Last updated on April 6th, 2020
As the editor of JourneyWoman.com, I often travel long distances by air to unfamiliar and wonderful places. This frequent flying has done nothing to help my body adjust to the sleep deprivation that comes with the territory. It still rebels when crossing many time zones on what seems like endless international flights to the other side of the world. Strange beds, new bedtimes and different diets will definitely affect any travellin’ woman’s sleep patterns. That’s why I’ve developed a bunch of strategies to help me from being sleepless in Seattle, Singapore or Seoul.
Preparing for travel
Be ready a day early…
One of my “sleep well tactics” is to get to bed early the night before I travel. I know this sounds almost impossible but not if you treat two nights before you leave as your deadline. For example: if you are scheduled to fly very early Saturday A.M., then treat Thursday night as your deadline for having all your office work completed, your clothes laundered and ready to be put into your suitcase, newspapers cancelled, friends notified, dog bathed, and so on. Friday then becomes less harried and you have ample opportunity to accomplish everything you need to do without burning the midnight oil — time to get your manicure, meet a pal for lunch, pack your suitcase, etc. Waking up refreshed the day of travel goes a long way in setting the tone of your trip.
Pack an extra layer…
I pack not only my regular cotton nightgown but also a loose long sleeved tee-shirt that I can pop over that nightgown if I am too cold during the night. The shirt takes up little room in my suitcase but it comes in so very handy when I can’t seem to control either my own body’s thermostat or the thermostat in my hotel room.
Pick a strategic room location…
Whenever I make hotel or B&B reservations anywhere in the world, I specify that I don’t want my room facing onto a busy thoroughfare. This way while I might miss out on an interesting view, there’s always a better chance that I’ll get a good night’s sleep. A room that fronts on a main street often means a symphony of assorted traffic sounds well into the wee small hours. However, be prepared! The best travel plans often go awry and you could end up in a noisy room. That’s why carrying a pair of ear plugs in your cosmetic bag makes a lot of sense.
Clothes as loose as pajamas…
If I’m travelling overnight, I wear loose, long-sleeved clothing — made of breathable natural fibers — that will allow me to fall asleep on the plane in as comfortable a position as possible. I always have an extra pair of socks and a shawl in my carry-on. Once the plane reaches cruising altitude, I exchange my shoes for socks and my shawl becomes either my wrap, my pillow or my blanket.
Adjust your watch…
Once on board I like to adjust my watch to the local time at my destination. This helps to adjust my internal clock as well. I don’t normally eat at 2:00 AM and seldom am I watching TV at 4:00 AM so why do it on an airplane? My body might not be ready to sleep when my wristwatch tells it to but at least I can close my eyes and relax my body to the best of my ability.
Pack a picnic…
Advising your flight attendant not to wake you if you are sleeping during the meal service is always a good idea. They will probably be kind enough to serve your tray when you wake up later on. The other alternative is to pack a light picnic — some fruit, whole grain bread and a bit of protein (cold chicken or mild cheese) which will be available when you’re ready for it. Drink, drink, drink water every time it’s offered to you.
A terrific travel accessory…
I recently discovered the horseshoe-shaped Tempur Transit Pillow™ which provides excellent support for your neck while travelling on a plane or in a car. What seems to make this pillow so different from all the others is that it’s made of an heavenly material (originally developed for the Space Program) which molds, via your own body heat, to the exact contours of your neck. All I can say is…to try it is to love it. It spoils you silly!
At your destination
Lovely lavender oils…
Carry some aromatherapy lavender oils in a tiny bottle. Learn how many drops to use in your evening soak and how many to put on your pillow case. Lavender is known for its lovely ability to help you relax and sleep like a baby.
P.S. I always wrap my own bottle in a plastic cling material like Saran™ before putting it into my cosmetic bag. If the bottle should leak everything in the suitcase would smell and smell and smell like lavender. Not good!
Stay calm, not wired…
Coffee, tea, chocolate and wine are all stimulants and will keep you awake if you’re susceptible to them. In the evening, I try to drink calming teas like chamomile and I keep my wine intake to a minimum. Of course, drinking wine can be a pleasure but especially when travelling solo or during an important business dinner, I want to be fully alert and be able to think clearly about where I am and what I am saying.
P.S. I always carry chamomile tea bags as well as an assortment of other decaffeinated teas in my backpack. These are my beverage of choice on long haul plane rides, as well.
Late dinners are not winners…
Part of the enjoyment of travelling comes from all the different foods we want to try. As a result, we usually eat more and differently than we normally do at home. Just try to remember that overindulgence at dinner makes your body work very hard well into the night.
The alternative is to have your largest meal at lunch which is a far better idea for several excellent reasons. (1) Even the most exclusive restaurants in town serve an affordable lunch menu. This allows you to test many high-end dining spots rather than just a few. (2) At lunch there will be many other solo business diners and you won’t feel conspicuous eating alone. (3) You’ll have all afternoon and evening to walk off the extra calories you’ve consumed. Eat lightly at dinner and you’ll sleep like a baby!
No messages after ten o’clock…
One time in New York I agreed to do an interview on early morning television. I was going to be on air at 8:00 A.M. which meant they would send a car to pick me up at 6:30 A.M. I prepared by going to bed earlier the night before and fell asleep immediately. An inexperienced junior researcher working through the night at the TV station called my room a half hour later and woke me to get some biographical material he needed. Of course, once awakened, I couldn’t get back to sleep until after midnight and I struggled with the interview the next morning.bThat incident taught me a valuable travel lesson. I always leave word with the front desk that with the exception of an emergency, no calls are to be put through to my room after 10:00 P.M.
Finally, learn to meditate…
If what seems like a thousand uncomfortable thoughts are screaming through your mind and not allowing you to drift off to sleep, use the pink balloon trick. It’s like counting sheep. With your eyes closed, take a few deep breaths. Then picture yourself lying in the warm sun, a gentle breeze is in the air and you can hear the sound of the water lapping at the shore. Continue breathing deeply while you gather each of the concerns that were keeping you awake. One by one put each of these worries into a pink balloon. As the problem enters the balloon give yourself permission to let that issue go (at least until the morning). When all worries are safely tucked away, simply let go of the cord and watch the pink balloon disappear into the bright blue sky. Sweet dreams, everybody!
Women’s words on sleep …
Rocked in the cradle of the deep
I lay me down in peace to sleep.
(Emma Willard, 1832)
Blessed be sleep!
We are all young then;
We are all happy.
(Fanny Fern, 1870)
Sleep is a thin white hand
laid along me in the dark.
(Evelyn Scott, 1932)
To sleep is an act of faith.
(Mary Web, 1984)
I pillowed myself in goodness
and slept righteously.
(Maya Angelou, 1986)
Sleep is death
without the responsibility.
(Fran Lebowitz, 1978)
Many people spend their lives going to bed
when they are not sleepy and getting up
when they are!
(Cindy Adams, 1957)
If possible you should always sleep with someone you love.
You both recharge your mutual batteries free of charge.
(Marlene Dietrich, 1962)