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Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D

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How To Sleep Well When Traveling

Posted: 06/30/2011 8:26 am

Summer vacation usually brings to mind images of fun, food and relaxation. However, many people find themselves tossing and turning in hotel beds when away from the comforts of home. With about six out of every ten Americans planning a getaway this year, it is important to maintain a regular, healthy sleep schedule no matter the location. Regardless of your destination, simple preparations for a good night's sleep can head off any disturbance in your usual sleep schedule.

If You're Staying In the Same Time Zone
Sneaking off to the lake or lucky enough to live near the beach? Your sleep patterns will not change as drastically as your jet-setting counterparts. Still, a night away from the familiar comforts of home could interrupt your usual sleep routine. Try a few simple tips below to ensure you make that 8 a.m. tee time:

-Bring your own bedding. If you know that wrapping up in your own pillows and blankets will lead to a more restful sleep, pack them in the car. Your body craves a stable routine and bringing along familiar items will help keep your sleep schedule on track.
-Be prepared with a sleep mask, earplugs or calming music. You never know when a hotel may be in the middle of a remodel or night owls could be in the room next to yours. Pack items that will block out unwanted noise and light.
-Don't eat or drink too much. While it is tempting to indulge on vacation, too many calories or too much alcohol close to bedtime could keep you pacing throughout the night.
-Avoid drowsy driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently reported that drowsy driving is involved in about 1 in 6 car accidents. Keep yourself and your family safe -- if you feel sleepy, let someone else drive, drink a caffeinated beverage or pull into a rest area for a nap.

Traveling Through 3 or Less Time Zones
If you are flying or driving across three or fewer time zones, you will be facing a few sleep challenges. A California native vacationing in Florida might find themselves up half the night, missing out on the morning beach activities. To settle into this slight change, try the following:

Plan ahead. It takes about one day to recover from traveling across one time zone. If your vacation is packed with activities and you cannot afford one day of rest, consider setting your clock to your destination's local time a day or so before departing. Plan your sleep/wake pattern around this new time and you will be ready to hit the beach (or any other destination) upon arrival.
Adjust naturally. Call ahead to see if your hotel has black out curtains or other sleep aids. If sleep medication or supplements are not a normal part of your life, do not rely on them as a sleep aid while on vacation. A medication that works well for another family member or friend may have adverse side effects for you, so be sure to consult a doctor before traveling with any prescriptions.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration is often a cause of travel fatigue. Make sure to drink plenty of water before boarding a plane, and do not pass up the opportunity to snag the smaller-sized bottles once on board. If you are driving, consider stocking a cooler with bottled water or bring a large thermos to keep fully hydrated.

Traveling Abroad
Jet lag is the physical reaction to transmeridian travel, creating fatigue, insomnia and digestive problems in even the most seasoned travelers. Jet lag affects everyone differently, and does not get easier with age or experience. Jet lag is caused by a new time zone's abrupt change to your body's natural circadian rhythm. Similar to shift workers who upset their body's natural sleep clock when working night hours, jet lag can also cause headaches or confusion.

As previously stated, it takes one day to recover from each time zone you cross. If you are finally taking that long-awaited vacation to Europe and departing from Arizona, you might need a full week to reset your internal clock. If you are traveling to London from South Carolina, it should take about five days to readjust. What can you do to help your body bridge that sleep gap so you can get moving?

Get some sun (or fake it). The sun is the body's natural sleep regulator. Step outside on a sunny day and your body internally knows it is time to rise and shine. If you are heading somewhere infamous for dismal weather, consider purchasing a machine that emits artificial sunlight. Place the device by your bed to use as a more natural wake-up call than a blaring alarm clock.
Exercise. Get any last-minute vacation stressors out of your system with a workout before your flight. Get up and move around to keep your blood flowing during the plane ride. Once you land, work in some exercise before going to bed -- you will sleep better and have more energy the next day.
Stay awake and on local time. Even if it's 11 p.m. in your hometown, try to stay on your destination's clock. No napping and no shuteye until the locals turn in.
Borrow tips from above. All the tips listed in the previous two sections may prove helpful for your jet lag. Set your clocks to your destination's local time, do not overeat or drink too much, pack the comforts of home -- at least your pillow -- do whatever is necessary to guarantee you will be well-rested and ready to enjoy your vacation.


Finally, if you know you are going to have extreme difficulty sleeping due on vacation, talk with your doctor about sleep or wake promoting medications.

For more about jet lag, sleep health, and sleep disorders visit sleepfoundation.org.

 
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