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5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Sleep While Traveling

Jet lag, excitement, bad hotel beds, unfamiliar noises—adding up all the reasons why you might not be able to sleep while traveling could kill more time than counting sheep. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that can help you sleep better, whether you’re at home or in a hotel. 

We spoke with sleep experts to find out their secret sleep tips for travelers.

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Late Night Dining and Drinking

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Dr. Robbins knows a thing or two about the science of snoozing—she’s an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Associate Scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Sleep Expert at the Benjamin Hotel in New York City. 

If you want to get a great night’s sleep, Dr. Robbins advises you to avoid eating or drinking before you head off to bed. 

A nightcap may sound like just the thing to send you off to sleep, but it can actually do the opposite. Eating (especially a heavy meal) or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime forces your body to work on processing that food and drink, and can actually “pull you out of some of the deeper, more restorative sleep stages,” according to Dr. Robbins.

However, a very light snack or non-alcoholic drink, consumed an hour or so before bedtime, can actually help you fall asleep. Dr. Robbins recommends pairing Goji berries (which have a naturally high concentration of melatonin) with a cup of decaffeinated tea.

Skipping Your Workout

You don’t have to hit the hotel gym every day on vacation, but working in some form of daily movement during your trip can make a huge difference in your sleep quality. Opt for a long walk instead of hopping on the subway, sign up for a kayaking trip, or rent a bike—getting some outdoor exercise will expose you to natural light and help regulate your circadian rhythm to your new location, which is key for fending off jet lag. Plus, regular exercise has been proven to help adults fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.

Not Packing for Sleep Success

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In a study conducted by Dr. Robbins, noise in a hotel room was the strongest cause of poor guest sleep while traveling. Although you can’t control outside noise, you can eliminate the effect on your sleep by packing earplugs, a travel white noise machine, or our favorite combination of both—Bose’s Sleepbuds.

Some other helpful items you can pack for sleeping include: 

Choosing the Wrong Hotel

Before booking a hotel, do a quick search of the word “sleep” in the hotel’s reviews across various sites. This way, you’ll find complaints from people who couldn’t sleep due to terrible mattresses/pillows, thin walls, noisy roads, etc. and can decide if that’s a deal-breaker for your stay. 

Prioritize your accommodation search to focus on for hotels that offer special sleep amenities or have dedicated sleep programs like the one at The Benjamin which offers everything from a pillow menu to a lullabye library for guests.

Failing to Take Anti-Jet Lag Measures

Woman sitting on couch and yawning
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Jet lag may seem like an unavoidable part of long-haul travel, but it doesn’t have to be. Yunha Kim, Founder and CEO of Sleep Reset, recommends prepping your body for a time change before you even board the plane.

“About three to seven days before you travel, start to slowly adjust your bedtime and mealtimes to match your destination’s time zone,” says Kim. “Adjust by about 30-minute changes every day and night.”

Once you arrive, try to stay up until your regular bedtime. For example, Kim says “If you normally go to bed at 10pm at home, wait until it’s 10pm at your destination before going to sleep.”

Still struggling? Try using sunlight to help your body adjust to a new time zone. “If you need to wake up earlier than you typically do in your home time zone, get outside or use artificial light within 30 minutes of waking up,” advises Kim. “If you need to wake up later than you typically do in your home time zone, try to hold off and expose yourself to sunlight later in the afternoon for the first day or so.” 

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