Travel insomnia is something that isn’t talked about much, but many people suffer from it. This sleep disorder involves having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep while on the road. It is something that I have struggled with in the past and I know that I’m not the only one. I was always jealous of people who could just be ‘lights out’ once their head hit the pillow.
Beating Travel Insomnia
Although often underrated, sleep is JUST as important as a healthy diet and active lifestyle. On my first backpacking trip, I didn’t realize how noisy hostels could be, how difficult it could be to fall asleep AND stay asleep. If you’ve been backpacking, you know that hostel rooms can be a bit crazy sometimes…
There was ALWAYS a Snorer, and possibly a Sleep-Talker (guilty). Then there’s the Late-Night-Partiers, the A-Bit-Too-Intimate Couple and the Early-Risers that have to leave at the crack of dawn to catch their bus or plane. Throw in the fact that you may:
· Be suffering from jet leg
· Have the most uncomfortable mattress/pillow in the world
· Have feelings of nervousness and excitement
That shit adds up.
What do you do when you can’t afford a private room, but also have trouble sleeping with 10,12, or even 18 other people in the room? And no, the answer isn’t to just get blackout wasted, although sometimes, I’ll admit, the goon got me good.
I learned a few tricks while backpacking Australia and Southeast Asia. Then I learned even more while studying Holistic Nutrition. So, here are a few things I WISH I knew earlier.
First, let’s start with the packing essentials.
These are MUST HAVES to pack in your backpack if you have difficulty sleeping away from home:
· [easyazon_link keywords=”Earplugs” locale=”US” tag=”Hipinhee-20″]Earplugs[/easyazon_link] x 3- these little guys get lost easily, but work so well. Also handy if you are going to music festivals and want to save your precious ears.
· [easyazon_link identifier=”B00FJQFJX8″ locale=”US” tag=”Hipinhee-20″]Eye mask[/easyazon_link] x 2- I can’t sleep with ANY light in the room. People stay on their phones or turn on and off little lights in hostel rooms, so this was great to have.
· [easyazon_link identifier=”B01E3SNO1G” locale=”US” tag=”Hipinhee-20″]Good quality headphones[/easyazon_link]- If you know it’s going to be a loud night, headphones are key. You’d think sleeping in the heart of the Daintree rainforest would be relaxing, but it comes ALIVE at night. Pop in these babies and put on some Vance Joy.
· Small blanket- makes those long haul bus and train rides WAY more comfortable. I honestly just used the one I got on the plane and it doubled as a pillow when I needed it. Big thanks to that airline!
· Lavender, vetiver, or bergamot essential oil- these help to relax the body before bed, plus they smell freakin’ amazing.
· Magnesium capsules or magnesium spray- explained below.
Next, let’s chat about your diet.
What are you fueling your body with? If you aren’t fueling it with the proper nutrients, along with not getting the proper sleep you need, travel is going to be exhausting and not a lot of fun.
I’ve heard it before, “But eating healthy is expensive!” WRONG! It’s really not, you just need to have a keen eye and choose healthier options.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. This is my number one tip for staying healthy on the road. Go to the market on the last day. Often times, they need to get rid of produce and will give you a deal or just give you food for free! I once walked out with a whole free box of avocados, which obviously made me the coolest chick in the hostel!
Eating foods high in magnesium and potassium is important. These nutrients help relax your body before bed. Calcium contracts the muscles and magnesium relaxes them, so if you take a cal/mag supplement, try to take it in the morning!
I always take a magnesium supplement before a long flight or bus ride. It definitely helps with muscle pain and cramping. You could also take magnesium before bed or pack a small bottle of magnesium spray in your backpack.
Some foods that are high in magnesium and potassium include:
· Dark leafy greens (spinach is great)
· Nuts and seeds
· Bananas (we all know that!)
· White Beans
· Coconut water
I also suggest to lay off the sugar and carbs right before bed. Your body will be trying to burn these off and it could keep you up. That midnight Pad Thai isn’t always worth it!
Adding some healthy fats to your daily eats is pretty much great for… like EVERYTHING. I won’t go too Nutrition Nerd on your ass, BUT just know that they play a role in many metabolic functions, including helping your body prepare for sleep.
If you are eating a lot of processed foods and animal products, chances are that you have higher levels of omega 6 and that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 may not be balanced. Both of these omegas cannot be produced in the body so they have to be obtained from food. Simply put, they both play an important role in inflammation, brain function, development, and growth.
