Sleeping on a business trip

a bottle of purple liquidIs it possible to sleep well on a work trip? Reader M asks….

I can’t be the only one with sleep problems on the road, can I? My go-to is usually a Benadryl or unisom (same ingredients) but I know other people take melatonin or use those patches. Would love a post about sleep issues and dealing with time zones.

I am right there with you! The older I get the more I feel I’m in a state of perpetual sleepiness. Whether it’s due to kids, my job, or travel doesn’t really matter; I just need to figure out how to manage it! One thing that helps during travel is to make sure I get quality sleep. But again, the older I get the harder that seems to be.

Here are my strategies for sleeping on a business trip:

Schedule your flights around sleep. This one may not always be under your control, but it can have such an impact on how rested you feel during your trip.  as much as I’m able I schedule my transit time to allow for a full night sleep. The older I’ve gotten the more important this has become! I used to have no problem flying super early in the morning or arriving at midnight. These days if I try that I spend the whole trip recovering! Now, I try to arrive by 9pm so I can get in bed by 11.

Stay at quality hotels. Again, this may be something you don’t have as much control over. But let’s be real–there is a big difference in bed quality at lower-end hotels vs. higher-end. I’m not talking about $40/night motels, either. My sleep is vastly better in a Marriott than it is at a Springhill Suites, and in large part it’s because the beds just feel like they’re made better. When I have the option, I’ll choose the higher level hotel for this reason.

Avoid caffeine, too much booze, and eating too late. 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. 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.

Adjust the temperature. During my trip to Dallas last week I looked at the thermostat before bed. It was set to 75 degrees, way too warm for me. I adjusted it down to 70 and went to sleep. At 2am I woke, burning up but not knowing why. Looking at the thermostat again I realized it hadn’t budged from 75–talk about an insulated room! I actually had to turn the AC on in the middle of January to get the temperature lower. Moral of the story, make sure the temperature is a good one for sleep before you go to bed. Experts recommend 60-65, but I prefer closer to 68.

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. Although be warned, a coworker that I ended up rooming with last year on one trip HATED the white noise sound; luckily she had earplugs so we were both able to sleep.

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. Another thing that helps me is to wear the same thing to sleep that I wear at home–yoga pants and a tank top. This continues the illusion that I’m in my own bed.

Changing time zones. This is a tricky one, especially for those who travel internationally on a regular basis. When I have the option (which is about half the time) I will plan my flights so that I arrive with time to sleep before going to work. Before I travel, my usual strategy is to start adjusting myself at home a few days before my trip as much as I’m able, going to bed earlier and waking up earlier (or vice versa). Then on the plane I’ll set my watch immediately to the new time zone and plan my “sleeping time” to be as similar as possible to my destination. (Here is another post with tips for sleeping during international flights.) It’s not foolproof, but caffeine upon arrival and Tylenol PM at night help get me through.

Sleep aids. If all else fails, or if you typically have a lot of trouble sleeping in hotels, there are a number of sleep aids you can try. I use Tylenol PM, my coworker prefers melatonin, and my sister likes ZzzQuil.

Readers, what tips do you have for sleeping on a business trip? Any suggestions for Reader M?


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  1. A cold and dark room is a must for me. I’ve been using the Calm App Sleep Stories to fall asleep in hotel rooms- it knocks me right out!

  2. Ambien works for me on long business trips or when I need to sleep on a plane. It makes some ppl crazy and sleep walk but not me.

  3. I’ve noticed that it’s not just the amount of sleep that I get, it’s the quality of sleep too. This drives me to use a combination of things to sleep on the road:
    1. Vicks vapo rub – apply a little bit to help open the nasal passages
    2. A cold hotel room – I set the temperature to 66.
    3. Pillow spray
    4. White noise app on my phone (“WaveSounds”)

    Sometimes I resort to using melatonin, but I notice that I usually wake up after 3 hours — so it’s good for a quick nap, but not for an all-night sleep (unless I take another as soon as I wake up.)

    Sometimes I try using tea that claims that it is “sleep tea”, and although that puts me to sleep, I’ll wake up a few hours later to go use the bathroom…

    When I’m on a plane trying to take a nap, it’s usually a combination of melatonin and the white noise app — good enough for a few hours of sleep.

  4. Sometimes I resort to using melatonin, but I notice that I usually wake up after 3 hours — so it’s good for a quick nap, but not for an all-night sleep

  5. Even when I’m not traveling, I try to save a warm shower for right before I hit the sack. Coupled with having cooled the room down before getting into the shower, you’re walking from warm to cool signaling your body’s metabolism to slow, helping lull you into a deeper sleep.

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