20 Sleep Hacks for Holiday Travel

Anne-Marie Hays

Last Updated: April 8th, 2021

woman looking out of an airplane window

Getting sleep over the holidays is a struggle for kids and adults alike. In fact, Mattress Advisor's recent study on holiday sleep loss reports that 14 percent of sleep loss is due to travel, and of those reporting that travel is an issue for their sleep, 46 percent said that sleeping in a different place is the reason why. 

"Sleep is essential to overall well-being and functioning," says licensed professional counselor (LPC) Erica Wiles, a contributor at USInsuranceAgents.com. "Without quality sleep, even enjoyable activities and experiences can lose their luster. It is awful to go on vacation or home for the holidays and spend the days feeling tired and groggy due to tossing and turning all night." 

I bet you can relate, am I right?

Well, the time has come. The winter holidays are here. Family and friends want to see your face. Many of us have holiday travel coming up quickly. If you have had trouble getting quality sleep while on vacation, sleeping at a family member's house, or just not in your regular bed, here are some suggestions to help minimize your holiday sleep issues and keep your holidays full of luster-filled activities and experiences: 

1. Stick to a routine

"Many of us think: Since vacation is for relaxing, why should I follow my normal routine? However, this change can have the exact opposite effect on the body. It can actually place more stress on our body. For example, if we eat too late, our body will take extra time to digest our food and this will delay the start of our sleep cycle. If you eat meals at the same time as you normally would, you are sending signals to your brain telling it when it should release relaxing hormones and prep for your sleep cycle." — Joselyne John, RN, Sleep Expert of Online Mattress Review  

2. Use a fan for white noise

"We often travel and face the challenge of recreating our necessary sleep environment. I've been sleeping with the white noise of a fan ever since I can remember, and it's something I need to be hearing from an upright fan, ceiling fan, or AC unit wherever I am.

If we are not sure if the room we're staying in during a trip will have a fan, and if we're traveling by car, we've considered bringing a Honeywell 10-inch fan that fits in the trunk or in a shopping bag. 

There are also travel-sized fans like the Honeywell 6-inch travel-sized fan that would fit in a suitcase." — Becca Siegel, @halfhalftravel Instagram and travel website

"I travel a lot and, depending on where I am in the world, I often find myself kept awake by noisy neighbors, barking dogs, and other unwanted noises. Obviously, I always have earplugs with me, but one other thing that I've found helps is having a fan on to create some white noise. One of those things on its own usually isn't enough to allow me to sleep, but the combination of the two normally does the trick. Tip: You can search for hotel rooms with a fan in them using Trivago." — James Cave from Portugalist.com Travel Blog

3. Bring your own pillow

"One of the main reasons for what’s known as the First Night Effect, the inability to get a good night’s sleep in a new place, is due to an evolutionary response. We subconsciously stay alert when we’re in a foreign place as a natural survival tactic. This means that making your new environment as closely resembling your bedroom as possible is one way to minimize this discomfort. Bring your pillow with you to give yourself the illusion that you’re not as far from home as your brain thinks you are." — Caleb Backe, Certified Personal Trainer and Sleep Expert for Maple Holistics

"I need to travel a lot between Memphis and Dallas. So I developed a way to never lose any sleep, because if I do then I won’t be productive for the rest of the day. Bring your pillow. Pillows are often the reason why you are not getting a good night of sleep. Hotels have to keep a budget, so there is a reason why you don’t see great quality pillows in some hotels. If you need to buy 300 of them the costs adds up, so try to always have with you a good pillow to ensure that you have the best time in the night."  — Arthur Ruth, the Vice President of Operations of Memphis Maids, a house cleaning service in Memphis, Tennessee

4. Get scentual

"I lead small group tours in Europe (I live in Greece most of the year), so I travel a lot; There are new hotel rooms while I am working, visiting family and friend back home, stateside, etc.

I have a lavender sachet that I sleep with when I am home. The smell reminds me that it is bedtime. I simply take this with me everywhere I travel. It is small and easy to pack, and I even tuck it into my carryon for long flights. It is a familiar sight and smell that tricks my brain into thinking I am in my bed and this helps me to drift off the sleep easily." — Patricia Hajifotiou, author of  Travel Like You Mean It and owner of The Olive Odysseys 

"One of the best hacks to get better sleep on the road is to bring your favorite scents with you. Think of your go-to soap or shampoo or your pillowcase. That's because these familiar scents can help calm you, and, in turn, help you get to sleep more easily when you're in a new environment."  — Christina Heiser, Saatva mattress and sleep health blog 

5. Use earplugs

"I'm a music festival reporter and travel writer for Music Festival Wizard currently working my way across Romania. I spend lots of time sleeping in hostels and noisy festival campgrounds. 

My number one travel hack is earplugs. I use Vibes because I can also use them at work, but really even the cheap ones work fine for blocking out noise when trying to sleep.

