Happy Hanukkah to those of you that celebrate!
Are you stressing out about the holidays? Well, then let's talk about how to relax and decompress with sleep. When traveling, you are probably getting way more exercise than normal, which is great, but can also tire you out faster, because you are go-go-go and eventually that “check out this awesome thing!” adrenaline rush is going to fade. You’re going to want to recharge your batteries by getting a good 40 winks. Or more. More is always good. You don’t want to come back from vacation looking more tired than when you left, do you? Of course not! Being a self-proclaimed master sleeper, I have many tips for you. Even though I can probably sleep curled up in chair with a jackhammer going across the street, I also know of ways to get quality sleep.
Living with someone who is a light sleeper, I have become a little more sympathetic to the plight of the insomniac. As a teenager, I often would be kept awake by sleeplessness until 3, 4 or even 5 in the morning. Luckily, getting by on only a few hours of sleep was never an issue and I got to watch a lot of Letterman, Beavis & Butthead and NSFW music videos as I was passing the time. I’m not sure that’s really a plus, but I was extremely up-to-date on pop culture in the early to mid-nineties. I can tell you that. Now that I’m older, I can safely say that any night where I only get 2-3 hours of sleep is going to make for a cranky and unpleasant day. In short, I NEED to recharge. And so do you. At home or traveling, rest is super important.
Keep your immune system strong – Yes, not getting enough sleep can make you sick! It’s happened to me at home and on the road and I DO NOT recommend it. Go to bed at a reasonable time and sleep in if you can. Or take a short nap in the middle of the day. Power naps are totally refreshing and awesome. If you plan an evening of drinking and/or dancing that you know will take you into the wee hours, plan a low-key day following, or you will be angry when the alarm goes off at the crack of dawn for you to get ready to go on a tour or get to the amusement park or whatever else. Trust me.
Get a sleep mask – Now, even though I can sleep for five hours on an airplane using my sweater as a pillow with a child screaming bloody murder two rows away (yes, this actually happened), the sun makes me mad at 5 or 6am. Also, there are a LOT of hotels that have curtains the thickness of gauze or can’t figure out how to get their window coverings to actually cover the whole window. And somehow, that 2 inch gap always ends up letting sunlight stream in right in your eyes! Seriously, this is a huge problem. You could sleep in the bathroom and still have that crazy bright light blinding you at daybreak. If you can’t sleep with an eye mask, travel with some binder clips or cover the flimsy curtains with all the towels they give you in the bathroom. This may present a whole new problem though, especially if you take your showers in the evening.
Bring something from home – It doesn’t have to be something big, and this works very well for little ones traveling with you, but a pillow case, travel blanket, baby blanket that packs well and you can’t live without, your teddy bear…whatever. If it helps you sleep and it doesn’t take up the whole suitcase, bring it. I like to take my husband, because sleeping alone makes it hard for me to fall asleep. It also helps that he’s my travel partner, entertains me and keeps me warm at night! He is not available on loan…
Ear Plugs – Living with a snorer taught me a few things: Breath-right strips do not work for the hard-core snorer, neither does a mouth-guard or kicking them repeatedly. Well, that does work, but it makes for a nasty middle-of-the-night conversation. And because you can’t force your partner/roommate/next door neighbor to sleep all night in the one position that makes them, miraculously, sleep quietly, I invested in ear plugs. Not just any ear plugs will do, though, because if you want to sleep through construction, child wailing, police sirens and that guy that thinks he has to use his leaf-blower at 7am, then you want to run up to your nearest drugstore or jump on Amazon and get yourself a pair of Hearos. Yup, you read that correctly. (Also, if that child wailing is from your own child, possibly it would be good to see if they need some help.) Hearos mold to your ear, so they don’t fall out if you roll over, and they are made of a material that actually muffles noise. I once slept through my alarm, which while inconvenient for me having to go to work on time, shows you that I don’t lie when I say they are the only ones that I would ever buy.
Pack some Sleepy Time tea or cocoa – Do you have problems winding down from your super fun day riding Space Mountain 182 times? Before you leave home, try a few different nighttime teas and then pack your favorite. They are portable and will make your evenings a lot more chill, even though they are hot. If tea is not your thing, or your child screws up their face at even the mere mention of it, look for decaf cocoa. Unfortunately, Hershey no longer sells their Goodnight Hugs hot chocolate that was super awesome in every way, but you can find other brands on the market. If not, warm milk may work, too. I have never tried this though, because I feel like milk is meant to be refrigerated for a reason.
