How to sleep during business travel

a black mask on a white backgroundEver since the school year started–and my oldest started kindergarten–I’ve been obsessed with sleep. This is most certainly caused by the necessary shift our household has taken due to the required 6am wakeup time. See, the Home Warrior and I are generally night-owls. If it were up to us, we would go to bed after midnight and get up around 8am. And pre-kinder, when our oldest started school at 9, that’s mostly what we did. Now we have to force ourselves to be ready for bed by 10:30. This 2-hour shift has caused me to be in a state of perpetual sleepiness–not ideal for a full-time job, three kids, and frequent travel.

As business travelers know, it’s not always easy to sleep on a work trip either. Add up delays, late meetings, and loud hotels, and it’s a recipe for exhaustion! Here are some tips for getting better sleep during business travel.

Avoid caffeine. We all know that last cup of coffee at 5pm isn’t a great idea, but during travel it can be hard to keep going without a boost. Try to avoid it if you can! Caffeine after 2 will definitely interfere with your sleep cycles. Unfortunately, same goes for alcohol–too much and you may get to sleep quickly but you won’t have enough quality sleep.

Don’t eat too late. Another wakefulness culprit–eating heavy meals too late. If you have to eat after 7 try for lighter fare, and try to avoid eating too much.

White noise app. This is the most critical piece for me–if I don’t have white noise going then I hear every. thing. happening in the hotel around me. The White Noise Free app that I’ve used for eight or nine years has a bunch of different sounds and works amazingly well.

Dark room. Make your room as dark as possible so that light doesn’t interrupt your sleep. I always keep an eye mask with me in case there’s unavoidable light.

Follow your routine. As much as possible, follow the same pre-bed routine on the road that you do at home. Wash your face, brush your teeth, read for a few minutes, etc., just like normal to try to trick your brain into thinking you’re in your own bed.

If you’re interested in finding out more about sleep, I recently came across two things: a very interesting article on sleep, jet lag, and travel, and a Fresh Air interview with a sleep scientist about the dangers of moving through life underslept.

Readers, how do you get quality sleep during business travel?


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  1. I put the following in my hotel preferences:
    1. High floor (no clomping above me)
    2. Away from elevator (less hallway noise)
    3. No adjoining room (that locked door doesn’t have the same sound barrier as a wall)

  2. I find fans help me sleep, and as a digital nomad, I prefer USB fans. My current favorite is a clip on, so I tend to have it close and the mild sound provides just enough white noise for me.

    I keep it plugged into the USB hub on a nightstand, along with all of my charging devices, and try to place it somewhere above my head or near my neck, facing my feet. So I feel the air blowing all along my body but not directly on my face.

    Since I am living out of suitcases, and only pack what I can carry myself up and down at least a couple of flights of stairs, it’s very tough for something to make the cut onto my packing list. However, I have a second fan which has a small container for water, providing a cooling mist in hot or dry rooms. While the fan will work as long as it’s plugged in, the mist doesn’t usually last much more than an hour or so. But that’s just long enough to help me sleep.

    If I had to choose just one, though, it would be the clip on, because that one works virtually anywhere – even when you don’t have a stable surface for a desktop fan, such as in planes, trains and automobiles.

  3. Don’t be afraid to unplug the fridge if it’s noisy, the contents will be fine for one night, but if you do, put a towel in front of the door in case there’s an ice melt overnight.

    I find the damn things are often noisy.

  4. That’s an amazing article roadwarriorette, I find these tips may help for my future travels, I always find really difficult to keep my sleep cycle. The change in time zones and jet lags make me literally sick. I really find interesting about white noise, what you mentioned. And I do like your other work also, keep up the good work.

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