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Sleep and Travel Tips for a Dream Vacation

Teresa Power DeNike

Summer is here, you’ve got a bunch of cute face masks, hand sanitizer, and new clothes you didn’t get to wear last year. You are SO ready to travel again. But, how will you sleep when you travel? 

Cornonasomnia” is very real — there has been a general increase in anxiety and illness-related insomnia during the pandemic. However, there have been some silver linings for sleep during this time and more awareness about sleep health. You’ve most likely been sleeping in the same bed, going to sleep and waking up around the same time. Maybe you even got some new bedding or blackout shades to improve your sleep. 


Although you’re ready to GET OUT already, you might worry that your sleep is going to be off when you leave your home sleep sanctuary. 

This doesn’t have to ruin your trip, or any part of it! Accept that your sleep is going to be disrupted in some way, but only temporarily. Be prepared to perform your morning and night routines even when you’re away, and most importantly, show yourself some compassion.


Let’s talk about the flight

If you have a long flight, plan to sleep soon after take-off. Watch that movie or get work done when you wake up, and not the other way around. The longer you are awake before bedtime, the more your homeostatic pressure (natural drive to sleep) builds up. If you can, aim for 12 hours of sustained wakefulness to maximize this "healthy sleepiness.” 

Let's be honest — alcohol before or during the flight is one of the perks of travel. However, depending on what kind of trip you’re going on, you might want to avoid or limit your consumption on the way there. Alcohol will disrupt your sleep, especially if it's close to “bedtime” when you get to your destination.  

Whether you’re keeping the mini bottles flowing or staying sober, make sure you’re staying hydrated with water as well! Hydration is the key to looking and feeling your best, especially on a long flight. 


While you’re there

If your travels have kept you awake for an unusually long amount of time, take comfort in knowing that you will fall asleep easier after mild sleep deprivation. It’s important not to create any extra sleep worries or racing thoughts to keep you up at night. 

Caffeine in the morning and melatonin at night may be helpful to manage your body clock and combat jet lag. In regards to both chemicals — MORE IS NOT BETTER.  If you overdo it with the caffeine, you risk lying awake at night. A recommended dose of melatonin is between .5mg and 5mg, but there are no FDA guidelines on dosage or quality. Ask your sleep coach or doctor how to use it best and if they have any product recommendation.

Jet lag can also be combated with generally healthy choices in food, drink, exercise, and light.


Light is Your Frenemy

I cannot emphasize this enough — light is incredibly important to your sleep and wake experience. 

Aim to get natural and/or bright light first thing in the morning. If you want to feel awake, you don’t want too much melatonin swimming around in your brain. The easiest way to stop its production is exposure to bright light. 

Sunlight can cause the release of serotonin in your brain, which is associated with improved mood, feelings of satisfaction, calm, and focus.  UV rays may help release endorphins, which make you feel good. One of the many reasons beach days can be addictive…

Keep hotel lights dim to help increase melatonin and try to keep your phone out of bed, or at least dim the screen.


Quick note about snoring

No one wants to hear you snoring, and your body shouldn’t be choking for air all night long — BRING YOUR ORAL APPLIANCE OR CPAP MACHINE if you have sleep apnea.


Some good news 

Your body is WIRED to sleep. Use these tips and tricks to help optimize your sleep and wake experience. Even if you have some trouble sleeping, know that your body will work hard to make up for it the next night without you having to stress about it. You might have some crazy dreams while the recovery process takes place. Isn’t our (very active) sleeping brain amazing?!

Travel light and sleep tight, sleepy heads!

Teresa Power DeNike, BS, CCSH, is the founder of SleepBetterNYC. Big time thanks to her for allowing us to repost this amazing blog. Please check out her website to learn more about her extensive expertise and inspiring passion for all things sleep.

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