If the earplugs aren't working and I'm still having trouble, I will use a white noise app along with a pair of Bose SoundSport earbuds." — Vito Valentinetti, Cofounder/Editor-in-Chief, Music Festival Wizard

6. Try essential oils

"Clinical trials have shown that essential lavender oil helps people get to sleep faster and get higher quality sleep. Put a drop of essential lavender oil on a cotton ball and tuck it inside the pillowcase for sweet dreams. Begin the practice at home to associate the smell with sleep. You could prepare the cotton balls in advance and travel with the number you need in a baggie to avoid spills and save room in your suitcase." — Jeanine Joy, Ph.D., BestMattress.Reviews

7. No bedroom shuffling

"Try to stay in one bedroom for more than one night to give your brain time to adapt to your new environment. If you’re in the same city for a prolonged period of time, try to make your base in one location rather than moving around repeatedly. The longer you stay in one place, the more likely your brain will feel at ease." — Caleb Backe, Certified Personal Trainer and Sleep Expert for Maple Holistics

8. Use an Echo Dot

"My husband and I tend to have problems sleeping in new places when we travel. My husband had some major sleep/burn out problems a few years ago. When the echo dot came out, I bought one and we have been taking it along with us. When we are about to go to sleep we ask Alexa to play some sleep ambient sounds. You can pick between beach, rain, and other sounds so it's quite convenient. It will play for about an hour and then shut off and by that time we fall sound asleep, without fail. We used it on our trip to Vienna Austria." — Helene D'Souza, travel and flood blogger at Masala Herb

9. Get a sleep mask

"A comfy sleeping mask, but not just any! The sleeping mask should feel comfortable on your skin and should have no pressure on your head." — Matt Kiefer, founder of Les Boutique Hotels 

10. Listen to sound therapy apps

"I travel a lot, so I'm always trying to get some sleep on planes, trains, outdoors, etc. And the one thing that I've found that helps me sleep while traveling is also what I use to be able to sleep well in hotels, family member's homes, etc.

I use a sound therapy app, specifically the Rainy Mood app, so that my sleep environment is the same every night - no matter where I'm sleeping.

I listen to the app at home every night. When I'm on a plane or train, I listen to the app on my phone with some earbuds, and it sends my body the cues it needs to successfully fall asleep. The same with hotels, friends' homes, etc. 

I've even converted my parents and my siblings families to the same app and now they have an easier time sleeping when away from home!" — Shawna Newman, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Active Weekender

"My wife and I travel a LOT and one of her best strategies is a white noise app on her smartphone. Play it when you go to bed to drown out unfamiliar and unaccustomed noises. Vary the sound volume depending on the noise level. In NYC, a little louder." — Charles McCool, Travel Happiness Advocate, McCool Travel page on Facebook

11. A sleep bracelet can help

"As the holidays come around the corner, Americans all over the country are beginning to organize their holiday plans and book travel. Whether you’re traveling only a few hours or cross country, getting to sleep in a plane can be extremely difficult. Get to sleep and stay asleep in planes, trains, and cars with Philip Stein’s Sleep Bracelet.

Harnessing a proprietary natural frequency technology, Philip Stein’s Sleep bracelet emits subtle frequencies that the body picks up on, thus increasing the production of delta waves (sleep frequencies), helping you fall asleep faster and deeper. With an ultra-soft pajama strap and breathable holes, Philip Stein’s Sleep Bracelet was thoughtfully designed to ensure comfortable, restful sleep time and time again." — Will Stein, President of Philip Stein 

Common reported outcomes include falling asleep faster, feeling more refreshed in the morning, and sleeping for a longer duration. 

12. Consider CBD supplements

 "CBD is a natural cannabinoid found in the hemp plant, taken as a supplement it will relieve anxiety, reduce stress and invoke a general feeling of calm, an ideal state to get a good night's sleep. Before bed, you can spray it under your tongue or nibble a spiked caramel. More people are opting for CBD rather than sleeping pills because it does help you sleep without waking up to scary side effects: waking anxiety or grogginess. Anti-anxiety and sleep meds have side effects, CBD does not. CBD is completely non-intoxicating and so will not affect your ability to be 'on' the following day." — Boronia Fallshaw, Founder, Mello

13. Try meditation

"Mindful meditation and relaxation may also be helpful. Practicing this to relax will take practice and should be done repeatedly before leaving on a trip. Sticking to a nighttime routine even when traveling is important, especially when traveling with kids. Stick to the routine as much as possible and create a quiet and calm atmosphere to the greatest extent you can during travel. This may be hard if everyone is sharing the same room, but it is worth a try." — Erica Wiles writes for USInsuranceAgents.com and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)  

14. Try headphones made for sleep

"SleepPhones® feature a luxuriously soft headband that contains thin removable speakers to play music, audiobooks, meditation, white noise, or talk radio. They are fully padded with nothing sticking into the ears and are so much more comfortable than other headphones out there.

Our product was developed by a family doctor who needed a way to listen to soothing music after taking patient calls in the middle of the night. SleepPhones® have helped thousands of people all over the world sleep and live better — and they are FDA listed as a medical device.

