Like a child counting down the days until Christmas, you’ve spent countless weeks at work dreaming of the day when your much needed vacation will arrive. Finally, it’s here! Unfortunately, that built-up anticipation often results in restless nights leading up to the big day; and can carry over to your destination. So here are my 7 most effective ways to sleep better while on vacation.
Plan ahead, conquer jet lag, keep your nighttime routine, meditate, wind-down, limit night noise, and declutter your mind. The stress over falling asleep at a new time or in a new place—otherwise known as anticipatory anxiety—prevents the mind from shutting down. Thankfully, these seven strategies can help you overcome that anxiety and ease you into the relaxation you deserve.
The main problem I used to experience was the inability to get a full 8 hours of sleep the night before traveling, due to stressing over every last-minute detail of packing and organizing.
Not getting a full night’s sleep the night before your vacation starts can throw you out of whack before even reaching your destination. Planning ahead in the days leading up is a great way to alleviate vacation jitters and help your sleep cycle stay on track.
Don’t leave packing until the last minute. Make a list as early as possible of everything you need to pack; the earlier the better, as you’ll add onto it throughout the week with things that you randomly remember. Start the packing process days in advance, which will leave you with less to worry about the night before your trip.
If flying: print your boarding passes or check into your flight online, organize your carry-on vs. check-in, and arrange ground transportation for when you land. All last-minute stress that’s taken care of ahead of time will relieve your anxiety the night before your trip, which will help you start off on the right track.
Another important factor to plan ahead is your hotel room. Call the hotel and request a room on an upper floor, specifically away from noisy areas like vending machines, elevators, busy streets, and the pool.
Conquer Jet Lag
Coexisting with the importance of planning ahead, it’s dire necessary pre-trip to get your biological schedule as on-track as you can with your destination’s time zone.
On average, it takes one day per time zone to acclimate to the new one. Depending on how far you’re going, this can be a huge damper on your trip. Chances are you’re planning on getting the most out of your trip; whether that means waking up early, staying up late, or both, having your sleep disrupted will make your time less enjoyable.
To beat jet lag, spend three days before departure slowly adjusting your bedtime to match the time zone you’re traveling to as best you can. If possible, adjust your work day accordingly; if you can’t, the potential tiredness you have to endure at work will be worth it once your vacation hits.
When you reach your destination, do your best to sync up with the local schedule. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to try and land in the morning; exposing yourself to direct sunlight is the surefire way to reset your circadian rhythm, which is one of the determining factors of when we’re alert and when we’re tired.
Even if sleeping on the plane was unsuccessful and all you want to do is check into your hotel, get an espresso and fight the exhaustion. You’ll thank yourself for staying awake until bedtime and adjusting to the new time zone on the first day.
(Pro tip: Arriving in the morning before your hotel check-in time is a good way to force yourself to stay awake!)
Keep Your Nighttime Routine
Most of us who struggle with falling asleep know the importance of having a nighttime routine to wind down from the day and enter a relaxed state. Needless to say, it’s equally important to carry this routine with you on vacation.
Once we’ve gotten into a nighttime routine, our bodies naturally associate sleep with it, thus making it difficult to fall asleep on vacation when that routine isn’t implemented.
Make your hotel room as sleep-friendly as possible; whatever products you use to wind down, bring them on vacation. For me, this means lavender spray or essential oil (rub a drop of lavender oil into each temple for instant relaxation!), nighttime tea, an eye mask, and notably my pillow; bringing your own pillow on vacation can be an absolute game changer for telling your brain that you’re in your bed and ready to sleep!
I highly suggest you bring an eye mask and earplugs to be prepared for the event that your accommodations let in too much noise or light from the outside. Additionally, apply the standard rules of keeping your room at a cool temperature and avoid blue light in the hour before bed (yes this means holding off until morning to post your perfect sunset picture from earlier).
Food, Alcohol, and Exercise
Being on vacation does mean indulging in delicious new food and tasty cocktails. What it doesn’t mean is that it won’t affect your body the same as it does back home. Eating a heavy dinner and drinking alcohol still results in your body working hard to digest it, which kicks up your heart rate, thus keeping you awake.
Alcohol may make you sleepy- but when it wears off, your system is still working to process it, which can wake you up much earlier than you want it to. Similarly, a heavy late night dinner prevents your belly from being in a comfortable position when it’s time to fall asleep.
That said, you’re still on vacation and it’s time to enjoy yourself! If there’s a restaurant on your bucket list for dinner, my advice is to eat as much as you want and savor every bite; but, compromise with your body and shoot for dinner on the early side, hours before bedtime. Take a long evening stroll after to help yourself digest.
As for alcohol, I suggest having fun, sugary cocktails and wines earlier in the day and stay away from sweetened mixers at night. At the very least, you can prevent the added sugar rush you’d get in the middle of the night.
Exercising on vacation can elevate endorphins and speed up your heart rate. In turn, when your body cools down, it will help you sleep much better. The best time to exercise is in the late afternoon, as accelerating your heart rate too close to bedtime may lead to a restless night.
Noise Is Not Your Friend
Unfamiliar noises on vacation can disrupt your sleep in a major way. Even the slightest sound can wake you up from a deep sleep, as our paranoia levels are heightened in new environments.
Thankfully, drowning out noise while traveling has become a popular trend and there are many travel systems available for you to take with you.
Getting a travel-sized white noise machine may save you restless nights and keep you at peace. Even better, there are endless white noise apps you can download on your phone (some for free!).
Another great system for peaceful sounds as well as kicking potential allergies is a travel humidifier- there are many affordable options on Amazon, or you can call the hotel before your trip and ask if they have one on rent.
Meditation and Winding Down
Meditation has not steered me wrong in my nighttime routine and may be your best friend on vacation. My favorite methods are deep breathing exercises (inhale through the nose, hold it at the top for a few seconds, exhale every last bit, and repeat) and stretching to relax your muscles. Another newer method of winding down I’ve adopted is acupressure. We hold a lot of stress in various acu-points, and relieving these before bed can really send you off to dreamland in record time:
- Press your thumb against the area between your eyebrows, for 20-30 seconds. Release, and practice this 3-4 times while focusing on keeping your breath consistent.
- Press down on the far pinky-side of your wrist, directly below the pad of your palm. Hold for one minute, then repeat once or twice more.
The more you practice forms of meditation, the better you’ll become at relaxing yourself into a deep slumber.
Map Out Your Itinerary
Depending on what kind of vacation you’ve decided to take, you either have a list of things you want to see and do, or you’ve reserved yourself a lounge chair by the pool for the week.
Whether you have an agenda or not, planning your next day itinerary before you go to bed will declutter your mind and ultimately help you fall asleep by not thinking about what you need/want to do the following day.
Make a to-do list, and check out a map of the city to figure out your route. Look up restaurants you want to try, the coffee shop you want to stop at in the morning, and your outfit. The more you can plan, the better. You’ll have a much more peaceful sleep when you’re not stressing over how to have the most fun when you wake up.
Most importantly, remember to have fun- you’re on vacation! The more you stress over sleep, the less you’ll get.