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Can’t Sleep on Vacay? 17 Tips to Snooze Better When Traveling

In an unfamiliar setting, your ears pick up every noise and you're hyperaware of your surroundings, making it harder than ever to fall asleep. Here's how to drift off faster in a hotel room or plane.

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Book the right room

Choose a room on an upper floor, midway down the hallway if you can. That location is your best bet for staying away from noisy areas like vending machines, exits, elevators, pools, and meeting spaces, says Richard Shane, PhD, behavioral sleep specialist for New West Physicians, Colorado, and creator of the Sleep Easily Method. Ask if your room has blackout shades to keep the light out. “Most hotels have them, but they may be just in some rooms and not others, so you want to snatch those,” he says. Check out these tips for a safer, healthier hotel stay.

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Resist the temptation to nap

After a long day of sightseeing or meetings, you might crave some midday shuteye. But for some people, snoozing in the afternoon could set you up for a restless night. “Like we build a drive for food, our brain builds up a drive for sleep,” says Debra Kissen, PhD, MHSA, clinical director of Light on Anxiety Treatment Center. “If you’re napping, you will have less of that.” Here are more signs you won’t sleep well tonight.

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Don’t go to bed with a full belly

Planning your final meal right will prime you for a good night’s sleep. Try to eat dinner at least two hours before you go to bed to give your body a chance to digest before you lie down. “If you go to bed with a full stomach, your digestive system is active when you’re trying to get the rest of your body not to be active,” Dr. Shane says. Here are more eating mistakes that ruin sleep.

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Go easy on the booze

No need to be a teetotaler on vacation, but you should aware that those extra indulgences could mess with your sleep cycle. Even though you might fall asleep faster after a few drinks, you could end up waking up in the middle of the night. “When alcohol wears off in your system, it proceeds through the liver, and that activates your liver and makes your heart beat faster and wakes you up,” Dr. Shane says. Check out these surprising signs you’re binge drinking without realizing it.

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iStock/Sami Sert

Stabilize your schedule

With late nights, early sightseeing, and no work deadlines, travel can often be a time when regular routines go to the wayside. “So much of sleep is getting a good rhythm going, and the fun of vacation is it’s unpredictable,” Dr. Kissen says. While you don’t have to forgo fun for the sake of sleep, she does recommend staying somewhat consistent with your bedtime. If you go to bed at 4 a.m. one night and 8 p.m. the next, your body rhythm will get out of whack.

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Set a deadline on screen time

At least half an hour before bedtime, turn off all your devices, which can be a sign of busyness to your brain when you’re trying to relax. Plus, the blue light they give off is harsher than the warm light of a lamp, which stops your body from producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. “Our nervous systems are set to wake up at dawn and fall asleep at dusk,” Dr. Shane says. “At night, when you expose yourself to bright light, either from a device or TV, it tells the brain it’s daytime and shuts off melatonin production.” Here are key times when paper beats digital.

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Crank up the AC

Keep your room at a cool temperature, between 65 and 68°F, Dr. Shane recommends. “When we sleep, our body temperature drops a bit,” he says. “Conversely, when we sit in a room and our body temperature drops, it eases us into sleep.” Here are more ways to set up your room to help you sleep.

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Enjoy a hot bath

Even if you normally clean off in the morning, switching your schedule to include a nighttime soak or shower could help you drift off quicker. The steamy water tricks your body into feeling its natural nighttime cool-down even before you crawl under the covers. “Your temperature rises in a hot bath because it gets hot in the bath, and then you get out and the rapid cool-down period creates that relaxation response,” Dr. Kissen says. These weighted blankets will relax you into sleep. 

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Block out the sound

Does a rattling AC or your noisy neighbors keep you up? Pack a pair of silicone earplugs, which are more comfortable than rubber or foam rubber, Dr. Shane says. “Silcone warms with your body temperature and shapes to your ear for the best fit, and it has a high-rated decibel reduction,” he says.

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Cover up noises

Beyond dulling the din by blocking your ears, an extra layer of noise could actually protect you from sound. “You don’t want anything that will alert the mind, and any noise will do that,” Dr. Shane says. “White noise is a sort of hissing sound that basically covers up other sounds.” He recommends loading white noise tracks on your phone before your trip.

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Pack a sleep mask

“Window shades can’t close all the way, no matter how hard you try,” Dr. Kissen says. “Have a sleep mask with you, so even if you don’t need it, you know it’s there.” To make sure your eyeshades keep the light out like you want, test out a few before you leave for your trip, Dr. Shane says. Pay close attention to the curved area where the bridge of your nose meets your cheek, which is where light is most likely to creep in, he says.

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Double-check the alarm

Don’t rely on your alarm—ask the front desk for a wake-up call ten minutes after you’ve set the clock to beep. “It’s all in line of setting yourself at ease,” Dr. Shane says. “It’s taken care of, so you’re not thinking of anything.” On the flip side, if you plan to sleep in, make sure the last guest didn’t leave the alarm on, or you could end up jolted awake way earlier than you’d hoped, he says. Here are clear signs you don’t get enough deep sleep.

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Distract your mind

Quieting your thoughts will help you drift off in no time. Dr. Kissen recommends getting a meditation or guided imagery sleep app, or reading something calming (so don’t pick a gripping novel that you can’t put down). “The goal is to get the mind from racing around to having something to focus on,” she says. These mini meditations relieve stress and anxiety.

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Quiet your breathing

“Most people, when they think about breathing, they think deeply, slowly, or into the abdomen,” Dr. Shane says. “All of those forms are adjusting your breath too much and making effort, which means you’re not sleeping.” Instead, he recommends making your breathing quieter, which is easier because it doesn’t change the muscles you use.

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Relax your tongue

Daily stress could leave you subconsciously bracing your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Letting that tension go could help your whole body melt into sleep. “When people think of relaxation, they think of relaxing the entire body, and that’s too much work,” Dr. Shane says. “Just let your tongue be calmer, and that spreads relaxation through your body way easier.” Here are more sleep tricks from sleep doctors.

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Pick the right airplane seat

If you’re taking a redeye flight, choose your seat wisely for the best chance of a restful night. A window seat will give you a wall to lean against, and your neighbor won’t wake you up while crawling over you to get out, Dr. Shane says. While the engine noise is quieter in the front of the plane than the back, Dr. Shane recommends avoiding the bulkhead seats, which are legally required not to lean back and are often booked by parents with kids or babies. Don’t miss these pilot-approved tips on flying with kids.

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Take a neck pillow on your flight

Even if you snagged a window seat, an inflatable U-shaped neck pillow gives your head even more support while you’re drifting off. “If you’re trying to hold your head up by the window, that’s effort, and effort keeps you awake,” Dr. Shane says. Here are little etiquette rules to know before your next flight.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.