Sweet sleep, you powerful elixir, you. I always knew I loved you. But now I feel as though we should be whispering one to one another, breathless and glossy, like a high-powered perfume ad.
As a new mum and frequent traveller, when it comes to the topic of sleep, the word would be: obsession.
The truth is, that sleep has always been important to me. To all of us.
It’s a well-known fact but one worth repeating: the human body can survive for weeks without food. But only days without sleep.
Luckily, things rarely get that extreme. But even one bad night’s sleep can make things that much harder. Problems seem more difficult to solve, travel companions seem more irritating, sticking to that healthy diet becomes all the more challenging.
So how can we have a better night’s sleep? Especially when on the road.
Here, after many travelling years, are my tips to a better night’s sleep. Wherever and whenever you find yourself.
And if you find these helpful, don’t forget to look at the article How to sleep on a plane.
Disclosure: this post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own. Otherwise, that would be weird.
Watch out for lights that seem dim to begin with but can gnaw through eyelids as the night goes on. Think alarm clocks, charging devices, TV standby lights and big gaps beneath hotel doors. Cover anything that can’t be turned off with a black jumper or towel.
If sleep is a problem for you then seek out hotels that make sleep a priority. Some guarantee a certain linen or mattress, some offer pillow menus. Otherwise, bring your own. Think that’s impossible? Try the Tempur® Comfort Travel Pillow.
I have tried a lot of different travel pillows over the years. The inflatable ones are great for when you need to travel light because they squash right down. Trouble is, they’re pretty rubbish pillows. A scarf is a good back up. The pre-assembled pillows aren’t too bad.
Enter the Tempur® Travel Pillow. First up, it comes with a washable cover in a fabric that didn’t irritate my skin. Second, it comes with its own easy-to-carry bag, which helps with long haul flights. And thirdly, and most importantly, it was comfy.
The travel pillow uses the same visco-elastic cells that Tempur® use in their full mattresses – and the difference shows. It’s soft but not sloppy, firm but not fighting against you. I had six flights on my last trip – I used it on every single one. Not always as a travel pillow, mind you (I’m not that tired. Am I?!) It also gives great lumbar support.
And the coolest thing? The Tempur® technology was developed in the 1970s for astronauts during lift-off. Tempur® Mattresses remain the only mattress product recognised by NASA and certified by the Space Foundation.
Some people suffer with skin complaints and irritation with different pillows. Either look for a hotel with Egyptian cotton cool linen or bring your own. Natural fibres, such as silk and cotton, work best.
Your body needs to move. Even if it’s just a walk or a few star jumps and stretches in your room. Give your body the chance to let off steam before you hit the sack.
This always sounds like a good idea but often I don’t have the time (or at least the time without a toddler.) However, core body temperature drops following a hot bath, making it easier to fall asleep since this mimics the natural change that takes place.
She says, utterly hypocritically.
Sometimes, it’s knowing how many things we have to do tomorrow that keeps us awake.
Or random thoughts, from brilliant world-changing ideas to deep regrets from years ago (or is that just me?!).
Research shows that spending time writing these out lets your brain relax and you get your much needed sleep – so that you can do what needs to be done in the morning.
Often, when travelling, I know I need to be up at a certain time. And that failure to do that will have consequences. Usually, we’re talking about missing a flight. Occasionally, it’s the fear of the breakfast buffet running out. By setting an alarm, I can forget about this worry.
If I’m really concerned, I can use the hotel wake up call service too.
Temperature is a big one in a new environment. It’s worth spending a minute to decode the AC unit on the wall, close the open window and rethink which clothes, if any, you’ll be wearing to bed.
Noise. When it comes to how to sleep better and faster on the road, combatting noise is the biggest challenge.
Sure, you can buy and use earplugs. But they usually fall out. If sleep is a priority and noise a nightmare for you, then ask your hotel for a quiet room.
Does that sound a bit precious? A little extreme? That’s what I thought for years, as I battled sleeplessness. Then I saw an American colleague do it and, guess what?! The world carried on turning. No one cared. And she enjoyed the following day while I fought to stay awake.
Avoid rooms near the bar, the lifts, the kitchen or the recycling area. And it never hurts to ask.
A good stretch helps to shake out all that muscle tension from flying or driving and make it easier to get a better night’s sleep.
I love massage balls and always pack them in my hand luggage. Failing that, a tennis ball is about the right size to roll between your shoulder blades against a hard chair.
OK, so counting sheep doesn’t work for me. But you know what does? Sleep apps. You can download apps to play relaxing natural sounds, with an inbuilt timer so that your battery won’t die.
Yes, I know. I used to be able to drink coffee all the time too. Now, anything later than 3pm can knock my sleep sideways. Consume strategically during the day and your body will thank you at night.
Routines aren’t just for toddlers and Olympic gymnasts. Good sleep hygiene helps everyone.
Try to follow the same “go to bed routine” when travelling as you do at home, whether that’s reading a book or tidying up your hotel room and getting things ready for the next day.
Go for a walk, take up doodling, read a book. You know, all those things we used to do before we had mobile phones. They’re good for us – and they help us to get a better night’s sleep.
Jet lag is a real phenomenon that stems from our body’s need to base itself around a 24 hour day. Certain hormones follow a daily rhythm of release and our organs can only adjust by a few hours in each 24 hour period. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we can use this knowledge to our advantage.
Just for fun, let's look at the strangest places I've slept...
Deep within the Arctic Circle, with a reindeer hide as a mattress, we slept on an ice bed in an ice room within THE ice hotel. The instructions were clear: wear a thin layer of thermals, share a double sleeping bag and pay a visit to the ice bar first (spirits only since wine and beer freeze.)
To my surprise, I slept and slept well.
I file this under one of those things you have to do once. What can I say? It seemed romantic and we were disorganised. The sand was hard, cold and wet and tree sap dripped on us all night, attracting every insect in town – and then some. Utterly not recommended.
Roxette made it sound cool in the 90s. But sleeping in my car was cold and origami-like uncomfortable (and not in a good way.) Pass.
Of course, you have to find the right kind of cave. In this case, a gorgeous boutique hotel snuggled into the picturesque creamy-white caves and natural whimsical chimney tops of Cappadocia in Turkey. Lovely stuff.
Sleeping in the desert carries a certain magic to it, for sure. I’ve slept on the dunes of the Sahara, the scorched plans of Namibia and the cauldron of Arabia and the comfort levels varied widely. At best was a double bed with blanket. At worst, a roll down mat on the floor. Just wrap up warm (deserts get cold at night) and enjoy the clear-lit view of the glistening stars overhead.
In choppy water? No sleep at all. Just rolling from one side to the other and back again, trying not to think of the words Titanic, Zeebrugge or Poseidon.
On calm seas or lovely rivers? Absolutely gorgeous! I’ve slept on the waves along the French Riviera, on the turquoise shores of the Galapagos as turtles swam by, the glacier fields of Alaska and most recently, the calm but powerful river water of the Danube on a cruise.
Again, there are ways to do this. One is sticky, hot, cramped and fighting mosquitos. The other, is swinging in a hammock in the rainforest of Borneo within earshot of orangutans.
The key to a better night sleep in the jungle involves DEET, citronella and a kickass mosquito net.
So what do you think? What have you found helpful when trying to work out how to sleep better?
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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