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15 Ways to Sleep Better While Traveling

Snooze better whether you're thousands of feet in the air or land-bound in a hotel.
15 Ways to Sleep Better While Traveling

If you never travel, a trip across the country, or even to the next state, can be an exciting change of pace. But if you're a seasoned traveler, constantly making treks for work or for play, you're all too familiar with the pre-dawn wakeup calls, sleepy slogs through airports, and restless nights in hotels, desperately trying to get a grip on the change of environment and time difference. 

Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine has shared his top 15 tips—things he recommends for patients and does himself—to make your travels a little less taxing on your body.

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No question about it, the window seat is the best choice if you want to snooze in the air since you can lean up against the plane. "If you’re over 5’10” though, note that it gives you the least amount of leg room," Breus says. 

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Avoid choosing a seat around the bathroom and galley since people tend to congregate there, Breus recommends. You'll be bombarded by noises and smells, some good and bad, since you're near the toilet and/or food prep. "I also find the emergency exit seats aren’t as comfortable as you’d like," Breus says. "They give you more leg room but sometimes they don’t recline."

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You paid money to have a seat, so if you want to sleep, recline that baby back (don't worry about the person behind you). This position is optimal to catch zzz's.

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"I always travel with an eye mask, ear plugs, and a meditation and relaxation audio tape," Breus says. This will block out unwanted distractions and help you zone out into a zen state of mind. Also, check out the best noise-canceling headphones on the market right now

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It all depends on the length of your flight. "If it’s over 6 hours, you can consider taking a sleep aid, like Ambien," Breus says. (Talk to your doctor first.) Regardless of your flight's duration, you can take melatonin, he adds. It can help with jet lag and speed up how long it takes to adjust to any time differences.   

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"Roughly one drink in the air equates to two on the ground, because of the air and pressure in the cabin," Breus says. So it pays to be mindful of how much you drink. Also, a "night cap"—despite its name—won't actually help you doze off; it'll do the opposite. And especially don’t mix alcohol with Ambien! Lots of people on long international flights take a glass of wine with their pill, thinking it’ll help, but the combination is bad, Breus says. "You can become very disoriented, which can become dangerous if the plane needs to land early or doesn’t take off on time," he adds.   

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"This isn’t as critical as the others," Breus says, but it can be helpful. By powering off your screen, you avoid exposure to blue light, known to prolong how long it takes to fall asleep.

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Turn the pillow the opposite way. "Instead of having the U-shape around the back of your neck, which causes your head to fall forward as you doze off, wear it so the U-shape is around the front of your neck," Breus suggests. This will save you from becoming a bobble head. 

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"I try to get a room facing west since the sun rises in the east and sets in the west," Breus says. You don’t want the early-morning sunshine blasting you in the face when you're trying to get some precious shuteye.

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"Call up and ask for the quietest room in the hotel," Breus recommends. "They always know." You can avoid low-level rooms that look out onto highways or high-traffic areas. 

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"Since you can’t bring candles or anything like that, travel with an aromatherapy spray if that soothes you," Breus says. Also, play around with falling asleep to music or natural sounds. The ocean might be your best bedtime soundtrack. 

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Smell is a huge source of comfort. "Bring a pillow case that hasn’t been washed for a week," Breus says. The smell of home can help lull you to sleep. 

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Usually you’re advised to get up after 15 minutes when sleep won't come. But when you’re stuck to the confines of a hotel room, it’s best to stay in bed, Breus says. Try to avoid getting frustrated. If you lie there pissed off, you won’t be able to relax.

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Yoga and light stretching, can help if you really can't relax in the hotel, Breus says. "But you want to avoid inversions where your head is below your heart," he explains. This will get blood pumping and do the opposite of relax you. 

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As soon as you get in the room, or an hour or so before bed, set the thermostat anywhere between 68 to 72 degrees, Breus says. That’s the optimal zone for good sleep. 

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