Sleep: Your Travel Essential

Sleep: Your Travel Essential

Is sleep an essential travel item on your trips? It should be. Keep reading for tips on facing travel related sleep challenges

Traveling by airplane. Young passenger sleeping during flight.

Whether you are headed out on family vacation or gearing up for a business trip, one of the most important things for any traveler to remember to take along is sufficient sleep! It may seem like an obvious essential, but it doesn’t always get the travel priority it deserves.


So if you aren’t making sleep an essential travel item on your trips, this article is for you – and your sleep! 

Why is sleep so important for traveling? 

Travel involves its own share of headaches (especially these days, sigh), including long lines, canceled flights, missed connections, changes in diet and exercise routines, and lost luggage. Although a good night’s sleep doesn’t help deter any of these hiccups, it can certainly help you handle the unavoidable in a better headspace. 


Unfortunately, many of us get off on a sleep-deprived foot when traveling. Whether it’s staying up late packing the night before or having a ridiculously early flight – starting travel without sufficient sleep can jeopardize your fun, experience, and overall performance. 


And when it comes to business travel, the requisite high level of physical and mental performance can be more challenging than necessary if you aren’t prioritizing your ZZZs. When sleep gets priority, you can increase your “travel competence” by improving your productivity, focus, problem-solving, and peak performance. 


Also, sleep loss affects us in unflattering ways. In his New York Times bestselling book, “Eat Move Sleep”, Tom Rath explains, “Losing four hours of sleep is comparable to drinking a six-pack of beer.” What?! Hang on – there’s more. A 2003 study demonstrated that travel-related sleep loss primarily contributed to a decline in productivity during business trips. The same study found that business travelers lost an estimated 8 hours of sleep during a week-long trip. 


There’s no doubt that traveling is disruptive to our normal routines. All travelers can face inherent sleep challenges during travels, including:


  • Blue light/electronics
  • Noise
  • Pillows
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor time management
  • Excess caffeine
  • Excess alcohol
  • Unfamiliar and noisy hotel rooms
  • Altered sleep and wake schedule
  • Jet lag
  • Early flights / Late flights
  • Late-night dinners, cocktails


So, yes, traveling presents several sleep challenges – but there are ways to manage and mitigate those challenges, including strategic packing. Here is a packing list to help ensure you get the best sleep possible when traveling:


  • Ear plugs
  • Sleep mask
  • Aromatherapy (the lavender spray or sachet you use at home can help mask unfamiliar scents in the hotel room)
  • Socks (cold feet can make falling asleep a challenge!)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Blue light blocking glasses 
  • Travel pillow, comfortable pillow, and/or pillowcase
  • Apps: there are apps for white noise(and management of jet lag


Need more encouragement? A study from Brown University reveals what many of us already know – that we often sleep worse while traveling, especially on the first night. The “first-night effect” is the term used to describe that very real restless first night in a new environment – you know, when our brains tend to stay in a high alert mode – often with repeated awakenings. 


Thankfully, we have some solutions that can help. Many hotels cater to a good night’s sleep with an array of sleep enhancements, including:


  • Blackout curtains
  • Night lights for safety and avoiding bright light if you get up at night
  • Bath amenities such as lavender aromatherapy, soaps, and oils
  • Herbal teas
  • Aromatherapy diffusers
  • Sleep seminars, lectures, and workshops as well as sleep concierges
  • Sleep specialists on staff, sleep studies
  • Specialized lighting for night and day
  • White noise machines
  • Books at the bedside
  • Pillow menus
  • Luxury mattresses and bed linens (with some available for purchase)
  • Soundproof rooms
  • Sleep-friendly bedtime snacks
  • Silent door closures
  • Massages
  • Late checkouts
  • Quiet Zones 


Ready to conquer your travel sleep challenges? Here is a list of sleep-saving strategies to help you become a well-rested traveler and get the very most out of your trip:


  • Don’t Start on the Wrong Foot. Get enough sleep before your trip so you are not going into it already sleep-deprived. Starting a trip well-rested to help offset some of the nasty side effects of jet lag.
  • Start your trip off well-rested. Too many of us begin our trips in a sleep-deprived state. We stay up late packing, etc. Don’t procrastinate – prepare for your trip well in advance so you begin your journey well-rested. In one study, participants only slept 5 hours the night before a trip.
  • Plan ahead. Packing your luggage, finishing presentations, pet sitters, confirming flight and hotel reservations, printing your boarding pass, and getting to the airport on time, be sure to plan ahead. Leaving things to the last minute increases stress and may cause a late-night bedtime – the last thing you need. 
  • Schedule Around Sleep. Don’t overschedule and ensure that you have sufficient sleep scheduled on your itinerary and have allowed for naptime as needed.
  • Sleep on the Go. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting, and layered clothing to accommodate comfort and temperature on every leg of your travel. 
  • Quality, Not Quantity. Don’t sacrifice sleep hours for waking hours in order to get more done. It’s all about the quality of waking hours, not the quantity. 
  • Hydrate. If you are flying, stay properly hydrated before, during, and after your flight.
  • Get Used to It. For a change in time zones, try to pad an extra day to two into your trip so the first few days you can get some rest and adjust to the time change.
  • Take a Walk. Pack tennis shoes so that you can get some daytime exercise. Exercise is great for optimal sleep quality. 
  • Lighten Up. Get some natural light during the day to help maintain your body’s natural sleep and wake rhythm
  • Bedtime Ritual. Maintain your bedtime routine as much as possible to help transition your mind and body from wake to sleep – especially helpful in unfamiliar environments.
  • Naps. Grab a daytime nap if a late-night or morning flight leaves you short on sleep.
  • Caution. Avoid driving long distances and making critical decisions for the first 24 hours after you arrive in a new time zone. If you’re the least bit groggy by jet lag, your ability to think and react will be impaired.
  • Cheers. Avoid late-night drinks – alcohol intake close to bedtime can make falling and staying asleep difficult.
  • Quiet Please. When booking a hotel, ask for a room away from the ice machine, ballroom nightclub, bar, or restaurant. If you are not with your family, try avoiding others with babies or small kids. And don’t forget the “Do Not Disturb” door hanger!
  • Wake Up. Make sure the alarm clock in the room isn’t already set to go off when you don’t want it to.
  • Rest. Don’t drive, give a presentation, or anything else unless at your destination / until you are sufficiently rested.


No matter why you are traveling, sleep is the perfect travel companion. Given that sufficient sleep is one of your immune system’s best friends, it’s also going to enhance your mood, outlook, performance, safety, and memory – all while keeping your stress levels in check.  


It all adds up –  sufficient sleep is a “must-have” for traveling. Getting adequate sleep will undoubtedly make travel more enjoyable, memorable, and productive – so put sleep on your packing list today!

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