Smarter Sleep Hacking for Travel Junkies

Posted by   Annette on    December 7, 2017

airport-sleep.jpgFull-time travel can keep you up at night.

Sleep cycles have a tendency to get a little crazy outside the carefully managed variables (and easy familiarity) of a "home" environment. New time zones, noises, temperatures, sheet materials, lights, diets, daily's no wonder you're starving for shut-eye. When sleep suffers, quality-of-life ain't far behind.

I'm no stranger to the struggle, but I've dialed in some strategies that work. Here are the tricks I personally use to get to sleep when I'm on the move.

1. Eliminate the variables you can.

Carry a high-quality, contoured sleep mask and earplugs-- and step away from the bar for a couple of days before and after you move from one place to another, whether or not you cross time zones. Drinking alcohol cripples the quality of your sleep--so any extra winks you get from that nightcap immediately work against you.

2. Quit laggin’.

Jet lag requires an ounce of prevention to avoid a pound of cure. 

No-Jet-Lag, readily available in the States, helps to nip the familiar symptoms before they blossom into exhaustion, disorientation, slack-jawed confusion and a doddering stupor. The catch? You have to remember to take it on schedule (upon takeoff, once every couple of hours during the flight, and upon landing) in order for it to work most effectively. Boiron makes another homeopathic jet lag remedy I’ve personally found to be effective, but I find the bottles a bit fussy to handle in a crowded cabin.

If you’ve already received your entry stamp into JetLagLand, you'll need to give your body the time it needs to reset. NASA helpfully suggests that a person needs approximately a day’s catch-up for each time zone crossed. In my experience — and I’m sure more than a few rental cars agree — forcing wakefulness when your body respectfully declines is more dangerous than useful. If you’re eating lightly and hydrating, acclimation will come. Just keep a clear schedule for the week you land and let your body catch up.

3. Eat something.

Have a small meal 3-4 hours before bedtime. There are vastly differing opinions on what the meal should be comprised of, so I advise doing a bit of research and some personal experimentation. I sleep best on my version of Tim Ferriss’s wacky-effective slow-carb diet. (An opposing study suggested that a high-GI meal sends people to dreamland most efficiently, but there were only twelve subjects on that study, and all of them were young, healthy men, so I don't trust the result.) What’s best? The one that works for you.

From the research I’ve done, it appears that the least-effective method of the lot is pre-sleep fasting (as advocated for weight loss by most women’s-magazine-style diet plans). Interestingly, pre-sleep fasting appears to spike carb consumption during the next waking period, leading to a paunch-inducing backfire.

4. Supplement.

Sufficient vitamin B levels aren’t just vital for general wellbeing. The group (especially B6) is linked to quality sleep. Pick up a high-quality B-complex — they’re readily available even in smaller international cities — and make sure you’re not sleepless due to a vitamin B deficiency before you start using other supplements and sleep aids.

Lack of sufficient magnesium could also be the problem, especially if you find yourself feeling sluggish during waking hours. (You’re especially at risk for this if you’ve recently had intestinal troubles, have been drinking alcohol more than usual or have been hitting the coffee especially hard.) You can boost your consumption of magnesium-containing foods, or you can take a supplement--which is a surer-fire choice if your local supermarket is limited, or if you're struggling mightily to get to sleep each night. I like this good-tasting calcium-magnesium drink mix or this dropper (when I'm on limited luggage space).

Melatonin works for a lot of people. It doesn’t work for me; contrarily, it gives me disturbing dreams and a groggy morning. Has anyone else had that experience?

When you’ve gotta sleep and you’ve gotta sleep now, try a sleep aid — but only when sleep is absolutely vital for execution of the next day’s plans, and only the gentle stuff. I swear by Hylands Calms Forte; it’s non-addictive, homeopathic and has always worked for me. When I take it, I always take it with either chamomile or valerian tea, so I keep a couple of teabags stuffed into the bottle. The tiny bottle lasts for a couple of years of occasional use.

5. Try ASMR.

Even if you don't experience a full physical Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) response to triggers, it's very worth looking into ASMR triggers to cue sleep.

I'm planning to treat this subject extensively under separate cover, but here's a teaser: pop on some headphones, turn down the brightness of your screen and cue up a long ASMR video on YouTube.

.6. Be honest with yourself.

Are you jumping from crowded, noisy hostel to crowded, noisy hostel? Drinking more than usual? Clawing through life in a stressful relationship? Struggling to manifest your vision of what your dream used to look like, while studiously ignoring what your dream has become?

Your lack of sleep is likely your body's howl for attention to the imbalances you've created. Sort those out first, and see if it doesn't resolve. 



photo credits: hernanpba Como perder un vuelo / As missing a flight via photopin (license) / Oceans of Lilim I think I saw you in my sleep... via photopin (license)