27 Game-Changing Travel Sleep Tips from Frequent Travelers

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travel sleep tips

As exciting as travel can be, the process might also come with some nerves for the inexperienced traveler. An infrequent jet-setter might find themselves bombarded with worries: “What if I miss my flight?” “Is this the right train?” And, of course, “How am I going to sleep on this 14-hour flight or in this lumpy hotel bed?” 

Luckily, your fellow travelers have you covered — frequent travelers have cracked the code to getting some shut eye while on the go, and they’ve shared they’re best travel sleep tips below*: 

Travel Sleep Tips for International Travel or Changing Time Zones

“The key is recreating your at-home bedtime routine as much as possible. For me, that looks like winding down with a glass of wine on the plane while watching a comfort movie. About 45 minutes before I want to sleep, I pop a melatonin and do my nighttime skincare routine. I also take my contacts out and switch to cozy socks. Pretty much anything to help signal to my brain that it’s time to go to sleep, even if it’s only 5 p.m. ”

— Kara Harms, travel blogger at Whimsy Soul

“Instead of filling your body with energizers, such as coffee, that make you feel shaky, the best way to energize yourself is by hydrating with water, eating nutritious food, and doing gentle forms of exercise, such as walking.”

— Josephine Remo, digital nomad

“Get adjusted to the time zone you’re visiting as soon as possible. In the days leading up to your departure try staying up a bit later than usual or going to bed earlier to get your body acclimated to the new time zone. For example, if it will be morning where you land, try to get a good night’s sleep on the plane so you can awake somewhat refreshed when you land. If it’s night time where you’ll be landing, try to stay awake as much as possible.”

— Jenn Lloyd, Sick Girl Travels

“When flying long haul, always set your watch/phone to the time at your final destination at the very beginning of the journey. Try to eat and sleep at the “normal” time at your destination. It will feel weird initially, but will help you overcome jet lag much faster than if you only set your body clock to the new time zone once you arrive.”

— Alex Tiffany, travel planner and founder of Just Go Exploring

“After landing, here’s the hard part: Stay awake until a reasonable bedtime, say, 10 pm at the earliest. No napping, no matter what! The best way to avoid getting too sleepy is to walk outside in the sunshine. This “light therapy” is powerful, telling your body to adjust to local time. — Jeff Wilson, host of Real Road Adventures and Real Rail Adventures

“After games, we would take guys through 10-15 minute recovery circuits that consisted of posture and breathing exercises. Things like the Camel Pose and Child’s Pose in yoga take stress off the sympathetic ganglion that gets compressed near your spine. Releasing this stress allows the body to enter recovery mode quicker and get more out of sleep.”

— Sean Light, former strength and conditioning coach for the LA Lakers

“An eye mask and earbuds are great for being able to sleep on trains, buses. Avoid alcohol on the plane and stay hydrated, this will help you rest and feel rested as well.” 

— Alice Ford, Alice’s Adventures on Earth

“For big time differences I may try and move my usual sleep time by an hour or so before I travel to make the difference not so great. On arrival, it is then really important to get your meal times in sync. Do not try and eat breakfast when it is dinner time at your destination. You may not want to, but this helps reset your body clock quicker.”

— Leona Bowman, Founder of Whatwherewhenwhy 

“Adjusting to a new time zone is always challenging. I am actually from Poland and return to visit family a few times a year, which is a 6-hour difference. An easy hack I’ve found to help with the time change exhaustion is to adjust my sleep schedule by a few hours a couple days in advance of leaving. Although simple, this really works and erases a lot of the sleep problems when you first arrive. Because Poland is ahead by 6 hours from my home in New York, I will go to bed 4-5 hours earlier two days before I travel. Works like a charm!”

— Viktor Holas, frequent traveler

“I like to expose myself (moderately) to the sun during the morning. It helps reset the body’s biological clock. Exposure to the sun helps regulate the production of many hormones, particularly our famous melatonin.”

— Allana Wass, Certified Sleep Science Coach and Co-founder of Comfybeddy

Travel Sleep Tips at a Hotel or in Unfamiliar Surroundings

“If you’re able to travel with your pillow, pack it. Having that familiar support under your head can make sleeping easier wherever you are. Not only will it feel comfortable, but it will also smell familiar and help you feel at ease.”

— Melanie Musson, travel writer at Clearsurance

“I would keep my ‘sleep kit’ in my bag to use at bedtime, and it included:

  1. A picture of a loved one in a cute travel frame
  2. Lavender essential oil for the bottom of my feet (aids sleep)
  3. Ear plugs
  4. An eye mask
  5. A himalayan salt night light for the bathroom so I could find it without turning on bright lights

Those are all “basic”, but combined brought about a sense of home, no matter where I was. And to this day when I travel, when I pull out the little pouch that contains them, it signals my brain to say, ’hey, she’s pulling out the sleep kit…it’s time for bed.’”

