Forget Jetlag, This Is Why You Can’t Sleep when Travelling

What if I told you that your brain acts like that of a dolphin when you want to sleep when travelling? A recent study has taken a closer look at why it’s just so hard to find decent sleep when you are resting your head in a new unfamiliar place – not just uncomfortable airplanes that make you feel like a canned sardine. So what was the reason? Evolution and survival as always.

Forget Jetlag, This Is Why You Can’t Sleep when Travelling * Tips on how to sleep like a baby

You see, dolphins only ever sleep with one brain while the other remains alert for any potential dangers. The same goes for the human brain apparently. You never know who might be barging through the door. That’s at least what the caveman part of your brain is thinking. And it might not be entirely uncalled for when sleeping in hostel dorms, to be honest. Sleeping with a deodorant spray as a makeshift weapon is another option, though I prefer my dolphin brain to be half awake.

But if you are a constant traveller like me and wake up in a lot of new hotel rooms (shout out to all my business travellers!), then you might prefer refreshing sleep instead. I get it. So I asked my fellow travellers on what their secrets are to effortlessly catching that evading dreamland at night.

Establish a sleeping routine no matter where you are


It is important that even though your surroundings and time zones may change, you need to maintain consistency in how you go about your nightly routine in order to be able to sleep when travelling. Establish consistency by going to bed and waking up at the same time (in respect to time zone). Set your mobile phone alarm to a sound that manages to wake you up every time and don’t change it. Your brain should associate a gentle but firm wakeup call with it whenever you hear it. In addition, you can also the hotel reception to give you a call a few minutes after your regular alarm to make extra sure you do get up.

When your alarm goes off, do not hit snooze or decide to lie in bed for a while. You need to get the melatonin levels down to feel awake and get a clear head. Have a cool shower, go for a walk around the block, head for breakfast first – whatever you have to do to not give into the temptation to turn around again for “just another five minutes.” Trust me, I’m rubbish at this and regret it. Every. Single. Time.

Forget Jetlag, This Is Why You Can’t Sleep when Travelling

Turn Your Bed into a Sanctuary


Your bed is for sleeping and your brain needs to know that. Keep in mind that although evolution has morphed us into our contemporary form, our brains still have the oddest caveman programming. So when your neurons tell your that you are standing in front of your bed, they should tell you it’s for sleeping and not for quickly catching up on work before lights out, for eating a sneaky last cookie or watching dramatic TV shows. That just messes you up without realising it. Get any stress factors away from the bed.

If you still have trouble falling to sleep instantly, you can also integrate a soothing routine here as well. Pull out books that will not wind you up or make you stay awake into the wee hours, practice some foreign language vocabulary (it is said that it will stick better with you if you go repeat them before sleeping) or visualise your goals for the next day and then put them on a paper and out of your mind (stay away from worrying though, only focus on the goals).

Help Your Body Feel at Home


To mimic the same sleeping environment that you are generally used to, you should adjust the room temperature and maybe bring a few aids, such as a (hypo-allergenic) sleeping pillow, a framed photo or super comfy PJs. Heather from Travelationship knows the dilemma too well and swears by the right background soundtrack when you need sleep when travelling:

Traveling full time means a lot of different beds, pillows, rooms and nightly noise levels. I need an easy and consistent approach to my nightly rest pattern. To help me relax and block out unwanted sounds I use an app called Noisli to help block out excessive racket. The app provides sounds such as a blowing fan, rain, wind, birds chirping, white noise, and crackling fires as a few of their choices. The sounds can be combined to create layers and a timer is available if needed. Using a sound app as you travel is a great way to generate a predictable and comfortable environment each night.Heather

Forget Jetlag, This Is Why You Can’t Sleep when Travelling

The Devil is in the Details


To make you feel extra comfortable, you should also feel comfortable in your room. If there is something that bothers you, such as a giant fan that’s outside your window, there are nasty stains, you wanted a non-smoker room, etc, you need to talk to the reception. If the hotel isn’t fully booked, they can transfer you to a room that will feel better to you. Check out all the amenities and features once you arrive in your room to avoid bad surprises when it’s time for bed and you’re too tired. Rachel from the platform Ramblr stresses the feeling of comfort in her five essential tips for sleeping when travelling:

1) Make sure your room is safe and know who you can call in case there is a problem.
2) Take a shower and adjust the temperature and windows for your sleep.
3) Use an eye mask to block the light and have back up ear plugs ready if necessary.
4) Mute your phone and get some rest.
5) Set an alarm. If there is an option for a wakeup call – do both! You might need the backup and it’ll give you peace of mind if you need to be somewhere in the morning.Rachel

Watch Your Intake


it is a well-known that you should have the biggest and heaviest meals at the start of the day and the same goes when travelling abroad. Make sure you eat light in the evening and avoid fatty products that your body needs time to break down. Skip beans and caffeine drinks and instead choose probiotic drinks, vegetables and lean meats. What you eat throughout the day and before sleeping can have as much a bad impact as does your working routine.

Research has shown that business travellers, for instance, perform better during the middle day than early in the morning and have a dramatic productivity increase when working out. And never think that it’s ok to work so late that you have less than six hours of sleep. It’s not ok and you will certainly feel it. I do! And research proves that your efficiency will be laughable afterwards. So it’s actually never really worth it to stay up longer to work. Get decent sleep when travelling!

Forget Jetlag, This Is Why You Can’t Sleep when Travelling

In Short


So you see, even though catching sleep when travelling can be a challenge – and boy do I know about it! – it is still possible. The good news is: the more and longer you travel, the easier this gets. I used to be unable to sleep on buses and trains (though I admit it’s terribly exciting to look outside at the ever-changing landscape) and now they are an instant tranquiliser to me. From sleeping I hostels for a year, I got used to sleeping with the light on, through noise and even terrible smells. I even slept through earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan! (I am not sure if that’s a good thing or not.)

So do you find getting sleep when travelling hard? What have you tried? Or do you have any great tips to share yourself?


If you are shopping at Amazon a lot, here are some product I recommend to help you sleep better. These are affiliate links, which means if you buy any product after clicking the link, I will get a tiny commission to help keep this blog alive at no additional cost to you.

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  1. Pingback: How to Survive Hotels and Travelling with a Dust Allergy

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