If you are traveling this holiday season, you will probably end up sleeping somewhere a little less comfy than your own bed. Although your biological circadian rhythms exert a lot of control over your sleep quantity and quality, your sleep environment certainly can make or break the difference between a good sleep and a bad sleep. Luckily, at least from a sleep perspective, the holidays are brief and we can return to the comfort of our own beds with only a few bad sleeps to suffer through. But the same cannot be said for the poor business traveller, especially for those who work in the transportation industry. One of the biggest challenges many of my aviation, marine and rail colleagues have to face is sleeping in hotels and bunkhouses that are not designed with sleep in mind.
I have heard some terrible stories from air crews who have said that, in spite of a whole floor being dedicated to fight crews trying to sleep during the day and everyone hanging the Do Not Disturb signs on their door, the housekeeping staff have walked door to door knocking away and offering their cleaning service to everyone on the floor. I have heard similar stories from rail crews sleeping in bunkhouses tucked far away in the bush, which you think would offer a decent level of peace and quiet, having their sleep disrupted by chainsaws screeching away right beside the bunkhouse or trucking crews having to sleep on rickety old cots lined up side by side in army tent barracks without any heat.
Whether you are traveling this holiday season, or you travel for work, here are some tips to help you sleep better during your travels.
Create an Optimal Sleep Environment
The optimal sleep environment is pitch black dark, super quiet, slightly cool, and just a touch on the humid side. Do whatever you can to create this optimal environment. You can:
- Close the window coverings tightly; use a few clothes pins to keep the curtains tightly sealed in the middle.
- Turn off all the lights, this includes TV’s, phones, tablets and computers.
- Cover all LED’s with black electrical tape and throw a towel over the alarm clock if you are really sensitive to light.
- Use a sleep mask to crowd out any remaining light. My favourite one is the 40 Blinks Sleep Mask.
- Hang your Do Not Disturb sign at all times.
- Put a thick towel at the bottom of the door to keep light and sound out.
- Turn off all sounds; again this includes TV’s, phones, tablets and computers. I sometimes unplug appliances to get rid of the 60 Hertz hum if it is disturbing.
- Use earplugs. My favourite ones are Mack’s Snoozers.
- Drown out any remaining noise with a sound generator. My favourite one is the Sound Therapy Relaxation System from ObusForme. But you can also find free white noise loops on YouTube and pump it through a small bluetooth speaker.
- Turn down the heat to between 17 and 22°c or open a window if it is very quiet outside.
- Increase the humidity to between 30 and 50%. Most hotel rooms and bunkhouses don’t provide humidity control; consider using a portable humidifier. Home Depot sells a super small one that uses standard drinking water bottles as the water source.
Choose the Right Room
To reduce unwanted awakenings, I recommend being very selective, and perhaps a bit demanding when it comes to my bunkhouse sleeping quarters. I suggest you:
- Ask for a room on the highest floor and farthest away from the elevator and any frequently used stairways or shared bathrooms.
- If there are balconies for the sleep quarters, make sure you request a room where the balcony overlooks the most quiet area of the grounds.
- Make sure your room is not joined to another room with a convenience doorway.
- Make it known to the hotel or bunkhouse staff that you are there to sleep and you are paying for a good sleep. This means not being afraid to call the front desk staff to ask them to knock on a neighbour’s door to tell them to BE QUIET!!!
- If you are in a bunkhouse or camp with shared bathroom facilities, make sure the bathroom hallway lights are dimmed or use blue light filtering glasses when you have to walk to the toilet for that half-way break. My favourite blue light filtering glasses are sold by LiteBook.com. If you call LiteBook toll free at 1-877-723-5483 and give them my special code “CM2017”, you should get a 15 to 20% discount.
- If you have any say in the process for contracting sleeping quarters, make performance a condition of payment or cancellation of the contract.
Keep Your Travel Stress Low
Stress can be the enemy of good sleep. Keep your travel stressors low by making sure all your needs will be easily met. Make sure your accommodations have:
- High-speed internet and Wi-Fi in your room.
- A lot of space like a suite for a home-like feel.
- A gym with at least free-weights and a treadmill for a basic anti-stress workout.
- Healthy restaurants or food stores nearby.
- Transportation services like taxis to restaurants or shuttles to airports or train stations.
- An iron and ironing board.
- Actual cabinets for hanging clothes and not just a couple of shelves or no space at all for your clothes.
- Face cloths and hand towels. Many European countries only provide bath towels and this makes it difficult to wash your face.
- A small fridge, a hot plate or stove and a microwave.
- Excellent television reception.
- An office style chair and desk or table. Working while sitting on a bed can be uncomfortable.
- The highest star rating allowed by your travel policy. If you are in charge of selecting the company’s sleeping quarters, select providers with at least a 4 star hotel rating….this is not the same as the guest ratings.
Fix Your Sleep Problems
If you frequently have trouble sleeping, try these tips. If you don’t see an improvement, speak to a health practitioner who specializes in sleep.
Got a tip for away from home sleep you would like to share? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org