DHA is an important omega 3 fatty acid found around the body, specifically in the brain, retina, and heart. It helps release and regulate melatonin, which is a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles.
If you would like to lower your omega 6 levels, cutting back on deep-fried, processed, and high-fat animal products will help. Then you could add in some omega 3 fatty acids.
Some foods high in Omega 3 oils are:
· Fish (Mackerel and salmon have high amounts)
· Chia and hemp seeds
· Sardines and Anchovies
· Eggs (yolk)
Tea before bed could also be beneficial. Pack some passion flower or valerian root tea before you take off. These help relax the body and prepare for sleep.
Next, let’s move to lifestyle recommendations.
Like I said earlier, there are a number of things that could keep you up while you’re on the road. If you’re like me, your thoughts may keep you up at night, leading into a series of thoughts and worry. Traveling is not all fun and games and can be stressful. Often times you don’t even know what bed you will be in sleeping in next!
Journaling before bed is an awesome way to let all your thoughts out, AND traveling is like, the best time to do it. You can look back one day and read about all the rad as hell adventures you went on. Show your kids that you were freakin’ cool.
I also do breathing exercises at night. It’s super easy and helps to slow down brainwaves and prepares the body for a restful sleep.
First, close your eyes.
Take a deep inhale through your nose and fill the lungs completely.
Think of one thing you are grateful for.
Hold for 5-10 seconds.
Exhale through the mouth.
Repeat 5 times.
Meditating before bed is also a great way to relax the body; let everything from the day go, and just focus on the breath. It has really saved me, so I STRONGLY suggest incorporating this into your night-time routine.
The purpose of meditation is not necessarily to have no thoughts at all. It is a calmness of the mind, and if a thought comes up, not having it lead to another string of thoughts. If a thought arises, simply pretend you are placing it on a leaf, and it is floating down a stream and disappearing. Always come back to your breath. Eventually, with time, you will become a master of the mind, because you are not your thoughts.
‘HeadSpace’ is an app that is around $12/month and you have access to loads of different guided meditations. You can try the free trial to see if it’s for you. There is also a free app called ‘Insight Timer’ that has a wide variety of guided meditations.
The next tip is to turn down that blue light into your phone! The blue light in your phone suppresses the secretion of melatonin. Apple has an awesome setting called, ‘Night Shift’, where you can set it to automatically come on a few hours before bed. Other companies should have a setting or I’m sure there’s an app for that (see what I did there? ;) ) Staying clear of fluorescent light bulbs later in the evening will also benefit you as they transmit a lot of blue light.
Your phone probably duals as your alarm clock, right? Setting your phone on a shelf or in a bag beside the bed is better than having it directly under your pillow. You could also turn off other electronics near you since they all emit electromagnetic radiation which could be harmful.
In the morning, the best thing to do is head outside! The circadian clock is the mechanism in your brain that tells the body when to sleep and when to wake up. Sunlight is a huge influence on your circadian rhythm. The body is able to wake up easier when exposed to sunlight, and when the sun sets, it becomes sleepy. So get your booty outside!
Read more: how to prevent jet lag
So there you have it peeps! If you have any questions whatsoever about how to stay healthy on the road, or are in a rut and need some help and support with your health, I’m your girl. Now beautiful, go get that sleep that you deserve!
This is a guest post from Jenny D, who specializes in this topic! You can catch more from her about topics involving health and travel in the blog link below.
*These recommendations are not for chronic insomnia. Contact your healthcare professional if you need help with sleep deprivation. Please note that I, Jenalle Dion of Jenny D’s Remedies Ltd. am not a doctor. My services are intended for general well-being and are not meant for the purposes of medical diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing of medicine for any disease, or any licensed or controlled act which may constitute the practice of medicine. I can assess and advise you through nutritional, supplemental and lifestyle recommendations. To better understand my abilities with your nutritional needs, please read through the Scope of Practice of a Certified Holistic Nutritionist ™.
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Eating right makes an epic-ly big difference for me too Rachel. When I fuel my body with fruits and veggies and clean proteins, as well as clean complex carbs and healthy fats, I recover from jet lag and insomnia really quickly.
Another tip: after a long flight around the world, as soon as you can after landing, walk barefoot on grass. Big grounding agent. Because folks are seeing now that jet lag has less to do with a time zone change and more to do with not being energetically grounded for 10 or 20 hours.
Haha, the first picture of the hostel looked just like my dorm room in college in Beijing. I find earplugs extremely helpful as well, especially those wax ones. Headspace is definitely one of my favorite apps.