Beating Travel Insomnia: A Traveler’s Guide to Better Sleep

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Whether you jet off on a sunny, relaxing holiday or you’re called far from home for a business conference, trips come with plenty of intertwined positives and negatives. No matter how you travel, hitting the open road or the blue skies can offer excitement, a change from the daily grind, and a sense of adventure. But it can also open the door to travel insomnia. Don’t worry too much, though. In this article, we’ll let you know some common travel sleep-disruptors and how to address them.

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.

Long Story Short

  • Travel insomnia, although not a medical diagnosis, describes difficulty sleeping when you’re on a trip.
  • Stress, anxiety, different sleeping conditions, and jet lag can all contribute to travel insomnia.
  • You can banish travel insomnia by following good sleep hygiene practices, mimicking your home sleep environment, and steering clear of heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine too close to bedtime.

What Is Travel Insomnia?

As a medical diagnosis, insomnia describes difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. (1)1 To be considered true insomnia, your symptoms have to stick around for a minimum of three nights a week for at least three months, says Dr. Chester Wu, MD, sleep medicine physician in Houston, TX.  

Travel insomnia describes temporary trouble sleeping that any traveler can experience — even if you travel often. When normal sleep patterns get disrupted, you can experience symptoms like: (2)2

  • Daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood changes
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, like a change in bowel movement frequency

“Travel can lead to, if not full-blown insomnia, then certainly sleeping issues,” says Wu, who adds that travel insomnia is not a medical term and differs from jet lag. “Travel insomnia likely refers to any sleep disruption that occurs during or after travel, while jet lag specifically refers to the circadian rhythm disruption caused by crossing multiple time zones.”

Jet Lag, Defined

Jet lag describes a temporary sleep disorder that happens when you travel to a new time zone. Your circadian rhythm doesn’t know what to do with the switch-up, especially if you move through more than two time zones. (4)4

Jet lag can contribute to travel insomnia, Wu says, but other factors can also play a big role. Let’s look at some of the other elements that impact sleep while you travel.

What Causes Travel Insomnia?

To know how to combat travel insomnia, first we need to look at its causes. Regular old insomnia (not just the travel kind) can be caused by a long list of components, including noise or light at night, a too-cold or hot room, a change in routine, skimping on physical activity in the day, certain medications and medical conditions, as well as loading up on caffeine and alcohol. (3)3 Odds are at least one or two of these factors sound familiar, whether you’re a frequent flier or a travel novice. 

In addition to general insomnia causes, travel insomnia origins can include: 

  • Travel stress: Stress or anxiety related to travel can hit even the most seasoned globetrotter, says Wu. One study found business travelers were more affected by sleep disturbances than people going on vacation. (4)4
  • New environment: Unfamiliar sleeping environments can also disrupt your snoozing while you travel, says Wu. Although experts aren’t sure why, some research suggests this cause can especially affect morning people. (4)4
  • Disrupted schedule: A consistent bedtime and waking schedule are a hallmark of good sleep hygiene, so when your schedule gets shuffled like a card deck, your sleep may react accordingly.
  • Jet lag: If you travel across multiple time zones, this change can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock, says Wu. When your internal clock thinks it’s bedtime but the sun’s still high in the sky, it’s hard to get back on a regular sleep schedule. (5)5
  • Missing sleep accessories: If you adore your perfectly firm mattress and your memory foam pillow, you may have trouble sleeping without them. 

Some of those may seem easier to battle than others, but we’ll get into some specifics and suggestions below.

Can I Avoid Travel Insomnia?

If you’re worried about travel insomnia, you can take a few steps to avoid it altogether. Wu recommends you try to keep as many aspects of your sleep the same while you travel, even if it poses some challenges. 

“This means creating a sleep environment that mimics the same temperature, noise level, and darkness,” Wu says. He also says to stick to the same sleep timing and bedtime routine as well as the same daytime behaviors that influence your sleep (like diet and exercise). If you’re traveling over time zones, Wu suggests adjusting your sleep schedule gradually over several days if you can. 

Of course, some things may be out of your control, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to fully trick your body into thinking you’re back in bed at home. But the closer you can get to your regular routine, the better off you’ll be. 

Tips for Overcoming Travel Insomnia

If you can’t avoid travel insomnia, you can still work to banish it and reclaim your sleep! How you overcome your sleep woes while traveling depends on whether you have medically diagnosed insomnia or temporary sleep disturbances from travel, says Wu.

“For the former, insomnia-specific treatments like stimulus control, sleep restriction, and CBT-I ([cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia]) may help,” Wu says. “Otherwise, maintaining excellent sleep hygiene is your best bet, with a particular emphasis on correctly timed light exposure and relaxing before bed.” 

