We break down six tips for sleeping better when you’re travelling.
Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult at the best of times. Between long work hours, too much screen time, and the general stress of life, it’s hard to just switch off when the lights go out.
For many of us, sleeping well on holidays is equally elusive. You might be less stressed about work, but you’re probably still subconsciously thinking about the kids, about the house, about what you have to do when you get back. Being in a foreign sleeping environment doesn’t help either.
So how can you fix it? How can you ensure you get a great sleep that lets you make the most of your getaway?
Sadly, there’s no single panacea. We have, however, put together a list of six ways to combat poor sleep so you can maximise your daytime energy – whether you’re on holiday, at home, or in the office.
Let’s get into it.
1. Avoid screen usage 2-3 hours before bed
We all know that we shouldn’t use our mobile phones before bed. But why?
Here’s the science behind it.
Our circadian rhythms (basically internal clocks which regulate energy levels) and melatonin (the hormone which helps us fall asleep) are both affected by light. Light disrupts our circadian rhythms by telling our bodies that it’s daytime and we should be awake, and simultaneously suppresses melatonin.
Blue light (the type of light produced by computer/phone screens and also by LED lights) boosts attention and reaction times, but is also the type of light that most disrupts our sleep. Harvard researchers conducted a study which found that blue light suppresses melatonin for roughly twice as long as different-coloured wavelengths.
So how can you stop blue light from impacting you?
The easiest way is to avoid being on your phone or computer for two to three hours before you sleep. You can also use blue light-blocking glasses, or switch on your device’s ‘Night Mode’ (which lowers screen brightness and reduces blue light).
Science aside, there’s plenty of other reasons to put the phone down in the evening, especially if you’re on holidays. Use the time to bond with your family, go for a night-time stroll, or read a book.
2. Avoid consumption of alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals before bed
Not having a coffee right before you go to sleep is just common sense. Interestingly, though, the effects of caffeine last anywhere from three to seven hours – it’s possible that a cuppa earlier in the day could impact your sleep.
Coffee isn’t the only substance with caffeine in it, either. Chocolate, hot chocolate, soft drinks, tea, some medications and preworkout all contain varying amounts; even herbal teas can have up to 30mg of caffeine.
Alcohol before bed also isn’t a good idea. Despite the prevalent concept of a nightcap helping you nod off, drinking actually interrupts your circadian rhythm by producing a chemical called adenosine, which induces sleep and then subsides once you’ve had enough. Because the alcohol causes your adenosine levels to spike faster (and then subsequently decrease faster), you may wake up before you’re fully rested. Alcohol also blocks REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the type of ‘deep sleep’ which helps you wake up feeling rested.
Another sleep-killer is eating large meals before bed. There’s a whole range of health risks associated with late-night snacking, but most of them revolve around your circadian rhythm being interrupted. In the same way light energises us, our bodies associate eating as a daytime and therefore energy-inducing activity, which makes it harder to sleep. Regularly impacting your circadian rhythm by eating before bed can also lead to weight gain, poor blood sugar regulation, inflammation, altered hormone function and poorer memory/concentration.
3. Keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
Everyone likes sleeping in air con, especially in summer. But why? Is it just because it’s more comfortable?
Actually, no. Thermoregulation (how our bodies balance their temperature) is strongly linked to sleep regulation mechanisms. So, if you’re feeling hot or cold in bed, your sleep quality will be impacted.
Your body’s core temperature naturally increases when you’re awake and decreases when you’re asleep, which means hotter temperatures make it harder to fall asleep and harder to achieve REM and slow wave sleep. Humidity is also contributor to worse sleep, although a 2012 study found that it mostly adversely affected SWS (slow wave sleep), rather than REM sleep. Colder temperatures, on the other hand, weren’t found to impact sleep at all, as long as the participants had proper bedding and clothes.
Most resorts and hotels have in-room air conditioning, so, if you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep, turn the air con to a lower temperature and snuggle up in your blankets.
4. Minimise noise and reduce ambient light
Keeping light and noise to a minimum if you’re trying to sleep is something most people already do. But what if you’re on holidays, and there’s loud music or heavy traffic nearby? What about those annoyingly bright streetlights the curtains can’t seem to block out?
Choosing accommodation with soundproofed rooms, double-glazed glass and other preventative measures is a good first step. Ear plugs and sleep masks can be used as a last resort.
Also consider listening to broadband sounds as a way to sleep more deeply. White, pink and brown noise fall into this category – they remain consistent across all hearable frequencies, and create a masking effect which essentially blocks out other disruptive noises. A number of studies have indicated that white noise helps you fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply. Alternatively, pink and brown noise have louder bass frequencies and quieter higher frequencies, and the few studies that have been conducted on them indicate that they might be even more effective than white noise. You can buy dedicated white noise machines, or install apps on your phone or computer which serve the same purpose.
5. Do a calming activity
Getting to sleep quickly and easily requires having a relaxed mind – it’s much more difficult if you’re excited, anxious or upset. Soothe yourself by doing a calming activity before bed. This could include things like stretching, meditation or listening to classical music.
This can be especially useful on holidays if you’re still adrenalised from your day, or if you’re travelling with children.
6. Sleep in fresh sheets and heavy blankets
There are few things nicer than sliding between crisp, clean sheets, especially after a hard day of exploring. If you’re in a self-contained unit, you can wash your sheets daily to keep that beautiful sensation every evening; in hotels, you can ask room service to change the bedding daily. While clean sheets might not affect your circadian rhythms, they certainly feel nice!
Sleeping under doonas (duvets) or heavy blankets can also help improve your sleep – and, yes, there’s science to back this one up.
In medicine and therapy, weighted blankets are used to treat autism, anxiety and sensory processing disorders, because they create a similar feeling to being hugged. This ‘hugging sensation’ releases oxytocin and reduces anxiety, creating a peaceful, calm feeling.
While blankets and doonas don’t have the same benefits as a proper weighted blanket, the body-wide pressure they create can still be soothing and help with a better sleep.
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