How traveling affects your sleep


It’s finally here, the big trip you have anxiously waited for. Tickets are purchased and the suitcases are packed; you are ready to relax. Your major priorities are looked after, but you may be overlooking one major task; planning for the impact that travel has on your sleep. Whether you are venturing four hours or 16, traveling affects your sleep and ultimately causes a disruption in your overall rest. Traveling long distances causes the body to go through a drastic change within a short period of time, because not only are you subjected to environmental changes, but physical changes as well.


Reasons Your Rest is Disrupted During Travel


Roughly 90% of Americans plan on traveling throughout 2023. Whether by car, plane or boat, it is crucial to prepare both mind and body for the trip. While vacationing, routines you have established may be placed on hold, from dietary habits to sleep patterns. Placing these routines on hold ultimately causes a ripple effect to the body's natural processing systems. Each day your body is continuously working to process and coordinate with other systems in order to provide balance and stability. A major part of the body’s regulation is the Circadian Rhythm or the natural cycle of physical, mental and behavioral changes that the body goes through in a 24 hour cycle. It stems from Circa Diem, a Latin phrase meaning “around a day”, and refers to humans having a 24 hour internal clock that serves as a sleep wake cycle. Traveling abroad can disrupt the circadian rhythm causing “confusion” as to when day and night normally are in relation to the time zone you are accustomed to.


Sleep In An Unfamiliar Area

 Sleeping in an unfamiliar setting can trigger what is referred to as a fight or flight response. When you sleep in a familiar area such as your home, your brain is able to fully rest and recharge appropriately. On the other hand, when you travel and sleep in an unfamiliar climate, only half of your brain is really turned off while the other side is remaining in high alert to provide protection if required.


Pro-Tips For Traveling Abroad


Allowing yourself enough time to properly adjust to a new time zone is crucial to ensuring your body is fully at rest. There are practical steps you can take leading up to your trip to aid your mind and body in adjusting to the journey ahead. Aligning your circadian rhythm with the time zone you are vacationing in is crucial to optimizing the amount of rest you are getting and the level of its effectiveness. Try to adjust your sleep/wake cycle the week leading up to your trip. This can be accomplished by waking up 30 minutes earlier or going to bed 30 minutes later each day.


Due to the sudden shift in your cycle, you may be tempted to compensate for the rest you are missing out on by over napping or sleeping in excessively. Getting out and enjoying the sunlight is highly recommended to address this. Another processing system within the body is called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus. The SCN is extremely sensitive to light causing a cue as to when you should be awake versus sleeping. Light serves as the largest influence over the SCN and the circadian rhythm as a whole. Enjoying the natural sunlight is a great way to send signals to the brain that it’s time you should be awake and create a temporary new circadian rhythm.


Don’t forget, the sun can be a great source of Vitamin D! Vitamin D or the “sunshine vitamin” is produced naturally when the body is directly in sunlight. Exposure to Vitamin D can boost your mood, so get out there and enjoy the sun! If there happens to be a lack of sunlight, there are food options that can provide a great source of Vitamin D, including:

  • Salmon
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna fish
  • Orange juice ( fortified)
  • Sardines
  • Egg yolk

Make sure you plan. Planning the trip itself is also a great way to ensure you aren't feeling unnecessary stress surrounding the trip. Research is your biggest asset and having a plan of activities you intend on participating in as well as becoming familiar with the area will hopefully aid in allowing your mind to escape that “fight or flight” setting. Researching the area where you are staying is a great way to become familiar with your surroundings and eliminate the “unknown” factor of the new area. Google maps and satellite images are great visual aids to become accustomed with surrounding areas as well as the area you are staying. Making a list of activities you hope to do and spreading them throughout your trip is a way to have an outline without committing to a rigid agenda. Looking at the area’s attractions and researching admission pricing can assist in your planning process.

Additional Tips For Traveling

The following serve as tips to assist in optimizing your rest even further:

  • Maintain healthy eating habits
  • Maintain your same sleep schedule (unless traveling abroad)
  • Exercise (a walk can go a long way!)
  • Stay hydrated
  • If you choose to drink caffeine or alcohol, do so in moderation
  • Dress comfortably. Loose familiar clothing will aid in helping you relax in the environment you are traveling to.

Preparing yourself appropriately will ensure your sleep and rest is effective while enjoying your trip to the fullest. Allow your body time to adjust and enjoy!

Written by Tabitha Hill, Original Mattress Factory Pittsburgh