Is it a vacation if you can’t sleep? That’s the question many travelers confront when they head off for much needed rest and relaxation, only to find themselves becoming more exhausted from lack of sleep. Jetlag is sometimes the culprit, but many find that simply being in a strange place disrupts their zz’s, even when they haven’t shifted time zones. What can one do? Here’s the advice of two noted sleep experts:
1) Recreate the bedtime rituals you have at home: Studies have shown that people who get 30 to 60 minutes of quiet “downtime” before they hit the sack have fewer problems falling asleep and sleep more deeply. These rituals might include listening to calming music, deep breathing exercises, reading a book or engaging in other relaxing activities. But Dr. Matthew Edlund, author of the book “The Power of Rest”, warns that the book shouldn’t be a page-turner. “You don’t want to be reading thrillers. Poetry, travel or art history books seem to work well.”
Taking a hot bath is another smart move before bedtime as it physiologically prepares the body for sleep. “The more your body sweats in the bath, the more your core cools down. It cools even further when you step out of the bath and one of the sleep gates for the brain is rapid temperature decline. Simply put, the cooling makes you drowsy,” notes Dr. Edlund. “Most people find that after a hot bath they get deeper sleep, great R.E.M sleep and greater sleep continuity.”
2) Create an environment that’s conducive to sleep: Deep darkness is important for good sleep, notes Dr. Steven Park author of “Sleep, Interrupted: A Physician Reveals The #1 Reason Why So Many Of Us Are Sick And Tired”. “When you have lights on your bedroom it prevents melatonin in your body from coming up,” he explains,” and then you don’t sleep as soundly”. Beyond the ceiling lights, make sure that all gadgets are off. “The newer LED lights on devices are very, very bright. Cover the alarm clock with a menu or sock, make sure there’s no light coming from a computer or phone.”
And of course, you want to find as quiet a room as possible. I always recommend asking to be placed away from any elevators, vending or ice machines. Rooms off busy streets can also be loud, so pick serenity over view.
3) Do Not Eat or Drink Alcohol Too Close to Bedtime: Many like to party on vacation, but its important not to indulge too late into the night. The reason why may surprise you.
Both doctors explained to me that it is normal for human beings to stop breathing for short periods in the night, until they arouse and change positions. When the body stops breathing, it causes a suction effect, which pulls up gastric juices into the throat. If you’ve eaten right before bedtime, these gastric juices may be more acidic causing you to wake up entirely.
Alcohol consumption before bedtime causes the muscles to relax even more than usual, which leads tmore episodes of breath stoppage. “If you take just one ounce of alcohol near to bedtime, you’ll get 15-20 more arousals during the night. You may not remember them, but you won’t feel as good in the morning,” says Dr. Edlund.
4) Take Steps to Keep Your Air Passages Open Dr. Park notes that sometimes we travel to areas where trees are pollinating, or pick up a cold on the airplane, and the clogged nose and throat disturbs our sleep. Simple solutions such as a nasal spray or breathe right nose strip can help tremendously in these cases.
The quality of your pillow can also greatly effect slumber. Park recommends orthopedic or “contour” pillows as these better support the head (down pillows tend to deflate as we sleep, pushing the chin forward into the neck and cutting off the air flow). Since most of us don’t travel with a pillow, he recommends ditching the hotel pillow altogether and using a towel from the bathroom, rolled up enough to keep the head elevated.
And what about sleeping pills? The doctors were split on this one. Edlund thought they were fine for travel and recommends asking your doctor if you’ve had difficulty sleeping on the road in the past. But he warns that they can make users feel extra sluggish in the morning, not a good thing on vacation. Dr. Park doesn’t rule them out, but feels trying the other methods suggested in this article will likely be more effective.
These are just a few ways to sleep better. Others include getting enough exercise on vacation (but not right before bedtime), and in cases of time changes, exposing yourself to natural sunlight to help reset your internal clocks.