— Kat Reichmuth, coach and former flight attendant

“As we are creatures of habit, do your best to follow the same nightly routine you use at home, be it your regular skincare regimen or reading a chapter or two before lights out. Doing a quick and light yoga flow, taking a soothing bath, meditating, and writing in a journal can help you tap your parasympathetic nervous system and de-stress.”

— Ricky Joshi, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Saatva

“Bring something to block out the noise. I recommend playing instrumental music to help lull yourself to sleep as your brain won’t be tempted to try and pay attention to lyrical music. These two tips have drastically changed my sleeping habits while traveling — instead of spending hours staring at the ceiling trying to will myself to sleep, I am able to fall asleep within 5 minutes.”

— Kristin Lee, creator of Global Travel Escapades

“Breathing technique is one of the first go-to solutions when I have difficulty sleeping because it doesn’t require much preparation and can be done anywhere. I find that focusing on and calming your breath also helps when you feel nausea on transport and just want to fall asleep quickly to get it over with. There are many ways to do it, but the general rule is slow breaths, with the exhale being longer than the inhale.”

— Rax Suen, founder of NomadsUnveiled 

“Exercise is essential for falling asleep and waking up rested. But you don’t have to do an intense HIIT class to move your body. Instead, go for a walk or a swim in the hotel pool for 20 to 30 minutes to get a better night’s sleep while traveling.”

— Ricky Joshi, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Saatva

“I recently started traveling with a mini sized sound machine. It has been a game changer for noisy hotel rooms or even in places that are a little too quiet for me to sleep!”

— Lindsey Calhoun, travel blogger at Leisurely Linds

Travel Sleep Tips for Anxiety While Away From Home

“Use a meditation app like Calm. I love the app’s meditations and sleep stories.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started listening to ‘Wonder’ read by Matthew McConaughey and I’ve never heard the end!  Use noise-canceling headphones in a hotel room or on a plane or train.”

— Candice Criscione, vacation planner and founder of MomInItaly.com  

“Journal before bed. Travel is stressful and I find myself obsessing over forgetting something. Avoid scrolling Instagram before bed, and instead write down what’s going through your head and a to-do list for the next day for peace of mind.”

—Mariah Arianna, Adventure Elopement Photographer 

Travel Sleep Tips for While You’re Traveling 

“One of your full-size carry-ons may wind up under your feet if you have two of them, which may reduce your legroom and make it more difficult to sleep. Instead, bring less with you so that you can fit everything in one bag. Keep a few small essentials, such as a book or magazine, a snack, and a bottle of water, near the top of the bag. Pull out the essentials you’ll need for the journey and place them in the back of the seat in front of you before stowing your bag in the overhead bin.”

— Jenny Ly, travel blogger and entrepreneur at Go Wanderly 

“Wearing comfortable clothes with breathable fabrics can help. Travelers who rely on particular conditions in order to sleep can also bring sleeping masks and earplugs to block out the lights and sounds.”

— Barbie Mission, Trip Research Analyst at Trip101 

“Bring earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. If anyone around you starts talking or making noise, they can’t bother you as much (or at all). This also helps if there’s music playing on board — it doesn’t matter if it’s loud or soft, as long as it doesn’t bother other people nearby or wake up any babies around. Earplugs will block out extra noise while playing music.”

— Bonnie Whitfield, Family Destinations Guide

“Avoid alcohol. A drink before boarding your plane can make it harder for you to stay asleep, cause you to wake up to use the restroom, and/or generally lower the quality of your sleep.”

—Amber Haggerty, Amber Everywhere

“Bring your own food so you don’t have any digestion issues and you don’t have to wake up to eat.”

— Candice Criscione, vacation planner and founder of MomInItaly.com

“Seating choice is king when it comes to getting quality shut-eye on an airplane. No matter how many sleeping aids you bring onto an airplane, it won’t have any effect if you’re constantly being woken from your slumber by your neighbors taking an hourly toilet trip. I always choose the window seat on long-haul flights for just this reason. In the window seat, you also have control over the level of light that enters through the window (this is ideal if it’s daytime or you’re crossing over different time zones) and somewhere to rest your head and pillow to the side.”

— Katie Treharne, travel journalist at Escape Artist Katie

“I have gotten into the habit of packing chamomile tea into my carry-on. All you have to do is ask the cabin crew for some boiling water, and you’ll have your own natural sleep aid. I swear by it these days, and it’s a simple habit to get into.”

— John Ricco, co-founder of the Atlantic Group

“Make sure to pack a water bottle to stay hydrated going into a flight, as well. Low oxygen and dry air exacerbate the effects of jet lag, so drinking lots of water staves it off.”

— Lauren Maternowski, Packer Hacker  

*Tips have been edited for clarity and length

Last Word from Sleepopolis

While travel can understandably come with some sleep-stealing anxieties, rest easy knowing there are tried-and-true methods out there to help you get some shut eye. Try out these tips the next time you find yourself tossing and turning in a hotel bed or staring blearily at the seat in front of you on a red eye flight. You’ll be on your way to a good night’s sleep — and an even better trip ahead — in no time! 

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Jessica Banks