Holidays, Travel, and Quality Sleep – Yes, You Can Have It All

Every year, approximately 100 million Americans are on the move during the holiday season, says the New York Times, with 97 million traveling at the end of December, alone.

Unfortunately, while it’s (usually… hopefully) gratifying and enjoyable to visit family and friends for special celebrations, there are some common factors associated with travel and the holidays that can eat away at the quality and quantity of your sleep. Culprits include disrupted routines, late nights, aches and pains from sitting in cars or on airplanes, rich food, increased alcohol intake, the disorienting or disconcerting effects of sleeping in a different bed, and stress.

Making matters worse, sleep deprivation over the holidays can contribute to weight gain and sideline fitness goals, according to experts at the Cleveland Clinic.

But this year can be different for Circady blog readers! We’ve got six tips to help you stay merry, bright, and rested from now until January.

  1. Plan ahead. You don’t want to be sleep deprived before you even head out the door. Try to get your usual amount of sleep on the nights leading up to your trip. This means packing your luggage, doing any necessary shopping, and confirming travel plans and reservations early — before they become stressful, late-night, sleep-sabotaging activities.
  2. Deal with time zones changes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends starting to adjust your body’s internal clock ahead of time when a time-zone change is in your future. Three to five days before your trip, shift your bedtime and wake-up time either earlier or later depending on your destination. Using light to your advantage can also help you adjust to a new time zone. Expose yourself to at least 30 minutes of bright sunlight each morning while you’re away. If you arrive at your location in the evening, have just a light meal, turn down the lights, and engage in relaxing activities to help you wind down for a rest.
  3. Pack your favorite blanket, pillow, white noise machine (or app), and anything else that will help a strange bed feel more like your own. The National Sleep Foundation says that favorite sleep items, in a manner similar to a child’s “security” blanket, can help adults feel at home. Additionally, familiar objects can elicit a conditioned sleep response — basically helping you to fall asleep faster because you associate them with sleep.
  4. Get your exercise. Yes, we know that holiday times, especially if you’re visiting friends or family you don’t see very often, are very busy. But multiple sleep experts say you should still hit the gym, take walks, jog, or try home workouts to get your blood pumping each day. You can even make exercise a part of your holiday fun! Go on a hike with family, hit the gym with friends, or try to follow along to a dance video with the youngsters in your group. If it gets you all laughing, all the better because, according to the New York Times, laughter is actually a form of exercise, too. Fun, friends, and better sleep – sounds like a great holiday.
  5. If you must nap, keep it short. You don’t want to undermine your nighttime sleep, but if you’re so tired that you really need a daytime snooze, WebMD recommends a “power” nap of just 10-20 minutes.
  6. Recognize that your first night in a new place will likely result in subpar sleep. Indeed, the Smithsonian warns that during the initial night in an unfamiliar place, our brains remain more alert, even while we sleep, making us less rested the next day. If your favorite party of the year or some other key event is on a particular day, organize your travel (if possible) so that you have two nights in the same location before that gathering. And remember, a familiar sleep object (as mentioned above) can help to put you more at ease, too.

Of course, home or away, all our usual recommendations to maintain good sleep hygiene and a restful bedroom still apply. Try to work within your accommodations and travel plans to prioritize as many of our insomnia tips and natural sleep remedies as you can. With better sleep, the holidays and holiday trips will seem more fun and fulfilling and that’s part of what it’s all about anyway, right?

Wishing you peace, joy, and rejuvenation wherever this season may take you.