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A Dozen Ways to Sleep Better When You’re Traveling for Work

Welcome back to our regular series with certified sleep educator Terry Cralle, MS, RN. In this post, Cralle shares how to get better sleep on business trips.

If you travel for work regularly, then you know just how tiring being on the road can be. There are so many stresses that come along with business travel: the long hours, seemingly endless meetings, late dinners, and nonstop socializing—all after having to sit in the dreaded middle seat during your flight.

It’s probably safe to say you’ve sacrificed some serious sleep for your employer, and that could have a major impact on how well you’re able to do your job. A 2003 study from Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Mark Rosekind, PhD, suggests that sleep loss is the primary reason for reduced performance during business trips. More recently, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine reveals a significant association between business travel and sleep deprivation, excess alcohol consumption, and diminished confidence to keep up with the pace of work.

How to get better sleep on a business trip

It may seem impossible to get a good night’s rest on the road, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a dozen ways you can get better sleep on your next business trip.

  1. Prep for your trip in advance. Late-night laundry and last-minute packing are sleep killers. If possible, try to do those chores a day in advance so you can start your journey refreshed.
  2. Consider natural sleep supplements. Jet lag is the No. 1 productivity killer for the business traveler. Melatonin supplementation may help, so discuss it with your healthcare provider before heading out of town.
  3. Stay hydrated. Jet lag and overall sleep quality are worsened by dehydration, so drink plenty of water before and during air travel.
  4. Choose a “sleep-friendly” hotel. More and more hotels are offering features like pillow menus, blackout curtains, quiet door closures, sound machines, and yoga classes. Check to see if any construction or renovation work is going on, so you can request a room far away from the noise.
  5. Pack earplugs and an eye mask. These can help you get some shut-eye, whether you’re trying to nap on the plane or avoid street noise outside your hotel. You can also use noise-canceling headphones or a portable white noise machine or white noise app to block out disruptive sounds.
  6. Use a blue light filter. While it’s best to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime, you may not be able to totally avoid computer work in the evening when you’re on a business trip. So use a blue-light blocking filter, like f.lux, on your laptop or wear blue light blocking glasses to minimize your exposure to this kind of sleep-disruptive light.
  7. Get some exercise. Exercise, even a 10-minute walk, will boost your sleep quality and next-day performance. In the Rosekind study, those who exercised during their trip performed 61% better than those who did not. Squeeze in fitness at whatever time of day you can, even in the evening. New research published in the journal Sports Medicine finds that so long as you avoid vigorous exercise in the hour before bed, nighttime workouts shouldn’t make it harder to fall asleep.
  8. Skip the nightcap. Some reports estimate that alcohol consumption increases as much as 30% during business trips. But alcohol will disrupt sleep as it metabolizes. So if you’re headed for happy hour or dinner with clients, switch to soft drinks (non-caffeinated!) at least three hours before bedtime. Ditto for heavy, rich, or spicy meals. (If you do find yourself with heartburn after a large, late dinner, follow these tips for preventing acid reflux from ruining your sleep.)
  9. Take a pre-emptive nap. Napping in preparation for anticipated sleep loss (e.g., early flight, jet lag, early meeting) is called “pre-emptive napping” and can help you avoid sleep deprivation. Twenty minutes is all you need to improve alertness and reduce stress.
  10. Avoid the “first-night effect.” The phenomenon of not being able to sleep well in an unfamiliar environment is known as the “first-night effect.” To combat this, bring something to remind you of home, such as a lavender pillow sachet, a family photo for the nightstand, or your favorite pillow or pillowcase.
  11. Schedule a wake-up call. Nervous that you’ll sleep through your alarm and miss your breakfast meeting? Having a wake-up call as a backup gives you extra peace of mind.
  12. Start the day with a dose of sunshine. Studies show that exposure to natural light in the morning will help reset your body clock and make it easier to fall asleep at bedtime.

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More from Terry Cralle:

Terry Cralle, MS, RN, is a certified clinical sleep educator and Saatva's sleep consultant. She is the author of Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle, the first nonfiction book directly messaging the benefits of sufficient sleep to young children, and Sleeping Your Way to the Top, the ultimate guide to success through better sleep. A nationally recognized sleep health and wellness advocate, her work in the field of sleep medicine has ranged from patient care to clinical research and continuing education for nurses.