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, is a type of therapy that targets insomnia by addressing your behavior and thought patterns surrounding sleep. (6)6

It’s also a good idea to make a sleep plan designed to accommodate your air travel and your first few nights away from home, especially if you’ll be away more than two days. (4)4 For example, if you arrive at your destination at 10 o’clock in the morning, you may be tempted to sleep all day, but try to stay up as late as you can to readjust your circadian rhythm. (4)4

Read on for more tips to reclaim your sleep while you’re away from home. 

Seek Out Natural Light Exposure

Your circadian rhythm depends on cues from light levels, so when you get out in the sun, you can help reset your clock to your new time zone and remind your body it’s time to be awake. (7)7(p2) (8)8 Natural light isn’t the only thing that affects sleep, though — blue light from electronic devices can keep you up when you should be sleeping. Try to avoid screens in the hour and a half before bed for best results. (2)2

Stick To Your Routine

If you normally enjoy a steaming cup of (decaffeinated) tea and reading a few chapters of a book before bed, aim to do the same on your trip. Try to stick to the same routines you do at home to give your body as many signals as you can that bedtime is approaching.

Bring Sleep Accessories

On a trip, travel accessories like special pillows, ear plugs, eye masks, and safety pins to close up hotel curtains can offer sleep-saving assistance — even just having your regular pillow from home can make a difference. If you use a CPAP machine at home for sleep apnea, you can ask your provider about a portable option. (2)2

Be Choosy About Your Hotel and Room

When booking your hotel room or rental, check reviews for noise levels, heating/cooling, and other amenities that might affect your sleep. You can also ask your hotel for a room far from the elevators or ice machine to lessen noise.

Keep It Cool

The best temperature for sleep is 66 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (9)9 If you’re used to a cold room at night and you’re traveling to a warm climate, try to book lodging with reliable air conditioning, and bring temperature-appropriate pajamas!

Avoid Over-Snacking

Heavy meals before bed can affect your circadian rhythm and disrupt your sleep, while large or spicy meals before bed can also give you heartburn. (10)10 Aim to keep your snacking light two to three hours before bedtime — your sleep will thank you. (2)2

Save Your Bed for Sleeping

Even if your hotel bed feels like a cloud, avoid spending too much time in it watching TV or working. The more time you spend curled up on that mattress, the less your brain will compute that it’s a spot meant for sleep. (11)11 

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcohol and caffeine can both disturb sleep if you consume them too close to bedtime. Caffeine can keep you revved up for at least five hours and make it hard to fall asleep. (2)2 On the flip side, alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but if you drink too much before bed, it can disrupt your sleep through the night. Try to take your last sip two to three hours before bedtime. (12)12 (2)2

Pre-Travel Insomnia and What You Can Do About It

If you’re excited or anxious about an upcoming trip, you may find it difficult to sleep in the nights before departure day. No matter the cause, anxiety and worry can affect your sleep quality. (13)13

If you’re having trouble sleeping before a big trip, try these tips to calm your worries and get back to snoozing:

  • Pack early and make lists! Then you won’t spend time in bed worrying about what you might forget.
  • Write trip details down for easy reference. Then, when you feel anxious at night, you know you have everything taken care of.
  • Try calming techniques like deep breathing and meditation. (14)14
  • Follow the sleep hygiene tips included above for excellent pre-trip snoozing.


Is it normal to have a hard time sleeping while traveling?

The short answer: yes. Travel can easily lead to sleeping issues because of sleep routine disruption, unfamiliar sleeping environments, and travel-related stress or anxiety, says Dr. Wu. “If your sleeping difficulties are severe or persist for more than a few weeks, consult a sleep medicine specialist for further evaluation and treatment,” says Wu.

Is travel insomnia different from jet lag?

“Travel insomnia” is not a medical term, and it differs from jet lag, says Dr. Wu. “Travel insomnia…refers to any sleep disruption that occurs during or after travel, while jet lag specifically refers to the circadian rhythm disruption caused by crossing multiple time zones.”

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

Poor sleep is no friend to any traveler, for either business or pleasure. But you can take control of your sleep by preparing for your sleep environment, conditions, and routine. “If your sleeping difficulties are severe or persist for more than a few weeks, consult a sleep medicine specialist for further evaluation and treatment,” says Wu. Either way, you could be getting those zzzs again in no time.


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  11. 8 secrets to a good night’s sleep – Harvard Health. Accessed December 10, 2024.
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          Wu, Chester, MD. Personal Interview. December 7, 2024.


Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy is an RN of 16 years who has worked with adults and pediatric patients encompassing trauma, orthopedics, home care, transplant, and case management. She has practiced nursing all over the world from San Fransisco, CA to Tharaka, Kenya. Abby loves spending time with her husband, four kids, and their cat named Cat.