Skip or seriously limit the alcohol – While you may (think you) sleep like a rock when you had a handful, or more, of drinks in you, it is not going to be quality sleep and you’re going to wake up feeling like someone just threw the bottles at your head. If you go out to a bar, pub, nightclub or friend’s house to have a drink, make sure you don’t overdo it and have five drinks. One or two is more than enough and will keep you from getting all judgment-impaired and head-throbby in the morning. Also, it’s never smart to be drunk in a strange place. I’m not saying that what happened in Hostel could actually happen, I’m just saying staying clear-headed is probably a good way to make sure it is less likely to happen. More probable will be that you make an a** of yourself in the middle of the street and get arrested…and, depending on where you are traveling, might be just as bad.
Sleep in a lavender field – Okay, not really, but you can simulate one by getting lovely lavender spray that you can spritz on your pillow. It’s calming and will send you off to dreamland fairly quickly if you just need a little push. Or this fun little sachet that fits inside your pillow can do the job.
Get a foot rub – This works a lot better if you have a willing travel companion (and you offer to reciprocate). Achy feet can make you crabby and also make it hard to sleep. Bring along a small tube of peppermint foot lotion (or buy some at your destination) and use it to refresh and invigorate your tootsies. The peppermint tingles and cools, making your feet feel almost as good as new and helping you feel less stressed and achy, allowing you to slip off to dreamland a little easier. Plus, when you wake up, you won’t have lingering pains that make even the trek to the bathroom make you relive your foot horror from the day(s) before.
Take a bath – Do you like a relaxing bath? A lot of people do. Imagine how calming you’ll feel if you fill the tub with some bubbles* or bath salts and warm water and soak for 20+ minutes. Read a magazine, listen to some music, chat with your significant other. Whatever it is that will help you unwind. A shower works, too, if your lodging doesn’t have a tub, just know that it probably won’t be as effective. [*If you generally bring shower gel with you, you can use that as bubble bath as well.]
Don’t eat everything for dinner – When you’re on vacation, if you’re like me, you get excited over new food and want to try everything. Fine, sample and know that either you can take what you don’t eat with you or, if you are in a country that doesn’t allow that, split those things with travel companions, so you all eat a reasonable amount of food. Going to bed on a full stomach can sometimes be impossible. If not, then it can lead to weird dreams and interrupted sleep. If you want to eat a ton of food, do it for lunch and feel normal by bedtime.
Lay off the caffeine – If you are one of those people that get all hopped up on caffeine and it takes forever to leave your system, maybe a good choice for you is to just go decaf from a particular time of day on.
Read – Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read before bed. Of course, now I have gotten out of the habit, because I want to see what the secret ingredient on Iron Chef is and how they use it to make ice cream, but when I travel, it’s a whole different ball game. I always have a book and I read in much of my spare time (that isn’t taken up with uploading photos or answering emails). Reading totally relaxes me and helps me get ready snuggle down in the covers and think about what I just read until I doze off.
Limit electronic time – Bloggers are total electronic-aholics, but even I know that it’s not a good thing to be plugged in all the time. I try to do as much blog work as I can before my vacation starts, so I can just enjoy having time off. Spending hours with your Nintendo or iPad or laptop or TV can take its toll sometimes. It makes your eyes tired and can give you a headache. You don’t want to go to sleep because you feel crummy. Also, if I’m playing a game on my DS, I find that I want to continue playing and not go to sleep. Just one more level! I’m the grown up equivalent of your child begging for 5 more minutes. Unfortunately, that means I can do whatever I want and it’s usually not the good choice I make staying up until 2am trying to figure out how to solve Professor Layton’s newest puzzles.
If all else fails, try drugs – We aren’t talking hard-core, buy it on the street from some sketchy guy wearing a baseball cap and hoody, standing in an alleyway telling you he’s “got the good stuff”. Try something more your speed, like Tylenol PM or Nytol (they still have that, right?). Make sure you don’t get no-name sleeping pills, or you will be awake until 4am before it starts to work and then you’ll be dead to the world until noon. Trust me. Also, I think it’s best to test these out at home first. You don’t want to get there and find out they don’t work at all or worse, they work too well. Take them on a Friday night, so you don’t have to worry about missing work or Saturday morning cartoons.
Are you a sleep-challenged traveler? How do you cope?