We know how important it is to find time to unwind in the midst of our hectic lives. SleepPhones® are ideal for not just sleeping, especially in loud or unfamiliar environments, but also meditating, chilling out to white noise or nature sounds, or catching up on a good book or podcast." — Doug Blair, SleepPhones

15. Add some Melatonin 

"How many times has your doctor told you that if you have trouble with sleep that melatonin can be a great natural alternative to help you fall asleep - especially if you need to sleep on a long plane ride? Enter Solves Strips® Melatonin Strips. Made with 3mg of melatonin and a great peppermint flavor to keep your breath fresh! These strips are specifically formulated to help you get to sleep quickly, obtaining a faster and deeper sleep, increased REM sleep, and a reset of your body clock.  

Solves Strips are oral thin film strips that replace the need for pills, which is the traditional delivery methods for Melatonin. Simply place the strip on your tongue and letting it dissolve! Solves Strips are convenient, easy to transport, and ready to take without water — which is handy on a plane and means they are great for taking in a carry on. They are also designed for convenience — another reason that makes them great for travellers." — Michael Kuhbock, VP Sales and Marketing, Solves Strips

16. Give your mobile devices a bedtime

"As someone who travels for work at least 30 times in one year, getting that much-needed amount and quality of sleep is probably impossible for me if not for one thing I do every night: shutting off any gadgets I have after 10 p.m. — no matter where I am or I should be in, be it during a holiday trip or a day-off at home. 

The reason for this is quite simple. Blue light from laptops, phones, and similar devices practically sends a signal to our brains to remain active. Getting off on those when you're about to sleep instead sends a signal to your brain to do the opposite, which is to rest and recharge in preparation for whatever you need to do for the next day without getting tired mentally and even physically that easily." — Mia Clarke, Editor, InvertPro

17. Stay active during travel

"Work out — usually, this is not an issue since you are on the road and that means, your body was active over the day and used up energy. Just in case, working out is a great way to put your body to rest." — Matt Kiefer, founder of Les Boutique Hotels 

18. Use a sleep mask and built-in headphones

"We live in a world of non-stop, over-stimulation. People are constantly on high-alert, bombarded with text messages, emails, work updates, social media posts — you name it. When you’re constantly on edge, it can be a challenge to slow yourself down, to relax and, more importantly, to sleep.  Our Sleep Mask Headphones help you disconnect, recenter, relax and recharge. Whether you need to catch some Z's between calls, take a short break from a difficult day, grab a quick nap between errands, or just guarantee a terrific night’s sleep — our Sleep Mask Headphones are a great solution. 

The mask allows you to control two of the most important factors in creating quality rest: light and sound. Our high quality sleek speakers, 3D eye contours, and ergonomic nose cover allow you to relax into sleep no matter where you are. They are also great for napping, airplane travel, meditation, listening to ASMR, audiobooks, music, podcasts - whatever your heart desires!" — Brody Elkins, Let's Just Sleep, a sleep consultation company

"Made from a gloriously soft blend of velvet and elastic cotton, Joseche’s sleep mask is heavily padded, so it doesn’t feel like it’s digging into your eyes or nose as you wear it. It straps around your head using an adjustable, comfortable velcro strap, and at 26.5” in length, has plenty of surface area to block out all light. The built-in Bluetooth and wireless speakers are an ingenious addition if you like to listen to music to help you sleep. Simply connect your phone and play away. Volume and connection controls are found on the front of the mask. All-in-all, it’s an innovative eye mask, very comfortable, and will allow you to sleep any time, in any place."  — Dale Johnson, Co-founder, Nomad Paradise

19. Eat foods that promote sleep

“Diet can impact the quality and quantity of sleep you get and this is especially true when you are traveling and already prone to poor sleep. Packing snacks that help to promote sleep is a wise step in ensuring you get the rest you need on your trip. Almonds and walnuts are simple and safe snacks to travel with that will also help you to fall asleep. They contain melatonin which is the chemical that will enable you to sleep soundly. Bananas also contain melatonin and are a fruit that travels well because they are shelf stable and do not require refrigeration. Avoid eating simple carbohydrate foods while traveling. This type of carb will reduce serotonin which is an essential chemical for sleep.” — Lisa Richards, Nutritionist, The Candida Diet

20. Don't stress about your snores

"Traveling over the holidays is great for some...but for others, it can be quite anxiety-inducing, especially if you're a chronic snorer and have to deal with the embarrassment of annoying everyone around you. Or worse, if you suffer from sleep apnea and use a clunky CPAP machine, traveling anywhere is a total nightmare. But it doesn't have to be!

Enter the Good Morning Snore Solution! The Good Morning Snore Solution is a small anti-snore mouthpiece that is doctor-developed and clinically proven. The mouthpiece uses an ingenious method called tongue stabilization to gently open the entire airway with few (if any) side effects. Unlike other anti-snoring methods, tongue stabilization does not contribute to jaw pain, user discomfort or long-term bite misalignment. The Good Morning Snore Solution is incredibly small and compact, and can be purchased with a handy travel case.

The Good Morning Snore Solution is a highly reviewed, safe, effective and minimally-invasive way to prevent snoring. Made in the USA, it is also a registered medical device — cleared by FDA, Health Canada, EU CE, ARTG and is manufactured according to ISO certified medical device manufacturing practices to meet the highest standards of quality and compliance." — Tomi Ajele,  MPowrx Health and Wellness

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