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6 Tips for Getting Better Sleep While Traveling

A good night’s sleep on vacation can start before you leave home

spinner image woman wearing a sleep mask while sleeping at a hotel
Consider packing a sleep mask to help block the light.
fizkes / Getty Images

Vacations are a break from everyday stressors such as your job or other responsibilities. You might assume that this break would mean that you will get a great night’s sleep. But when you’re traveling, you are away from your routines and your bedroom, which can lead to difficulty sleeping.

The accommodations might have a bed or pillow that isn’t comfortable. You could have some other issues with your room, which might be too bright or noisy. Traveling to another time zone also could lead to sleep troubles. We asked experts for tips to improve your sleep while you are traveling so you can enjoy your vacation and feel rejuvenated at the end of it.

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1. Prepare for jet lag

If your trip is in another time zone, you might experience jet lag or fatigue from not adjusting to the new time zone. “Even just an hour time zone difference can be disruptive to people’s sleep,” says W. Chris Winter, M.D., 50, a neurologist and owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, a sleep clinic in Virginia that offers sleep consultations and sleep studies. The author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It explains that as you age, it’s possible you will be more sensitive to jet lag.

Hotels add tech and other features for better slumber

Hotels are waking up to the idea that what many vacationers want is a good night’s sleep. Enter “sleep tourism,” where a night in is the key attraction. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 35 percent of U.S. adults get less shut-eye than the minimum recommended seven hours per night. And COVID may have made things worse.

The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that 40 percent of survey participants reported a reduction in sleep quality since 2020. “So many people developed ‘COVID-somnia,’ ” says Rebecca Robbins, a sleep scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and coauthor of Sleep for Success! Also, she notes that sleep disorders increase with advancing age and may lead to deteriorating health.

“For so long, sleep has been the forgotten stepsister to exercise and nutrition,” Robbins notes. “It’s the last frontier of health and wellness.”

—Veronica Stoddart

If you know that you are going to travel to a different time zone, you can help your body adjust to the change by using light or time devices about a week before you travel. Winter says if you use glasses with blue light at certain times throughout the day before you travel and at your destination, that will help you adjust to the new time zone. Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist and director at Sleepopolis, a website with comprehensive sleep-industry information, suggests using apps that will help you adjust to new time zones before you travel. “Five or six days in advance, adjust your bedtime and wake time so it’s easier for you to sleep once you get there,” she says.

2. Pack comforts from home and other sleep items

If you can, pack your own pillow, blankets or other items that help you sleep at home and will help you adjust to your vacation accommodations. You already know these items are comfortable, whereas a hotel pillow might be too hard or soft. Plus, the scent of your items might help you feel relaxed. “We need that feeling of comfort and relaxation to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Lauri Leadley, 57, the founder and president at Valley Sleep Center, a sleep health management clinic in Arizona.

Some other items you might want to pack are a night-light, noise machine or earplugs, and a sleep mask. Harris says she always travels with her “old-school sound machine.” If you don’t have one, she suggests asking at the hotel to borrow one, or you can download a sound machine phone app. She also recommends using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.

A night-light can provide light in a bathroom for safety but not so much light that it wakes you up. A noise machine or earplugs can help mask noises, while a sleep mask will help block any light if the windows are not properly covered.

3. Power down with a bedtime routine

If you have a bedtime routine at home, practicing that same routine on your vacation will help you get a good night’s sleep. Leadley recommends a “power down” time about an hour before you want to fall asleep. You could read a book or do other relaxing activities. It’s important to not use any electronics. “Electronic screens at night are problematic, especially between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. That blue light, especially in pretty close proximity, is a signal for alertness,” says Audrey Wells, M.D., a sleep medicine physician and founder of Super Sleep MD, a website that offers online group coaching and courses about sleep apnea and insomnia.

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This routine will signal to your brain that it needs to start winding down. A nighttime bath or shower as a part of your bedtime routine can help your body relax, Leadley says. “When you step out from the hot to the cool, it will increase that melatonin production,” she says. Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone in your body that is sometimes referred to as the “sleep hormone.” This hormone signals your body to relax so you can fall asleep.

4. Try yoga poses before sleep

During your power-down time, you also can include yoga poses that can help your body relax. Leadley and other experts suggest adding these poses to your routine:

  • Child’s Pose.
  • Supine Twist.
  • Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose.
  • Corpse Pose.

Leadley says lying down in Child’s Pose can stimulate the pineal gland, which is where melatonin is produced. The Supine Twist can release any back tension you may have built up during your day, she says. In addition, Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose can promote circulation, while Corpse Pose is a meditative state that should include focusing on your breath. “Your breath has so much power,” Leadley says. “Your body will naturally relax if you use the breath.”

5. Have a plan for waking up in the middle of the night

It’s a normal part of the sleep cycle to wake up in the middle of the night. You might wake up because you are in a different sleeping environment, or you might need to use the bathroom. Leadley says it’s important to prepare for these scenarios so that you can easily fall back asleep. If you don’t have a plan, you will start thinking about tomorrow’s itinerary or other issues, and then your brain will be alert, she says.

Leadley suggests being prepared with a relaxing visualization of something you love. “If you wake up, start to visualize yourself in that favorite place,” she says. If your mind starts to wander during your visualization, she suggests focusing on your breath. “If you focus on the rise and fall of your breath, it is very relaxing,” she says.

“There’s a ton of meditations out there,” Leadley says. Any meditation that helps you detach your brain from your thoughts will help to relax your mind and body, and then you will be able to fall asleep, she says.

6. Education about sleep

Winter says that one of the best ways to sleep well is to educate yourself about the sleep process. “I tell people the secret to great sleep is being equally happy in bed asleep as you are awake,” he says.

“People have a tendency to underestimate the effect that sleep has on your vacation,” Wells says. “The more that you can prioritize good sleep, the more you’re going to enjoy yourself.”

'Sleep tourism' amenities

Many hotels are offering “sleep suites.” Some examples of what you might find there:

Smart beds. The mattress senses your movements and adjusts body support with up to 90 internal cushions that can individually change firmness within seconds.

Audio tech. Speakers play soothing sounds and the bed syncs with gentle motion, to ease you into sleep and wake you gently.

Aromatherapy. This includes essential oil diffusers, which promote restfulness.

Choice of pillows. Pillow menus include buckwheat filled, memory molding and snoring-reducing types, as well as pillows that contain ultra-thin speakers.

Cooling sheets. These special linens stay cooler and drier than others.

Weighted blankets. Using firm, controlled pressure, they create a feeling of calm.

White noise machines. A soothing mix of frequencies hide unwanted sounds.

Sleep masks and earplugs. These traditional options block light and noise.

Melatonin boosters. Gummies, supplements and red-light therapy can help your brain produce this sleep-promoting hormone.

Special lighting. Subtle night illumination and lamps that gradually dim can help you sleep, and lights that simulate dawn can assist in waking you slowly.

High-tech windows. Adjusting their tint throughout the day and night, they aid your natural awake-sleep cycle.

CBD-infused beverages. The cannabis derivative can decrease anxiety and improve sleep.

Expert help. On-demand videos guide you through meditation sessions, or a sleep therapist can create daily sleep-optimizing itineraries for you.

Features compiled from the Park Hyatt New York, New York City; the Benjamin Royal Sonesta, New York City; the Saratoga Arms, Saratoga Springs, New York; the Lake Nona Wave Hotel, Orlando, Florida; the Meliá Orlando Celebration, Celebration, Florida; the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, Miami Beach; and Hotel Figueroa, Los Angeles.

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