How to sleep well on an international trip

The lucky ones sleep like babies wherever they are in the world. But for many, good sleep is elusive, especially while traveling. New time zones, different beds, unaccustomed noises and unusual foods can lead to restless nights and daytime grogginess.

A sound night’s sleep is even more important when traveling than it is at home. You’ve invested time and money in making the trip. There are sights to see, experiences to enjoy, and memories to make. Follow these six strategies, and you can increase your chances of sleeping well and being fresh the next day.

You may have to write off the first night

Have you heard of the “first night effect?” This well-documented phenomena is what often happens during the first night in a new place. It can take you longer to fall asleep and you may sleep less deeply and wake up more often than usual. According to a 2016 study published in Current Biology, this may be because, in a new place, one side of the brain remains alert to potential danger. Bottom line: Don’t be surprised if your first night isn’t the best. Plan to have better sleep on your second night.

Follow proven jet lag strategies

Traveling across multiple time zones can lead to jet lag, which can cause headaches, insomnia and irritability. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best way to adjust to a new time zone is to get some sunshine. If you travel east, take in the morning sun. If traveling west, go for a walk in the late day sun. The point is to use the sun’s rays to readjust your body clock. On arrival day, avoid napping if possible and try to stay up until 10 pm local time for your best chance at adjusting quickly.

Ask about bedding and temperature

When booking lodging, ask about sleep-friendly amenities. Bedding can make a big difference. If you are accustomed to sleeping with a soft pillow or more than one pillow, find out what will be available in your room and ask for what you need. Room temperature also is critical to a good night’s sleep, and you may not have control over this. Make sure there will be extra blankets in an air-conditioned room, or a good fan in a room without cooling.

Pack a sleep kit

Room location can mean more or less ambient noise. If you’re in a hotel room right next to the elevator or the ice machine, sleep may be hard to come by. When choosing lodging, ask about the room’s location. Is it on the beach side or the street side? Ear plugs and an eye mask take up almost no room in your luggage, and can save you from restless hours of tossing and muttering.

Reserve hearty eating for the midday meal

Rich foods sit heavy on the digestion, making it harder to sleep. It’s best to eat heavy meals earlier in the day, giving your body more time to process the food before bedtime. What you drink during the day also can affect your sleep. Caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea and cola, are stimulating. According to the National Sleep Foundation, caffeine has a half-life of about six hours. This means that if you drink coffee at 4 pm, half of the caffeine will still be with you at 10 pm. Be advised.

Relax before lights out

If you have a sleep ritual at home, try to replicate it as much as possible while traveling. Reading, light stretching or a warm bath can signal your body and brain that it’s time to shut down. Computer work, TV-watching or other screen time all have the opposite effect, and can wire you up when you most want to wind down.

As with all things, good sleep is often the result of a daily dose of common sense. Regular exercise and a healthy diet during the day lay the foundation, shored up by a consistent sleep schedule and a relaxing bedtime routine.

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