter tells you when to prioritize sun exposure, cut back on caffeine, take melatonin, go to bed, and wake up in the days ahead of and during your trip. Your first itinerary is free, but after that, you’ll need to buy a subscription to get personalized jet lag plans for future travels.

Remember that travel sleep troubles are temporary

Even if you’ve tried every trick in the book to sleep better while traveling, you may still have a troublesome night or two—and that’s completely normal. But getting stressed out about the situation will only make it harder for you to drift off. So instead of ruminating about all the ways that travel is disrupting your sleep, keep in mind that you’re probably doing lots of things on your trip that actually promote sleep, said Dr. Samina Ahmed Jauregui, a sleep psychologist and advisor to Pluto Pillow, at the National Sleep Month event.

“There’s aspects of the day where you’re more active, you’re exploring, you’re on your feet, you’re socializing more, you might be experiencing more sunlight, and even less stress,” she said.

It can also be helpful to remind yourself that poor sleep while traveling is temporary.

“Worrying less about the idea that you’re going to be out of routine or not in your own bed or out late one night, the better you’ll be in terms of managing some semblance of a quality night’s sleep while you’re traveling,” explained Dr. Jauregui.

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