Top Tips for Better Sleep When You Travel
Nothing can upset your sleep schedule quite like stepping on a plane and jetting off to a foreign land — even if it’s for fun.
We all have an optimal period called your circadian window when our bodies want to sleep – typically around 11pm. to 7am, and any time you travel, particularly across two or more time zones, it ends up wreaking havoc on this window.
Nobody wants to spend the first 36 hours of their holiday recovering from a flight so whether you’re travelling for work or play, here are some top tips to keep sleep disruption to a minimum.
Three days before you’re scheduled to travel, begin moving your bedtime an hour earlier (or later, as appropriate) than you normally would. Add another hour the second evening, and a third hour on the third day. It normally takes one day per time zone for your body to adjust, so planning ahead can help ease the transition.
Keep It Loose
If you are aiming to sleep, travel in comfortable, non-constricting clothing including compression stockings. Wearing loose clothing will help you drift off and also prevent against deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which occurs when your blood flow is restricted.
There is also nothing more annoying than being on the verge of nodding off, only for a member of cabin crew to prod you, trying to find out whether you’re buckled up. So, keep your seatbelt visible above your clothes before take-off to prevent this.
For those fortunate enough to be sat in first or business-class, this is a no-brainer.
But what about the rest of us? According to the experts the best position – somewhat controversially for those sat behind you – is to put your seat back as far as possible. Sitting up straight contributes to lower back pain, leaning slightly back at a 135-degree angle is best, as the least pressure is placed on the spinal discs.
Shun the Small Talk
Unsociable as it sounds, be in no mood to chat. Politely deter your neighbour from engaging in mid-flight small talk by plugging in headphones, waving a book around, or muttering to yourself in an obscure foreign language.
No, this is not about knocking back several whiskies to counteract your jet lag, the effects of alcohol are amplified in the sky and you will feel like rubbish when you land. So, avoid caffeine-laced drinks and alcohol on a flight. Being at 35,000 ft is terribly dehydrating so buy a large bottle of water before boarding and slurp it happily for the duration of the flight, as your fellow parched passengers make do with tiny plastic cups. The most obvious way dehydration will show itself is on your skin, which will inevitably turn grey, flake and make you look 10 years older than you actually are. The best way to fight this is to remove your make-up with cleansing wipes as soon as you take off – then smother on a heavy-duty moisturiser. Using a lip balm will add another preventative barrier.
Harsh as it seems don’t watch TV or the film as the light from the screens keeps your brain awake. If the environment is noisy, try some relaxing music perhaps with noise-cancelling headphones.
Bed Time Routine
Ideally, you should bring your own travel pillow. Have a “going to bed” routine – cleaning teeth, putting on a sleep mask, and spreading out the blanket. Set your watch for the time in your new destination before take-off.
Beat the Queue
If you’re worried about getting stuck in a queue for the toilets, set an alarm to go off 30-45 minutes before you land to give yourself ample time and beat the rush. Bring a change of underwear and some deodorant and reap the psychological benefits of arriving at your destination looking and feeling vaguely fresh.
The real challenge to avoid jet-lag comes however when you reach your destination.
Go with the Local Flow
After you land, try to sync up with the local schedule. If you’re landing when people are awake in the middle of the day, that’s what you want to do, too. Sleep as much as you can on the plane. If you’re going to be landing at night, do your best to stay awake on the plane and sleep at your destination.
Abide by the Two-day Rule
If you’re going to be staying somewhere fewer than two days, try and keep to your own schedule. By the time your body adapts, it’ll be time to come home. In such cases whenever possible, request that any work meetings etc. happen during the equivalent of your peak waking hours at home.
Let There Be Light
If your flight touches down first thing in the morning as you travel east, bring along a pair of sunglasses to minimise light exposure. It’s preferable to get maximal light exposure in the late morning and early afternoon, which shifts your rhythms closer to your destination’s time zone. The goal is to recalibrate the clock so that it’s closer to bedtime at your destination. If you’re travelling westward, which is less disruptive, aim for light exposure in the early evening. Eat outdoors or go for a walk to push your rhythm a bit later. And to aid faster recovery from jet lag consider investing in wearable tech such as Luminette’s SAD light therapy glasses and AYO’s blue light emitting glasses.
Move Your Body
When you’re ready to begin the day, take a warm shower and head outside for exercise to signal your body that it’s time to get going. Increasing core body temperature is a trigger for your circadian rhythm.
Natural levels of the hormone melatonin typically rise about two hours before bedtime, preparing your body for rest. If you’re travelling, your body might need a little nudge. It helps your body produce natural melatonin at the appropriate time when your schedule is off-kilter. It is not a cure-all for jet lag, however. Studies indicate that light exposure during the day is more effective for resetting your internal clock. Melatonin is available on prescription only in the UK so speak to your GP before heading off.
Sleeping tablets can help overcome noise and discomfort but they should only be used on journeys that are long enough – no shorter than a six-hour flight – and only if you can lie down flat. Many over-the-counter medications also have a long half-life, which means they linger in the body. This can leave you feeling groggy the next day. Use sparingly, especially if you take anti-anxiety medications to fly, because those drugs also cause sedation.