Travel and Sleep: How to Stay Healthy on the Go
Traveling has become a large part of business due to the ease and ability to connect all around the world. However, staying healthy is a tricky task. Business travel and sleep do mix; they have to, or your productivity could suffer. Business travel demands high performance amid stress, hectic schedules, heavy meals, and late nights — all a recipe for poor sleep.
Traveling Over Time Zones
Flying across time zones changes the principal time cue – light — for regulating our 24-hour, natural day/night cycle (circadian rhythm). Our internal clock becomes out of sync. Our circadian rhythm greatly influences when, how much, and how well we sleep. However, you can re-set your internal clock to adapt more quickly to the time changes. Your circadian rhythm is internally generated but is influenced by the environment, behavior, and medications. It is important to expose yourself to the light during the waking hours as much as possible, and conversely, do not expose yourself to bright light when it is dark outside. Even the light from a computer screen or turning the light on in the bathroom in the middle of the night can adversely affect your sleep.
Take steps before your trip to ensure you’ll get adequate sleep on the road.
Plan ahead. Packing your luggage, finish presentations, family affairs, confirming flight and hotel reservations, printing your boarding pass, getting to the airport on-time … a little planning goes a long way. Leaving things to the last minute increases stress and may cause a late-night bedtime. Be sleep-ready. Get a sleep kit ready to go and leave it in your toiletry bag. Ear plugs, eye covers, some of your favorite soothing music, perhaps a vial of lavender oil — they will come in handy on the plane or in your hotel. Exercise and eat right the day before your trip to give yourself an edge for some sound sleep.
Dress for success. Wear something comfortable, loose-fitting, and layered. You never know if it will be too hot or too cold on the plane.
Stress less — expect travel delays. It’s just the cost of doing business and it’s beyond your control. If your expectations are in line with reality, you will be much less frustrated and upset. It is a good time to read that book that has been on your nightstand for the last few months or clean out some email folders.
Long flights, poor seating, flight delays, turbulence, missed connections, recycled dry air, and the occasional rude or incessantly talking seatmate can all make for a less-than-pleasant experience. Here are few things you can do to help:
Get comfortable. Get a pillow or two and blanket. Bringing along a C-shaped pillow that fits around your neck is also helpful, as it keeps your head from bobbing around or getting a stiff neck. Take off your shoes or at least loosen the laces to improve circulation.
Drink water. This will help counter the dehydrating effects of the dry air. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They are diuretics, causing you to go to the bathroom frequently. This, along with the dry cabin air, will increase your chances of dehydration. Remember that one drink in the air can be act like two on the ground. Relieve ear pressure. First, never fly with serious sinus/ear congestion, whether from a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection. If you do, you may experience severe pain and damage your eardrums. To get on the plane, you must be able to “clear” your ears by gently but forcefully exhaling against a closed mouth and nose. While on the plane, chewing gum may help equalize your ear pressure as well. Pressure problems are generally worse on landing. So make sure your ears feel clear before you descend.
Nap carefully. Consider a short nap on a short flight and a longer one on a longer flight. On longer flights consider waiting until the latter portion of the flight. So when you wake and feel refreshed just as the flight as about to end. Do not snooze too long unless you have a long flight. Napping more than 30-45 minutes may put you into a deep sleep, making you feel more tired when you wake up. Also, close the window shade, if possible, or don your eye covers.
At the Hotel
Sleeping facilities are as important as meeting facilities. When booking a hotel, ask for a room away from the ballroom nightclub, bar, or restaurant. Above all, make sure the alarm clock in the room isn’t already set to go off when you don’t want it to. Some hotels are now promoting sleep-friendly amenities and might provide:
Designated quiet areas: These are rooms or whole floors that are explicitly reserved for customers who want a good night’s sleep, and may have certain restrictions against children, loud music, parties, etc.
Quiet rooms: These rooms may be located well off the street, have double-paned windows, soundproofed non-squeaky doors, quiet air-conditioners, and the like.
Room amenities: These make a big difference and can include:
- A great bed and bedding
- Ear plugs and eye covers
- Blackout curtains
- Relaxing, sleep-promoting music
- Night lights for safety and avoiding bright light if you get up at night
- Bath amenities such as lavender aromatherapy, potpourri, soaps, and oils
- Menu of pillows, from down to full-body and C-pillows
- Wake-up calls Spa facilities: They may include steam, sauna, aromatherapy, exercise equipment, and massage to help guests relax.
Lifestyle on the Road
With room service and late-night events and dinners, making good choices to promote sound sleep may be difficult. Travelers often eat and drink more and sleep less than they do at home. Alcohol is often erroneously used as a sleep enhancer and caffeine (coffee, soda) is used to boost performance. All of these have negative impacts on sleep. On the positive side, more and more travelers realize the value of exercise and do try to use it to enhance performance. Here are some additional tips:
Utilize your prime time. If you’re on a two- to three-day trip that crosses multiple time zones, try to plan meetings on your home time, during the mid-day hours, because your body will not have enough time to adjust.
Let the sunshine in. During the day and meetings, let as much light into the room as possible and stay active, whether talking or just taking notes.
If you snooze you don’t lose. If you are really wiped out, try to take a short 10-20 minute nap. Cut caffeine. Simply put, caffeine can keep you awake. It can stay in your body longer than you may think — up to 14 hours. Cutting out caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep easier.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, but as your body clears it from your system, it can also cause symptoms that disturb sleep, like nightmares, sweats, and headache. Drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed to try to reduce these symptoms.
Relax before bedtime. Stress not only makes you miserable, it wreaks havoc on your sleep. Develop some kind of pre-sleep ritual like reading, light stretching, or taking a hot bath to break the connection between all the day’s stress and bedtime. These rituals can be as short as 10 minutes.
Exercise at the right time for you. Regular exercise can help you get a good night’s sleep. The timing and intensity of exercise seems to play a key role in its effects on sleep. If you are the type of person who gets energized or becomes more alert after exercise, it may be best not to exercise in the evening. Eat right, sleep tight. Try not to go to bed hungry, but avoid heavy meals before bedtime. An over-full belly can keep you up. Also, try not to drink anything after 8 p.m. This can keep you from getting up to use the bathroom during the night.
Restrict nicotine. Having a smoke before bed — although it feels relaxing – actually puts a stimulant into your bloodstream. The effects of nicotine are similar to those of caffeine. Nicotine can keep you up and awaken you at night; it can stay in your body as long as 14 hours. It should be avoided particularly near bedtime and if you wake up in the middle of the night.
The bottom line is sleep is more important than you may think. So be aware of the critical role sleep plays in your performance, productivity, and health. You’ll be healthier and happier.