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How Travel Affects Sleeping Patterns

Traveling is usually a cause for excitement. (Okay, unless it’s a business trip or visiting the in-laws.) But no matter what has you on the road or in the air, the fact remains that you want to feel your best while you’re away from home. When you’re not sleeping well, you’re not at your best. Here’s what you need to know about how travel affects sleeping patterns—and what you can do to prevent this from happening.  

Dealing with Jet Lag

If you’re traveling across time zones, you may deal with jet lag once you reach your destination—especially if you’re traveling from west to east and “losing time.” But how exactly does jet lag work, and why does it affect your sleeping patterns?

WebMD explains it like this: "Flying across time zones changes the principal time cue—light— for setting and re-setting our 24-hour, natural day-night cycle, or circadian rhythm. Our internal clock becomes out of sync or mismatched with our current day-night cycle."

For each hour of time change, it takes the body about one day to adjust. Traveling from California to New York probably won’t affect you too badly, but a trip from the United States to Europe can really mess with your sleeping patterns.

One way to avoid jet lag is to begin gradually adjusting your sleeping habits several days before traveling. Then, when you arrive, make an effort to spend time outside in the light during waking hours as much as you can.

Sleeping in an Unfamiliar Environment  

Even if you aren’t changing time zones, traveling can still affect sleep. Your body is so used to sleeping in your bedroom that it may have trouble adjusting to an unfamiliar environment such as a hotel room. When you make your reservation, request a room in the quietest section of the hotel away from elevators or high-traffic areas. If you can, bring your own pillow so you have something familiar with you. Use a sleep mask and a fan to block light and noise, and make sure the thermostat is no higher than 75° F.

Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption

People tend to consume a lot of coffee and alcohol when they’re traveling. Who among us hasn’t coped with the stress of an airport with a pre-flight cocktail? Then, of course, if you’re going on vacation, you’re probably more likely to kick back with some libations. We’re not here to tell you how to live your life, but just be aware that excess caffeine and alcohol can affect sleep. Try to avoid both close to bedtime for an easier time sleeping. Remember that sleeping well will help you make the best of your next trip.